The Sports Gene

The Sports Gene

Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Book - 2013
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Now a New York Times Bestseller! With a new chapter added to the paperback. 

In high school, I wondered whether the Jamaican Americans who made our track team so successful might carry some special speed gene from their tiny island. In college, I ran against Kenyans, and wondered whether endurance genes might have traveled with them from East Africa. At the same time, I began to notice that a training group on my team could consist of five men who run next to one another, stride for stride, day after day, and nonetheless turn out five entirely different runners. How could this be?

We all knew a star athlete in high school. The one who made it look so easy. He was the starting quarterback and shortstop; she was the all-state point guard and high-jumper. Naturals . Or were they?

The debate is as old as physical competition. Are stars like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, and Serena Williams genetic freaks put on Earth to dominate their respective sports? Or are they simply normal people who overcame their biological limits through sheer force of will and obsessive training?
The truth is far messier than a simple dichotomy between nature and nurture. In the decade since the sequencing of the human genome, researchers have slowly begun to uncover how the relationship between biological endowments and a competitor's training environment affects athleticism. Sports scientists have gradually entered the era of modern genetic research.

In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success, Sports Illustrated senior writer David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving this great riddle. He investigates the so-called 10,000-hour rule to uncover whether rigorous and consistent practice from a young age is the only route to athletic excellence.

Along the way, Epstein dispels many of our perceptions about why top athletes excel. He shows why some skills that we assume are innate, like the bullet-fast reactions of a baseball or cricket batter, are not, and why other characteristics that we assume are entirely voluntary, like an athlete's will to train, might in fact have important genetic components.

This subject necessarily involves digging deep into sensitive topics like race and gender. Epstein explores controversial questions such as: Are black athletes genetically predetermined to dominate both sprinting and distance running, and are their abilities influenced by Africa's geography? Are there genetic reasons to separate male and female athletes in competition? Should we test the genes of young children to determine if they are destined for stardom? Can genetic testing determine who is at risk of injury, brain damage, or even death on the field? Through on-the-ground reporting from below the equator and above the Arctic Circle, revealing conversations with leading scientists and Olympic champions, and interviews with athletes who have rare genetic mutations or physical traits, Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.
Publisher: New York, New York : Current, [2013]
Copyright Date: ©2013
ISBN: 9781591845119
Branch Call Number: 613.71 Ep853S 2013
Characteristics: xiv, 338 pages ; 24 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
ksoles Sep 26, 2013

Why, out of the 81 men who have run 100 meters in less than ten seconds, are 80 of them black? Why has a sub-Saharan African never won an Olympic weight lifting medal? And, more abstractly, what makes a great athlete?

In "The Sports Gene," Sports Illustrated senior writer Epstein begins with Malcolm Gladwell’s premise from "Outliers" (2008): success owes less to inherited ability and more to intense practice (the famous 10,000 hours) and circumstance. In lucid and accessible prose, he proceeds to apply Gladwell’s approach to athletic prowess, citing an array of scientific studies and entertaining anecdotes.

Epstein definitively concludes that "nature" contribute more to great performance than does "nurture." High jumpers benefit if born with a longer, stiffer Achilles tendon. Africans have longer legs and slimmer hips, allowing them to run faster. Caucasians are stockier, with thicker, stronger upper bodies. Of course, hours of dedicated practice help but even the will to train obsessively stems from inherited character traits.

The book provides a sometimes-overwhelming barrage of studies proving that hundreds of sports genes exist though researchers still don't understand their interactions. But ultimately, "The Sports Gene" intrigues and engages with its exploration of great athletic achievements.


Add a Summary
Feb 04, 2015

The Sports Gene
The Sports Gene by David Epstein is nothing but a master piece of thousands of hours’ worth of research. David Epstein is a senior writer for sports illustrated and a former college runner who tries to come to grips with what is truly, the Sports Gene. Epstein theorizes that “nature as well as nurture” are important ingredients for athletic achievement. Personally, I would give this text a good 7 out of 10. It’s definitely an above average read but after reading the text I realized the extreme diction within the text that might not translate well into younger people. This text is probably catered towards a more matured audience with a more mature vocabulary. Without the understanding of some of the diction used in the novel, it’s hard to grasp the books’ complete contents.
Epstein spends a lengthy portion of the novel explaining something that is normally impossible to explain in words. This unexplainable theory being the “sports gene”. David Epstein goes into detail on where the ‘sports gene’ comes from, how to obtain it, and how it enhances professional athlete’s ability to excel. Epstein combines storytelling and facts to not only bring his point across but also excite readers. What Epstein also does a great job of grasp the common knowledge and opinions of readers and explain them in a more thorough fashion. That’s why, even with the diction barrier the book provides, I still consider it a pretty good read for anyone with a decent knowledge of sports or even someone without a decent knowledge of sports. The opportunity to learn and be entertained is what this book brings to the table.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Related Authors


Subject Headings


Find it at SPL

To Top