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Superhuman: Life at the Extremes of Our Capacity (Paperback)
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From evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper, an awe-inspiring look into the extremes of human ability—and what they tell us about our own potential—“an intriguing…look at some of the things that make us human—and more” (Kirkus Reviews).
In 1997, an endurance runner named Yiannis Kouros ran 188 miles in twenty-four hours. Akira Haraguchi can recite pi to the 100,000th decimal point. John Nunn was accepted to Oxford University at age fifteen. After a horrific attack by her estranged husband, Carmen Tarleton was left with burns to more than eighty percent of her body. After a three-month coma, multiple skin grafts, and successful face transplant, Tarleton is now a motivational speaker.
What does it feel like to be exceptional? And what does it take to get there? Why can some people achieve greatness when others can’t, no matter how hard they try? Just how much potential does our species have? Evolutionary biologist Rowan Hooper has the answers. In Superhuman he takes us on a breathtaking tour of the peaks of human achievement that shows us what it feels like to be extraordinary—and what it takes to get there.
Drawing on interviews with these “superhumans” and those who have studied them, Hooper assesses the science and genetics of peak potential. His case studies are as inspirational as they are varied, highlighting feats of endurance, strength, intelligence, and memory.
Superhuman is “terrifically entertaining. Hooper is that precious thing; an easy, fluent, and funny scientist. The message from this upbeat, clever, feel good book is that we all have greater capacity than we realize. Spectacularly enjoyable” (The London Times), this is a fascinating, eye-opening, and inspiring celebration for anyone who ever felt that they might be able to do something extraordinary in life, for those who simply want to succeed, and for anyone interested in the sublime possibilities of humankind.
About the Author
Rowan Hooper is managing editor of New Scientist magazine, where he has spent more than ten years writing about all aspects of science. He has a PhD in evolutionary biology and worked as a biologist in Japan for five years, before joining the Japan Times in Tokyo, and later taking up a fellowship at Trinity College Dublin. Two collections of his long-running column for the paper have been published in Japan, and his work has also appeared in The Economist, The Guardian, Wired, and The Washington Post. He lives in London with his partner and two daughters. Superhuman is his first book.
"This is a scream, in several ways: it's highly entertaining, but it's kind of painful to realize I will never be superhuman. Dang, eh?"—Margaret Atwood, New York Times bestselling author of The Handmaid’s Tale
“Superhuman is an incredibly readable and endlessly interesting book. Perhaps most importantly, it is an inspiring book.”—Christopher Kemp, Science
“Terrifically entertaining. Hooper is that precious thing; an easy, fluent, and funny scientist. The message from this upbeat, clever, feel good book is that we all have greater capacity than we realize. Spectacularly enjoyable.”—The London Times
“The range of human activities, and abilities, covered in Rowan Hooper’s study is astonishing and inspiring. It’s a reminder of the incomparable adaptability that evolution has brought about in the human body and mind, and I found myself frequently wondering: what else are we capable of? How much further can we reach? And not least: how can we make sure the human race survives long enough for all our potential to unfold? The whole study is enthralling.”—Philip Pullman, New York Times bestselling author of His Dark Materials series
“At one level this is science writing as freak show: Hooper tracks down people who run insane distances (seven consecutive marathons, for instance, at roughly three hours per marathon), remain unimaginably alert (from F1 drivers to Zen monks), memorise pi to umpteen places, and so on. But underneath the highly entertaining cor blimeys he is investigating something serious and timely: the controversial relationship between genes and environment, and the
physiological, intellectual, genetic and ethical limits of being human.”—James McConnachie, Sunday Times of London, Book of the Year
"Loved the book. Very thought provoking.”—Wayne McGregor, Choreographer
“In this highly readable and well-researched book, Rowan Hooper, an evolutionary biologist by training, sets out to “demystify people at the extremes” of everything from intelligence to running to sleeping. As promoted in a recent spate of popular books, one appealing account of success says that all that really distinguishes highly accomplished people from the rest of us is the environment: having the opportunity and resources to pursue a dream. Nurture certainly does play an important role in success, but as Hooper explains in engaging detail in Superhuman, drawing on insightful interviews with people at the peak of success to illustrate, it is becoming increasingly clear from scientific research on expert performance that there is more to the story. Genetic makeup not only underpins basic abilities and capacities that bear on complex skills--it influences the environments that we seek out and create for ourselves. Superhuman will help shift the debate about the origins of exceptional performance beyond an anachronistic nature vs. nurture perspective and towards a recognition that it no longer even make sense to try to separate these two types of influence. The book is essential reading for anyone who has marveled at exceptional human performance and wondered what explains it.”—Zach Hambrick, Professor of Cognitive Psychology and Director of the Expertise Lab, Michigan State University
"Haven't read a book so simultaneously inspiring and geekily fascinating in ages."—Emma Hooper, author of Our Homesick Songs and Emma and Otto
"We all want to be superhuman, and that dream has been a common element in science-fiction works. Yet what is less well known is the fact that superhumans are already among us, and they are more amazing than the aliens or superheros depicted in comics. They inspire us and may even drive the future evolution of our species. Rowan Hooper vividly tells the stories of superhumans, and explains the science behind them. The book has surprised and inspired me, and I hope you will feel the same." —Liu Cixin, author of The Three-Body Problem