Americans love a child prodigy: Shirley Temple, Bobby Fischer, Henry Cowell … the list goes on. There’s just something about kid geniuses that enchants us—fascination at how differently they must see the world, and envy at how they’ve got it made. But in her new book, Off the Charts, Ann Hulbert looks at a range of children who’ve made a splash over the past century, and whose lives have informed our approach to child-rearing and education. Nature versus nurture is just the start of the debate—and it turns out there’s no model for raising any kind of child, genius or not, and no guarantee of success, whatever that means.
Go beyond the episode:
- Ann Hulbert’s Off the Charts: The Hidden lives and Lessons of American Child Prodigies (and read an excerpt here)
- Ann Hulbert lists her top five books on precocious children
- Our top book for a glimpse into the life of a precocious child? Helen DeWitt’s cult novel, The Last Samurai
- “Promethea Unbound,” by Mike Mariana, about a child genius raised in poverty whose life was nearly destroyed by violence
- At the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik puts Off the Charts in conversation with a slate of other books on childrearing in “How to Raise a Prodigy”
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Our theme music was composed by Nathan Prillaman.