*Off the Charts*

by on January 21, 2018 at 12:24 am in Books, Education, Science, The Arts | Permalink

As I’ve already mentioned, the author is Ann Hulbert and the subtitle is The Hidden Lives and Lessons of America’s Child Prodigies.  This is an excellent book, and so far I am overwhelmed by the high quality and quantity of books coming out this January (in comparison to last year’s near drought).  You don”t have to care about prodigies per se, I would recommend this to anyone in Silicon Valley or finance who thinks about how to find and recruit talent, or anyone interested in the history of art, science, or technology.

I had not known that musician Henry Cowell was the protege of Thorstein Vebeln’s ex-wife, Ellen Veblen.  Here is just one bit about Henry:

He was in his element. As Clarissa noted, Henry was highly receptive without being unduly impressionable. “Always he has worked mostly alone,” she observed, “browsing for information, when he felt in need of it, whenever a door opened.”

As a child, he quickly outgrew his town’s public library, and was suspected of skimming the books he claimed to have read.  He could give a clear and detailed summary of each.  He was born in rural Menlo Park, formal schooling never really worked for him, and Irish music remained a touchstone of his composing, albeit supplemented with tone clusters, extreme dissonance, and a variety of rhythmic innovations.  To many people at the time, his music sounded like noise.

Here is a short YouTube clip of Cowell playing the piano.

It’s not a “this puts all the pieces together for you book,” but still I am finding it engrossing.  I take the overall message to be a) mentorship is very important for prodigies, and b) most mentors have no idea what they are doing.

1 Enrique January 21, 2018 at 12:45 am

Perhaps mentors are overrated?

2 Ray Lopez January 21, 2018 at 12:51 am

Does TC therefore believe, unlike apparently AlexT, that there is value in mentoring? Does TC and AlexT believe innovation can be invented? 10000 hours of practice will make you a grandmaster? What does Malcom Gladwell think?

Personally, I believe at the margin, with better patent laws and mentoring, we can accelerate Total Factor Productivity. But I can’t prove it.

3 clockwork_prior January 21, 2018 at 2:41 am

‘and was suspected of skimming the books he claimed to have read’

Is this where one can safely use the term ‘mood affiliation’?

4 Kevin January 21, 2018 at 8:18 am

I live in Menlo Park and the idea that there was ever any such place as “rural Menlo Park” is entertaining.

5 msgkings January 21, 2018 at 1:13 pm

‘Silicon Valley’ was mainly orange groves before the chip makers showed up.

6 Axa January 21, 2018 at 1:26 pm

Just consider that the guy was born on 1897

7 Ryan T January 21, 2018 at 5:04 pm

“Most mentors have no idea what they are doing.”

To what extent can any mentor really know what they’re doing when dealing with any student, let alone a prodigy?

“Mentorship is very important for prodigies.”

I learned that from “Dune,” which could be retitled “On Mentors and Mentats.” Oddly enough, I’m currently reading “Wild Life” by Trivers and have so far found that the best chapters are about his mentors while the least interesting ones are about smoking pot. And hasn’t TC often spoken quite highly of his own mentors? It’s a relationship too rarely appreciated or explored.

8 GJ January 21, 2018 at 6:53 pm

I wonder if anyone will be listening to Henry Cowell and the other “ultra modernist” composers in a hundred years, outside of scores for horror movies perhaps.

9 GHQ January 21, 2018 at 9:46 pm

I grew up in East Palo Alto, across the Bayshore freeway from Stanford U., and adjacent to Menlo Park, and while that was a while ago, I can attest there were lots of rural places in Silicon Valley back even as late as the early to middle 1960’s.
Cupertino was nothing but apricot and cheery trees, until about 1962.

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