Sunday Times Book of the Year
This is a book about what it feels like to be exceptional - and what it takes to get there. Why can some people achieve greatness when others can't, no matter how hard they try? What are the secrets of long life and happiness? Just how much potential does our species have?
In this inspirational book, New Scientist Managing Editor Rowan Hooper takes us on a tour of the peaks of human achievement. We sit down with some of the world's finest minds, from a Nobel-prize winning scientist to a double Booker-prize winning author; we meet people whose power of focus has been the difference between a world record and death; we learn from international opera stars; we go back in time with memory champions, and we explore the transcendent experience of ultrarunners. We meet people who have rebounded from near-death, those who have demonstrated exceptional bravery, and those who have found happiness in the most unexpected ways.
Drawing on interviews with a wide range of superhumans as well as those who study them, Hooper assesses the science of peak potential, reviewing the role of genetics alongside the famed 10,000 hours of practice.
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 incredible human stories, Superhuman is a must-read.
Fascinating, timely and very well put together . . . 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
This is a scream, in several ways: it's highly entertaining, but it's kind of painful to realise I will never be superhuman. Dang, eh? — Margaret Atwood, bestselling author of The Handmaid’s Tale, on Twitter
Superhuman is an incredibly readable and endlessly interesting book. Perhaps most importantly, it is an inspiring book — Christopher Kemp, Science
Rowan Hooper's book corrals humans who are the best at things we revere, such as intelligence, musical ability, bravery and endurance, plus the things that matter the most, longevity and happiness. He sought achievers from all over the world and asked them why and how . . . The result is terrifically entertaining. Hooper is the managing editor of New Scientist magazine and that precious thing, an easy, fluent, funny scientist (evolutionary biology in his case). From an armchair this is spectacularly enjoyable. Hooper is an amiable, jaunty companion who explores the science of extreme human achievement - a mix of environment, practice, genetics, psychology and passion. The message from this upbeat, clever, feel good book is that all of us have greater capacity than we realise. I finished the book inspired — Melanie Reid, The Times
For his new book, Superhuman, Rowan Hooper has travelled the world meeting people who are the best in a range of coveted traits . . . The book details conversations with people who have reached the peak of human potential in happiness, focus, resilience, sleep, ageing, language, bravery and much more - and lays out the scientific studies that back up their experiences . . . Rowan found the people he met, like Ellen MacArthur, explained time and time again in different words that you can overcome any obstacles if you have a burning passion and a goal to strive towards. Find a 'why' and you'll find a way — Niamh Horan, Irish Sunday Independent
In this excellent book, Hooper seeks out the highest achievers in myriad fields and also the scientists studying human capability to reframe the old debate: it's never genes or environment, it is always both things, together — New Scientist
This fascinating book reveals what it takes to be superhuman . . . as an evolutionary biologist, Hooper is persuasive in arguing that the genetic element in extreme performance is generally underestimated — Dominic Lawson, Daily Mail
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 marvelled 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 Etta and Otto and Russell and James
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