Instaread Summary of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool
One out of five stars
The second paragraph of the summary turned me off and created an immediate belief in me that the book being described is a pile of smelly psychobabble. The first sentence of that paragraph is “There is no such thing as a natural prodigy.” The remainder is then devoted to an absurd explanation that Mozart was the product of years of training by the time that he was six or seven and thrilling European audiences.
To me, this is incredibly simplistic and ignores the fact that Mozart WAS SIX! Even the best instruction has to land in extremely fertile intellectual soil in order to be able to do the things Mozart did at such a young age. This is the very definition of prodigy. As a mathematician, I know the history of the subject contains examples of a few people that were doing incredible things at a young age. There is nothing in this summary that is convincing regarding the argument against the existence of prodigies.
Some of the other key takeaways are based on what is well known. For example, number 2 is “The adult brain remains adaptable even later in life, overturning the fallacy that only children can excel in learning new skills.” This has been reported many times in the professional and popular literature for decades, so it is hardly a revelation.
The main catch phrase is “deliberate practice” and is defined in the following way. “Deliberate practice is a purposeful method of approaching the cultivation of a desired skill set.” While the authors may dress this concept up in the finery of a new psychological term, the rest of the world rightly refers to this as just “practice.”
The author of the summary parrots Ericsson’s claims with no questioning of their validity, a tactic that I found weak. This is summed up in the last sentence. “Rather, as Ericsson explains in Peak, only deliberate practice can guarantee expertise over time— but there is no way to predict exactly how much time it will take to do so.”
Finally, there is the scientific howler in key takeaway 2. “In 2013, a unique study looked at the presence of the radioisotope C14 that permeates the cells of all living organisms after a nuclear explosion.” The Carbon 14 isotope that is taken up by ALL living cells is produced by the bombardment of Earth by cosmic rays and not nuclear explosions. Which is why it is possible to date items for thousands of years before there was ever a nuclear explosion on this planet. This is a demonstration of scientific ignorance and not a surprise, given the rest of the book.
This book was made available for free for review purposes.