Now a New York Times Bestseller!
In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who
made our track team so successful might carry some special speed
gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and
wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from
East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training
group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one
another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out
five entirely different runners. How could this
We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it
look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she
was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals
Or were they?
The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain
Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on
Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply
normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer
force of will and obsessive training?
The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature
and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human
genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the
relationship between biological endowments and a competitor's
training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have
gradually entered the era of modern genetic research.
In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic
success, Sports Illustrated
senior writer David Epstein
tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far
science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the
so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and
consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic
Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why
top athletes excel. He shows why some skills that we assume are
innate, like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball or cricket
batter, are not, and why other characteristics that we assume are
entirely voluntary, like an athlete's will to train, might in fact
have important genetic components.
This subject necessarily involves digging deep into sensitive
topics like race and gender. Epstein explores controversial
questions such as:
- Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both
sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced
by Africa's geography?
- Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes
- Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they
are destined for stardom?
- Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain
damage, or even death on the field?
Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above
the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists
and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare
genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink
the very nature of athleticism.