What biographies teach us about expertise


Using a mix of famous and contemporary biographies, Robert Greene delivers a perfectly executed book. A really impressive work of research condensing the insights gained through dozens of books, dissecting the life of so many influential persons including Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, Mozart, and through in-person interviews with successful persons including the hacker Paul Graham, the US Air Force pilot Cesar Antonio Rodriguez, the linguist Daniel Everett. This great diversity reveals new insights that I haven’t found in other books on the subject. And even if I preferred more opinionated, science-backed books like Grit or Peak, Mastery is an excellent companion, putting expertise in a new light. I recommend this book but maybe not as your first reading on the subject.

On a negative note, there are hard-to-avoid repetitions when the same story is used to illustrate key points in different chapters, but as the book is well-written, this is anecdotal. There is also a debatable point that I would have liked the author has developed further: “Do we really have a unique Life’s task?” I don’t think so, especially having reading the excellent book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Anyway, Mastery brings many valuable lessons. If you are willing to read several books on the subject, Mastery should be among them.

About the author

Julien Sobczak works as software developer for Scaleway, a French cloud provider. As an avid reader, his main area of focus are developer productivity, mental literacy, and everything that resolves around personal development.

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