Shenk’s “ambitious goal,” he tells us, is to take this widely dispersed research and “distill it all into a new lingua franca, adopting helpful new phrases and metaphors” to replace old and misleading ones. Forget about genes as unchanging “blueprints” and talent as a “gift,” all tied up in a bow. “We cannot allow ourselves to think that way anymore,” he declares with some fervor. Instead, Shenk proposes, imagine the genome as a giant control board, with thousands of switches and knobs that turn genes off and on or tune them up and down. And think of talent not as a thing, but as a process; not as something we have, but as something we do. It’s ambitious indeed to try to overthrow in one go the conventional ideas and images that have accumulated since 1874, when Francis Galton first set the words “nature” and “nurture” against each other. Yet Shenk convinces the reader that such a coup is necessary, and he gets it well under way. He tells engaging stories, lucidly explains complex research and offers fresh insights into the nature of exceptional performance: noting, for example, that profound achievements are often driven by petty jealousies and resentments, or pointing out the surprising fact that great talent seems to cluster geographically and temporally, undermining the assumption that it’s all due to individual genetic endowments.
more from Annie Murphy Paul at the NYT here.