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The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance | [David Epstein]

The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

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? 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.
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Publisher's Summary

"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 be?"

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.

©2013 David Epstein (P)2013 Gildan Media LLC

What the Critics Say

"Step by surprising step, David Epstein takes our hand, grips our mind, and leads us deeper and deeper into the fascinating jungle of sports and genetics... until we finally begin to see the miracle we've been watching in our stadiums and on our TV screens all our lives.” (Gary Smith, Sports Illustrated writer and four-time National Magazine Award winner)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.3 (315 )
5 star
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4.0 (277 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Mark B. 06-10-14
    Mark B. 06-10-14 Member Since 2012
    ratings
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    7
    3
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    Story
    "a bit repetitive and dry"
    Would you try another book from David Epstein and/or David Epstein?

    Not sure.


    How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

    Shorter, had Bill Bryson write it.


    Have you listened to any of David Epstein’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    no


    Do you think The Sports Gene needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    absolutely not. Although an appendix or extra chapter might be appropriate if new developments come along.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Benjamin Berkeley, CA, United States 05-31-14
    Benjamin Berkeley, CA, United States 05-31-14 Member Since 2013

    Forensic Psychologist in Northern California

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    "Quit with the accents dude!"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    The content in this book is fascinating, so yes.


    What other book might you compare The Sports Gene to and why?

    Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers." Both offer opinions on success.


    What didn’t you like about David Epstein’s performance?

    His attempts to read in accents (German, Australian, French, etc) and gender tones (female) are a fucking embarrassment. They remind me of a fifth grader in a drama class. The German accent sounds like something out of Dr. Strangelove.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The hypothesis regarding increased fast twitch muscle content in West African sprinters. Utterly fascinating.


    Any additional comments?

    Still worth it, just get a different reader OR don't attempt accents.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-08-14
    Sam Motes Tampa 05-08-14 Member Since 2011

    Audible obsessed lifelong learner.

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    "Nature / Nurture / Doped debate"

    An interesting read on the nature versus nurture versus drug enhanced top athletic performance. The discussion on the different cultural and geographically influenced Darwinian evolution of different body types into niche sporting events.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Matthew McKinney 04-15-14
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    3
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    "Perhaps my expectations were too high"
    What did you like best about The Sports Gene? What did you like least?

    I liked a lot of the information and the general ideas and principles about the knowledge we can glean from genetics. I thought several of the chapters would have been enhance with a summary bringing the big questions and science together. As is, some of the middle chapters come across as a string of facts without and overarching connection.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    John Skaneateles, NY, United States 04-05-14
    John Skaneateles, NY, United States 04-05-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Mostly obvious information. Annoying narration."

    Most of the information in this book is either old or obvious. Nothing very interesting here. Basketball players are tall, sprinters have a lot of fast twitch muscle, marathoners slow twitch ...etc..etc. Sport success is a combination of genes and experience. All rather obvious and not very interesting to anyone who knows a little bit about sport science.

    To many uninteresting longwinded descriptions of people and places. My mind would wander.

    I found the narrator (also the author) to be very annoying. His reading of quotes are especially nail grating with overly theatrical accents and expressions.

    I could barely finish this book. Considered returning it, but I got it on deal for $4.95 so I stuck it out to the end. I should have returned it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ron Oakland, MI, United States 03-12-14
    Ron Oakland, MI, United States 03-12-14 Member Since 2013
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    4
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    "Sometimes the narration becomes part of the story"
    Would you try another book from David Epstein and/or David Epstein?

    Most likely I would not.


    What other book might you compare The Sports Gene to and why?

    The Talent Code, Bounce and Outliers


    What didn’t you like about David Epstein’s performance?

    I almost never write reviews but I felt I had to in this case. The content is OK, but the narration is comically distracting at times throughout the book. I'm not sure why the author felt he had to attempt to match the accent and inflection of each quoted subject in the book. It takes away from any point being made. I think at one time he was speaking in the voice of an older Austrian woman. This isn't story time.


    Do you think The Sports Gene needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    No. It covered it's point fully.


    Any additional comments?

