Friday, 3 September 2010

A Year in Books 2010 - Bounce

Looking at the age old debate of what makes a champion, talent or hard work, Matthew Syed has taken the Malcolm Gladwell approach of popularising science and ideas through story telling . There are 2 main differences though, firstly what Gladwell uses a chapter to discuss , Syed analyses over the course of close to 300 pages and secondly Syed has been there , he is an ex table tennis champion. Those 2 differences are the real strengths of the book, that and the fact that unlike books like the outliers and freakonomics each chapter stays true to the books central theme.

There is some overlap with Gladwell's outliers and in the early chapters it suffers from using some of the same examples eg the impact that the month of birth can have on the likelihood of a canadian boy making it as an ice hockey player. However the skill in which Syed dismantles the talent myth makes it a great read in itself especially as the examples build and build.

Along the way we learn why one street in Reading has produced more uk table tennis champions than the rest of the country put together, how Desmond Douglas (remember him from superstars?) could be the best returner in the british team but have the slowest reaction times, and why a region in Kenya has produced so many world class distance runners.

He mixes the well known case studies such as the Williams sisters with the more obscure. He tackles the "what about Mozart" argument with a confidence and a clarity that you feel a bit foolish posing the challenge.

Perhaps the most extraordinary story concerns an Hungarian educationalist that advertised for a wife to take part in a unique social experiment, to work right from birth to create a world chess champion. Not only did he do this with his first child , to prove this wasn't some talent fluke he repeated it with his second child

Only once does Syed go down a bit of a blind alley, although it is an interesting one on the role of drugs within sport

If you have any interest in sport or wondered if it is too late to become the open champion then "Bounce" will give you loads to think about and some great stories for pub arguments.

You can buy Bounce by Matthew Syed here

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