“Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” by David Epstein is this month’s pick for the Athletic Bookworms for a couple reasons, but the main one is because when this book came out, we had a dozen people recommend it because it’s exactly the philosophy we have behind The Consummate Athlete Podcast. We started the podcast because we think it’s super important to be athletic in a well-rounded way versus having a super narrow focus (unless you’re getting paid A LOT). We want to be able to rock climb on a Wednesday, ultra-run on a Thursday, SUP on Friday and swim afterwards. Basically, we want to be able to do a ton of movements and sports well. We want RANGE. Enter Epstein’s book… and in a couple weeks, we’ll have him on the podcast to talk about it, so the timing to read his book is perfect.
A powerful argument for how to succeed in any field: develop broad interests and skills while everyone around you is rushing to specialize. Plenty of experts argue that anyone who wants to develop a skill, play an instrument, or lead their field should start early, focus intensely, and rack up as many hours of deliberate practice as possible. If you dabble or delay, you’ll never catch up to the people who got a head start. But a closer look at research on the world’s top performers, from professional athletes to Nobel laureates, shows that early specialization is the exception, not the rule.
David Epstein examined the world’s most successful athletes, artists, musicians, inventors, forecasters and scientists. He discovered that in most fields—especially those that are complex and unpredictable—generalists, not specialists, are primed to excel. Generalists often find their path late, and they juggle many interests rather than focusing on one. They’re also more creative, more agile, and able to make connections their more specialized peers can’t see.