Syed wanted to know why his neighbourhood in Reading produced so many top table tennis players. The clue is in the book’s subtitle, “the myth of talent and the power of practice”, and you probably feel you know what’s in it – yeah, yeah, the 10,000 hours it takes to be a virtuoso musician or a world class tennis player. But that’s just one chapter. If you’re a parent you have to know why praising effort is so much more important than praising achievement (and read about the Polgar sisters, whose father wanted to prove that anyone could be a chess grandmaster). The piece on athletes’ superstitions is a cracking read, as is the insight on what choking really is. He even dares to write a chapter called, “Are blacks superior runners?”, and really answers the question. Brave man. Maybe there’s more to his success than mere practice, after all.

Books | December 2012