David Epstein The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance

Last updated date: June 27, 2019

DWYM Score
9.8

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We looked at the top 1 Sports Books and dug through the reviews from 7 of the most popular review sites including Good Reads, Scientific American, The Washington Post, Book Browse, Kirkus Reviews, The Sports Ethicist, Fully Booked and more. Through this analysis, we've determined the best Sports Book you should buy.

Overall Take

David Epstein's "The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance" is a different type of sports book. It takes a scientific look at what makes talented athletes good at what they do. Epstein uses studies and reports to back up his findings, revealing how much of a role that nature plays in athletic talent. The author does a good job at weaving science in with his own analysis and anecdotes. In our analysis of 49 expert reviews, the David Epstein David Epstein The Sports Gene placed 2nd when we looked at the top 10 products in the category. For the full ranking, see below.

Editor's Note July 2, 2019:
Checkout The Best Sports Book for a detailed review of all the top sports books.

Expert Summarized Score
8.2
7 expert reviews
User Summarized Score
9.1
569 user reviews
Our Favorite Video Reviews
What experts liked
As a former competitive runner and current Sports Illustrated senior writer, Epstein is well equipped to explain the complexities of the “sports gene” search. Time and time again, his deeply researched and nuanced investigations of the genetics underlying the athleticism of different races, genders and individuals reinforce a comforting, commonsense conclusion: excelling at sports isn't just a matter of natural talent or nurtured practice—it's both.
- Scientific American
Many researchers and writers are reluctant to tackle genetic issues because they fear the quicksand of racial and ethnic stereotyping. To his credit, Epstein does not flinch. He reviews the best scientific studies and reports that, on average, black athletes run faster and jump higher than white ones.
- The Washington Post
Readers may feel overwhelmed at Epstein’s avalanche of genetic and physiological studies, but few will put down this deliciously contrarian exploration of great athletic feats.
- Kirkus Reviews
This engaging and illuminating work is a pleasure to read. The anecdotes are amazing and humanize the scientific questions and issues raised by the role of genes in sport. Epstein does a great job of reporting the science without getting too technical, but without dumbing it down or sensationalizing it.
- The Sports Ethicist
January 27, 2014 | Full review
In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success and the so-called 10,000-hour rule, David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving it. Epstein forces us to rethink the very nature of athleticism.
- Fully Booked
April 9, 2014 | Full review
What experts didn't like
I have only one complaint: The narrative slows down when the author shows off what he knows about the arcane details of genetic science.
- The Washington Post

From The Manufacturer

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? In this controversial and engaging exploration of athletic success and the so-called 10,000-hour rule, David Epstein tackles the great nature vs. nurture debate and traces how far science has come in solving it. 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.

An Overview On Sports Books

  • Before you start looking for a good sports book to read, think about the topic you’re interested in exploring. If you want an in-depth look at a sports figure, Kobe Bryant’s “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” and David Epstein’s “The Sports Gene” are both good choices. For those who are interested in an analysis of sports as a whole, David Epstein’s “The Sports Gene” is a can’t miss. Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike,” on the other hand, is a book that takes an in-depth look into the sportswear industry.
  • Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” is the Nike founder’s tale of his own journey in building one of the top brands in the world. With Kobe Bryant’s “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play,” you get a look at the five-time NBA champion’s own unique approach to the game. Arnold Palmer’s “A Life Well Played: My Stories” isn’t an autobiography – that was published previously. This book is filled with anecdotes and wisdom directly from Palmer that can apply to both golfers and nongolfers. In David Epstein’s “The Sports Gene,” an expert in sports medicine uses scientific studies and his own expertise to break down whether certain athletic abilities truly are genetic rather than learned.
  • No matter how passionate you are about your favorite sport, you’ll still want a book that is a page-turner. Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” describes in-depth the processes involved in creating and distributing shoes. Even if you never thought you’d be interested in such a topic, you’ll find this book draws you in. Kobe Bryant’s “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” uses photos to illustrate Bryant’s points, breaking up the text in a way that will appeal to even those who aren’t avid readers. Arnold Palmer’s “A Life Well Played: My Stories” makes you feel as though you’re spending time with the late legend, thanks to Palmer’s distinct writing voice. David Epstein’s “The Sports Gene” can slow down at times, particularly while the author is providing scientific evidence to back up his claims. He does have a way of weaving those sections in between anecdotes and commentary to keep things moving, though.
  • Whether you’re into sports or not, you’ll still find Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” useful. Knight is open about the struggles he faced along the way, and his honesty can be motivating to those trying to reach a goal of their own.
  • Kobe Bryant’s “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” is ideal for those who want to learn a little more about his preparation process. As with Knight’s book, this one can also provide lessons applicable to any field.
  • By tackling the nature versus nurture debate, David Epstein’s “The Sports Gene” will help you analyze whether things you’ve heard all your life, such as the 10,000-hour rule, are fact or fiction.
  • Although Phil Knight’s “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” is great, it does stop right before the Jordan era of the athletic company. Those looking for an analysis of Nike in the modern era may not find it there.
  • David Epstein’s “The Sports Gene” tackles some very sensitive issues with a straightforward approach. Typically, science steers clear of statements that might be seen as racial stereotyping, but Epstein jumps right in. He tampers any criticism by making sure he has scientific studies and reports to back up every finding.
  • One thing to keep in mind with Kobe Bryant’s “The Mamba Mentality: How I Play” is that it’s only around 200 pages, and many of those pages are filled with photos. You may find yourself disappointed that you aren’t getting more meat.

DYWM Fun Fact

Sports had a slow start in America, with Puritans initially choosing to spend Sunday worshipping rather than on recreation, as the Roman Catholics had done. Even Virginia resisted sports initially, putting laws in place to prevent playing. But as plantations and slavery began to emerge, those laws were gradually tossed aside.

Even John Adams, who initially spoke against playing games, grew up playing bat and ball. In adulthood, America’s founding father spent time riding, shooting and boating. Competing as a means of passing time was too compelling for Americans to resist, and soon, racing became the first big sport, with many others to follow.

The Sports Book Buying Guide

Whether it’s football, basketball, hockey, golf or tennis, supporting sports teams is America’s favorite pastime. Fans grow to care about their favorite athletes, wanting to learn as much as possible about them. For that reason, there are plenty of books on the market profiling sports’ greatest heroes, as well as those analyzing various historical sporting events and offering analysis into various facets of athleticism.

But you’ll also find books tagged under sports that give you value in other areas of your life. An athlete’s process, for instance, could inspire you as you build your own business or try to achieve your goal of learning a new skill. Although often only sports fans read books in the genre, there are many benefits for nonfans as well.

When you’re looking for a sports book, readability is also a factor. If you’re reading about a sports figure, you’ll likely want the storytelling to be true to the person’s voice. This is especially important if the book is a series of anecdotes and stories directly from the subject of the book. If you’re reading a historical retelling or analysis, it’s even more important to verify that the writing style reads the way you prefer, especially if you want to avoid a dry recital of facts and figures.

Even if you buy a book because you want to learn more about a particular person or sporting event, accuracy is still essential. If it’s a profile of the person, it can help if the book has that person’s byline. Unauthorized biographies can sometimes be full of inaccuracies and hearsay. If it’s a historical event or analysis, pay close attention to the author’s credentials to make sure the person is qualified to speak as an expert on that subject.

Primarily, though, a good sports book will inspire and motivate readers. One of the reasons Americans are so fascinated with sports is that it shows that with determination and hard work, anything is possible. You’ll find that most sports books are written with the goal of conveying that message to readers.