Is there a little Bard of Avon in all of us? This painting of William Shakespeare, the so-called Chandos portrait, was believed to be the only life portrait of the playwright until researchers took a closer look at another candidate, the Cobbe portrait, last year.
Tracing talent to its origins probably isn’t ever going to be a precise science, but there’s a particular and pervasive brand of genetic determinism that butts its way into discussions, in scientific circles and in the media, about everything from health to intelligence to the roots of genius. According to author David Shenk, this line of argument leads us to make the wrong conclusions about human potential. —KA
David Shenk’s new book, “The Genius in All of Us: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Genetics, Talent, and IQ Is Wrong,” is 300 pages long, and more than half of those pages are endnotes. You need to offer up a lot of evidence when your goal is to overturn a concept as commonplace as the idea that genes are the “blueprints” for both our physical bodies and our personalities. Above all, what Shenk wants to communicate is that “the whole concept of genetic giftedness turns out to be wildly off the mark—tragically kept afloat for decades by a cascade of misunderstandings and misleading metaphors.” Instead of acquiescing to the belief that talent is a quality we’re either born with or not, he wants us to understand that anyone can aspire to superlative achievement. Hard, persistent and focused work is responsible for greatness, rather than innate ability.