The book

The author

  • David Shenk is the national bestselling author of five previous books, including The Forgetting ("remarkable" - Los Angeles Times), Data Smog ("indispensable" - New York Times), and The Immortal Game ("superb" - Wall Street Journal). He is a correspondent for, and has contributed to National Geographic, Slate, The New York Times, Gourmet, Harper's, The New Yorker, NPR, and PBS.

    More info here.

    Contact David.

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    Speaking inquiries here.


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December 13, 2007



I just found this site,great stuff. I wonder what you think Bruce Lipton's stuff.


An assumption here is that taking the 13-th root of a 200 digit number is difficult. It isn't. Rather, this is a problem designed to sound much harder than it actually is.

To illustrate this, I'll train you to take the 13th root of a random *26*-digit number IN YOUR HEAD! No kidding! That would be the 13th root of a number like:


No way, right?! Maybe with months of rigorous practice in some clifftop monastary?

Don't get stressed out. Here's the whole training program:

* Write down the last digit of the original number.

* Write an 8 to the left if the two leading digits of the original number are less than 24. Otherwise, write a 9 to the left.

That's it. Let's apply this method to the example. The last digit of the original number is 6, so you write that down:


At this point, you might want to take a mental break-- get a coffee or something. You're halfway through the calculation and may want to marshal your energies for the brutal second half.

Onward. The two leading digits of the original number were 58, which is greater than 24, so you write down a 9 to the left:


Whew-- Wipe that sweat from your fevered brow! Let's verify the answer with a computer. Notice that the numbers involved are so big that even a cutting-edge 64-bit computer can't carry out this multiplication as a primitive operation!

96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 * 96 = 58,820,136,703,657,666,922,151,936

YOU WERE CORRECT! You must be a sooooper-genius!

Now, seriously, the challenge must certainly be greater with 200 digit numbers, but point is that this problem is FAR easier than it sounds. People who can solve this problem quickly are not geniuses, they're tricksters.


I think one of the more difficult things about researching exceptional achievement is a survivor bias. To understand genius we start by examining geniuses. We look for what it is that made them special (deliberate practice, for example). But what's tough to do is to find all the people out there who spent as much time as the geniuses, who put in the hours of dedicated practice, who had the passion, but who did not rise above the rest of the pack. Who are those people? How many of them are there? Where do you go to study them?

This reminds me of the recent books on the characteristics of millionaires. Millionaires get rich by starting their own companies or buying and holding stocks, for example. But how many people start companies and buy and hold stocks but don't become millionaires?

I'm eager to read David's book when it comes out to see how he handles these issues.

Bob Bateman

Tim Dellinger

Hi there.
I was really happy to see you say "It's not a guaranteed recipe to create exactly the individual capabilities we desire, but it is a plan to nudge all of humanity in the right direction."
It's really interesting to watch you approach the subject of the book from so many different angles and to watch your understanding of the subject mature. I was a little worried in January 2007 when you were reading through the "deliberate practice" literature and posting things like "The IT -- the greatness -- is something you acquire, not something you are given or are not given" and "Talent is not a gift, but a process".

My view is that one's early environment (chemistry in the womb, parents singing you songs as a baby, etc.) is, in fact, a gift that they give you.
It's that gift that shapes you.

It seems that you might be softening your stance on what (to me) seems like a provocative title: The Genius in All of Us, which (to me) implies that we could all be geniuses if we put in hours of deliberate practice.

It's interesting that the brain (in many ways) and the muscles (even the ratio of fast twitch to slow twitch muscles!) are malleable, but my gut feeling has always been that they're not infinitely malleable and that we can't all be geniuses.

I'd also be interested in seeing information on non-geniuses... e.g. children of famous musicians, athletes, artists, etc. where were absolutely inundated with the subject matter and encouraged at every step of their lives, but just didn't have the mojo and were mediocre at best.

Thanks for giving the author-blog format a shot... I enjoy it.

Tim Dellinger

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