Sunday, August 25, 2019

Range - David Epstein ------------------- 2.5 Stars

About a month ago, I read David Epstein's last book, The Sports Gene, and reviewed it here. As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed his detailed look at why great athletes are world class at sports. In perhaps a more important book, Range studies why certain people become the best in their field and/or who might change the world. However, unlike the last book, it was not nearly as an enjoyable read.

To be clear, I thoroughly enjoyed his premise and appreciated the argument he makes - generalists triumph in a specialized world (yes, I copied that from the cover). His point, is that far too often in our education focused world, we take some of our smartest and most creative and breed that out of them while they specialize deeper and deeper in a singular subject. He continues that the greatest inventions, positive changes in our world, strongest athletes, best musicians, etc. had broader backgrounds, were later starters, etc.

So, he makes a strong case. However, I strongly feel this book could have either been a long article or about 150 pages shorter. Again, he makes a strong case early in the book to support his argument. And while I appreciate the varying stories he tells (nearly all of which I had not heard before) to strengthen his argument, he goes on far too long, either in the telling of the story or adding more stories. Really, it's a fairly narrow argument, so after you understand his viewpoint with a few examples, it makes sense. I didn't feel the numerous subsequent chapters relaying the same message were necessary.

Like the previous book, Epstein had some fascinating examples to support his premise. Perhaps the most interesting in this book is the story of orphaned musicians of the Venetian sex industry who become world class musicians on multiple instruments centuries ago. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, too often these examples aren't nearly as interesting and exciting as one would hope.

Overall, the premise of the book is fantastic. I think he's questioning about the limitations of specialization and the importance of people being able to think in a more broad way is incredibly important. I just don't think you need such a long book to make the point. If only there was a condensed article to save the time; alas, here is a perfect one from the Atlantic written earlier this summer. Enjoy!

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