President Barack Obama said he bought “books for every age group, from five to 52″—including one on how race affects athleticism—in a trip Saturday afternoon to Politics & Prose, an independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.
The semi-controversial book “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” by David Epstein may have been Obama’s most interesting purchase–Epstein himself has acknowledged that the book tackles taboo topics such as race and the unsettled nature-nurture debate.
“I lost so much sleep over this,” Epstein told The Atlantic in an interview earlier this year. “I literally almost backed out of writing this book, because the issues of race and gender got me so nervous. Eventually my agent and one of my colleagues convinced me to just do it, in the best way I could.”
Beside many other topics, Epstein explains in his book why track and field sprinters of West African descent tend to excel in the sport compared to other racial cohorts. Inborn differences in hemoglobin levels and limb length are part of the explanation for their dominance in the sport, he says. That topic is still taboo in most academic circles, says Epstein, for fears that it may lead to discussions on innate intelligence differences.
“I’m pleased and certainly surprised he picked up my book, but not at all surprised he’s interested in the topics,” said Epstein, who was reached by The Daily Caller News Foundation via email.
“I don’t think the president does nor should shy away from topics like gender and race—and certainly not from the science of genetics—that are important to Americans and humans generally,” said Epstein, adding that he wants to use the stage of sports to explore the deepest questions about “human biological diversity.”