Friday, 7 September 2012

Read in 2012 - 26: Ist Intelligenz erblich?

For a while now, I had really been longing for a good non-fiction read to challenge my mind on a different level than the (admittedly quite flat) stories I had been reading.
Some of those books were very nice, such as "Netherwood", some were just about bearable, as you will know if you have been reading my reviews.

A while ago, I went to an evening gathering of a group of people who meet once a month, with one or more presentations given about various topics such as "Hero's Journey" and how this particular element is a vital part of so many plots in film and literature (and has been for many centuries), or "The Queens of W├╝rttemberg", or "Systems of Numbering Streets, Roads and Motorways". Yes, some of these topics are a bit on the nerdy side, which also applies to the people belonging to the group, but that's fine by me - I have a considerable portion of nerdiness myself, even though it does not always become apparent. (Or does it?)

To cut a long story short, during this meeting a friendly lady had a book with her and said she had finished reading it and now wanted to give it to whoever wished to read it next, to keep. The topic interested me, and so I ended up with this unexpected gift:

"Ist Intelligenz erblich?" by Dieter E. Zimmer.

In English, the title means "Is Intelligence Hereditary?" (or congenital). The subtitle reads "Eine Klarstellung" - "A Clarification", and that's exactly what this very well written book is.

The author's website is here; parts of it are in English.
Mr. Zimmer himself is not an expert on genetics, nor does he claim to be, but he has reasonably compiled what scientists have found out over the last decades in terms of human intelligence and how it is related to genetic and environmental factors.
The whole book is totally un-hysterical, and I very much like the style of writing; it is understandably enough without ever sounding condescending.

Everything is thoroughly researched, all sources are named, and where something has not (yet) been scientifically proven (or disproven), the author frankly says so.
He is never dogmatic, but with a true voice of reason writes about a topic that can so easily lead to heated debates and misunderstandings, particularly in Germany.

There is a short description of the book in English on this website.
I am not going to quote from the book or talk at length about its controversial subject, but it would be interesting to see what discussion - if any - will ensue in the form of comments. So, please do not hold back with your views - as long as you state them in a civil manner without injustly or vulgarly attacking anyone, you can be sure your opinion will be left in your comment for everyone to read without me "censoring" simply because I may think differently from what others believe.
Having said that, I can hardly imagine any of my regular readers and commenters to write something that would make it appear necessary for me to use the "delete" button.

There is no ranking on my book reviews, but if there was, this book would definitely be top level in the non-fiction category.


  1. I haven't read the book and since I would have to learn German before I read it, it is not likely I will ever read it. My only completely unresearched and totally hysterical thought is that just about everything starts out with heredity but what we do with our genes has even more impact.

  2. The first issue for me, in any such discussion, would be how do you measure intelligence? I've never believed IQ tests do much more than show one's ability to tackle such tests. (And that's not sour grapes, I used to score pretty highly. Interestingly, if the tests are to be believed my intelligence has dropped drastically in the last ten years. I'm not convinced it has.)
    In general terms, without having read the book, my immediate reaction was no - it;sd not hereditary but upon ponderingn it I'm not so sure - perhaps Mark is right and most things start out with heredity and what we then do with them is what brings the results.

  3. I agree with Scriptor -- intelligence tests are often consciously or unconsciously skewed to reward the more verbal members of society -- the readers and the writers. The artistic hands-on people (like potters, engineers, woodworkers) sometimes don't score as high as they should because the tests fail to give proper weight to the amount of ingenuity and intelligence involved in these pursuits.

  4. I hope they will translate this book! It is a subject which interests me, but I'm fairly sure my German is not up to this level of reading.

  5. I certainly believe that you inherit certain traits from family - but I question how much of that is environmental. Do I enjoy 'such & such' subject because of natural interest or was it nurtured from a young age?

    Certainly an interesting subject, but I too question how 'intelligence' is measured.