On Range

I recommend David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a SpecialIzed World.

Epstein reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell, who he mentions in the book, but his ur-disciplines are sports and psychology rather than social science. Epstein’s thesis is that broad minded thinking and doing is just as likely a route, if not more, to exceptional performance as hyper-specialization in a singular, narrow silo.

The book drew me in with a comparative case study of Tiger Woods and Roger Federer, fascinated me with the lost history of Venice’s orphan female multi-instrumentalist virtuosos and the story of Nintendo’s evolution through finding innovative ways to entertain with obselete technology. Endless summaries of experimental psychology grew tiresome, but Epstein’s vivid retelling of Van Gogh’s tortured artistic journey and incisive summaries of the organizational failures at NASA that led to the Space Shuttles Challenger and Discovery disasters make for a truly enjoyable read. There was even an bit about how assemblages of chess-playing AI and humans can outperform both human teams and AIs. In sum, great brain candy.

Grab a copy for the brainy mid-career creative in your life to read over the holidays.

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