Exploring the manifestations of talent in diverse subjects that range from Brazilian footballers to the Brontë sisters, Coyle proposes three factors that give rise to all the athletic, musical and mental skills that seem so innate and unattainable to us otherly-gifted: deep practice, ignition, and master coaching. Of these three elements, I found the first to be most interesting because it provides a description of the physical effects of concentrated practice. Now, I have logged numerous hours of piano practice (though, admittedly, somewhat fewer hours of “deep practice”), but never understood that this kind of focused skill-development was actually wrapping nerve fibers in my brain in layers of an insulating substance called myelin. This magical myelin affects the timing with which neurons fire electrical impulses and the speed with which these impulses travel, resulting in an increase in whatever skill is being practiced, regardless of the nature of the skill or the “natural talent” of the person involved. The implications are immense: suddenly it seems that real genius is the drive to perform thousands of hours of deep practice, not to have a high IQ, innate ability, or access to top coaching from the beginning. Also, it definitively establishes the value and efficiency of that painfully-focused, mentally-exhausting style of practicing that might otherwise cause discouragement when it does not generate immediately-impressive improvement.
Coyle’s writing style is entertaining and easy to read, but is somewhat lacking from a scholarly point of view; he is, after all, no neurologist or scientific researcher. Some of the studies he references and examples he uses seem questionable, and his sources are rather casually collected in sparse end notes. All in all, this book’s value is more in its descriptive powers than its prescriptive ones: lacking any of the three elements of talent (deep practice, ignition or master coaching), you are unlikely to become a world-class anything, whether you read it or not. However, lots of Coyle’s observations and claims resonated with me because I am fascinated by the learning process and hunger for accomplishment in a variety of areas.
[Why I read it: a friend, Joy, mentioned that she was reading it and got me interested.]