    The more I use them, the more I appreciate a well narrated audio book. This was not one of them. If this subject interests you, I think you would like The Talent Code, Outliers or Bounce more than this title.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    André ORLANDO, FL, United States 02-28-14
    André ORLANDO, FL, United States 02-28-14 Member Since 2011

    I love AUDIBLE! I never get mad at traffic jams and can listen to many different books, despite my short time.

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    "10.000 HOURS? NO! BLAME MY GENES!"

    When I bought this book I thought that it was like the great "Talent is Overrated", where Geoff Colvin emphasizes about training, instead of an innate gift. But "THE SPORTS GENE" is about genetics-- if you are gifted, you will have a chance, if are not gifted you will struggle. If you have certain kind of gene, you will be like strong, if you have another, you will be fast... It made me feel a little bit depressed.
    David Epstein says that genes are something that you cannot overlook, and I think he is partially right.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    clamsauce Half Moon Bay, CA, United States 02-22-14
    clamsauce Half Moon Bay, CA, United States 02-22-14 Member Since 2013
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    "A great listen for everyone"
    What made the experience of listening to The Sports Gene the most enjoyable?

    David Epstein has passion. His work is thorough, enlightening and engaging and I really enjoyed listening to every story and fact he shared about sports and endurance. Looking forward to listening again


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    LongerILiveLessIKnow Pennsylvania 02-20-14
    LongerILiveLessIKnow Pennsylvania 02-20-14 Member Since 2012
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    "Practice makes perfect?"

    When I read Outliers, I thought Malcolm Gladwell oversold his “10,000 hour” thesis. That is, in critiquing our culture’s emphasis on innate talent, he immediately swung too far the other way, overemphasizing deliberate practice. He hinted (or contended?), for example, that the apparent genius of Tiger Woods or Mozart is in fact primarily a function of their incredibly early start on the competition… An intriguing thesis, for sure, but maybe only because it flies in the face of an obvious and contrary reality.

    Epstein has the empirical data that shows the extent to which Gladwell oversold his thesis at least with respect to certain athletic endeavors. At the elite level of athletic performance, genetics often matters. For example, Epstein tells us that a male between the ages of 20 and 40 who is 7 feet or taller has something like a 16% chance of being a current NBA player. That undercuts Gladwell’s contrary and offhand assertion in Outliers that once a person achieves a threshold height, say 6’4”, additional height matters less and less, and practice more and more. Epstein explores the genetic link in dozens of different sports.

    While I think Gladwell got it wrong that genius is practically nothing more than years upon years of smart practice, I think he got it right as a formula for being pretty darn good. While I may not have the ingredients to become the best of the best at anything, through sheer force of will and effort, I believe I can become workman-like at almost anything at all. To me, that’s empowering. As much as I didn’t like Kaufman’s “The First 20 Hours,” his core message is similarly empowering – it doesn’t take as much time as you may think to achieve a level of enjoyable competence.

    (There’s a tricky counter-point towards the end of the book where Epstein suggests that even one’s appetite for practice and ability to improve through it may have a genetic component. That proposition is worth a double take – your propensity for hard work necessary to overcome your genetic shortcomings may itself be genetically driven.)

    Dan McLaughlin, aka “The Dan Plan,” discussed in the Sports Gene, is perhaps the living embodiment of my thoughts on this subject. In his early thirties, he quit his job and took up golf, setting a goal of making the PGA tour after he accomplished 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. On the one hand, his goal is patently ridiculous because it naively discounts the importance of talent and age. But on the other hand, 5000+ hours in, McLaughlin’s a good golfer by amateur standards (a 4 handicap). And he’s garnered enough attention and money(?) so that he can play golf full time. He’s living proof that hard work can take you to great heights, even if it won’t take you to the peak by itself.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Tim United States 02-16-14
    Tim United States 02-16-14 Member Since 2010

    Not a mainstream reader.

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    "Missing Athletes"

    I really think that David Epstein missed the boat when he wrote "The Sports Gene." The science in sports was interesting, but I really had a hard time relating to the materials. Instead of presenting examples of great athletes in team professional sports such as NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, Epstein focused on athletes that is not on the highlight reel. Too much information on runners from Kenya or the iditarod in Alaska. I understand that you need at least 10,000 hours of practice to be a excellent in something, but there wasn't enough example of professional athletes that we idolize.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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