Peak: The new science of Expertise (2016) by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool is a book about ability and expertise from the researcher who did research that Malcolm Gladwell cited in Outliers. The book looks at how expert performers developed their abilities.

Peak states that the way to high performance is by lots of deliberate practice, which is practice where someones abilities are assessed and weaknesses are worked on and performance increased. The book emphasises that this works best in fields where things can be quantified easily. However toward the end of the book the way the ideas of working on actual understanding, rather than having listened to information, can be used to improve physics is examined.

The book contains many fascinating stories and descriptions of people who are experts. A number of stories of child prodigies are discussed, including Mozart. The abilities of perfect pitch and the way that people can remember numbers, calculate days of the week and other feats is also shown to be something that can be learnt and studied rather than something that is an innate talent.

Peak makes the point that initial talent doesn’t matter much. The book makes the point that among top rated chess players IQ doesn’t correlate well with performance or indeed surprisingly not even with very successful academics. Ability in certain sports like basketball isn’t mentioned and physical attributes of successful sportspeople aren’t looked at.

Part of the message of the book, that nobody who is very good at something got their without lots of hard practice is one that almost everyone would agree with. The idea that talent doesn’t matter isn’t as strongly made. However, the point that with better practice many people can sing reasonably, play many sports much better and be more adept in their working life is something that is very probably true and is a point well worth making.





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