William Sidis, 1897-1944, was the world's greatest child prodigy. His IQ was an estiamted 50 to 100 points higher than Einstein's, the highest ever recorded or estimated. His father, a pioneer in the field of abnormal psychology, believed that he and his wife could create a genius in the cradle. They hung alphabet blocks over the baby's crib-and within six months little Billy was speaking. At 18 months he was reading The New York Times; at three, Homer in the original Greek. At six he spoke at least seven languages.
Told with flair and insight ... this is his story.
©1986, 2011 Amy Wallace (P)2011 David N. Wilson
Among biographies, this book ranks highly and is very thorough in its treatment of the subject. A very worthwhile listen and the best that I've heard this year.
The relationship with his sister Helena was perhaps the most uplifting as she was the one person in the family who never turned her back on her brother.
He does a very good job of keeping the listener enthralled throughout the telling of the story. There are only two small slips of the audio whereby a sentence is repeated twice.
The book kept me captivated throughout and also served as a cautionary tale for me as a father.
The author is almost completely silent on why the father was never mentioned again, either positively or negatively after his passing. This was surprising, since the relationship seems to have been much stronger than that of the one between William and his mother.
Heavily researched and accessibly written. I have to give Ms. Wallace her due.
However, this story could have been told in a tighter prose. It also could have been more engaging by skillful use of the substantial drama throughout Sidis' life.
I was looking for a lot more detail on the specifics of his early childhood, but it's just an overview of the family peppered with a few colorful anecdotes. This is no how-to-guide and gives very little detail on the how Sarah Sidis produced such a remarkable individual.
Also, the author seems to echo the disparaging and dismissive attitude of the press at the time, treating Sidis as a cautionary tale - a victim of his own eccentricity. A premise I generally disagree with and dislike. I believe such treatment of Sidis and his ilk illustrates a deep insecurity in society and a need to discredit genius - the greater the genius, the greater the need to tear down that individual.
If this topic interests you, it's a recommend, but just barely.
What happened to William James Sidis is not surprising. Sad, yes, but nothing as complex as the human brain can be predictable. He had great potential as a child but so did Bobby Fischer, the greatest chess player of all time. Both, after amazing feats of brilliance, burned out. "Endgame" can be found at Audible.
If you get a chance, listen to both "The Prodigy" and "Endgame" and compare these two brilliant, but ultimately tragic men. There are many similar examples.
...but repetitive in places. It was clear to me that WJ Sidis was a genius, but also had a high functioning form of Autism. This book would have better served to have at least included this as a possibility, especially in the epilogue when the author explored the real reasons for his misunderstood life. It would have been interesting had he been born into today's world. The unfortunate thing would have been in today's nationalism and prejudice, he may have been treated much the same way. Today too is the tendency for a conservative nationalistic trend to denigrate intellectualism, just as Billy experienced in his time. He would have been a great person to know.
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