Bloom's book lays out in great detail his hypothesis that great achievement is the result of training, coaching, and perserverence--not the result of genetic endowment. There has been a growing number of writers on the subject who agree with him--that a person's capabilities are not predetermined or fixed at birth but may be significantly shaped and developed by environment.
The author claims that there are very few predictors of a child's future success and great achievement can be "grown" by parents, coaches, schools, and constructive mentors and role models. Bloom's study looked at the childhoods of 120 success stories from several vocational fields and his findings showed no correlation between ultimate success and IQ in such fields as music, science, medicine, chess, and sports. What seemed to count for most of the successful individuals was the enthusiastic support of their family, early exposure to required chores, the development of a sound work ethic, lots of practice and determination, and coaching by devoted teachers.
One of the more interesting parts of this book is the explanation of how our brains and skills develop. Humans, it seems, are quite different from animals, and very different from ants and bees. While they are primarily predetermined by inborn instincts and coded behavior, humans arrive with a vast potential to develop as needed by whatever environment they encounter. It all has to do with something called myelin sheaths that insulate our nervous system and allow specific development of whichever parts of our body are exercised. Thus, our brains and hard wiring are able to grow stronger, just like your biceps, by intensive use, practice, and concerted effort. A newborn gazelle can stand up and flee the lion whereas a human infant is helpless--but years later the gazelle has learned nothing new, while the grown infant may graduate from MIT, discover a new vaccine, and pilot a jet plane.
The positive aspect of Bloom's findings is that it can be applied to helping children grow: They need a rich stimulating environment to fully develop, they require more hands-on experience and less coddling, they need positive feed-back and encouragement, and they must learn to apply themslves, to work hard, and develop self-reliance and determination. The author gives many interesting case studies of parents that provided such advantages for their children and details how they did it, and the time periods required to gain positive results.
The book also explains how current parenting and schooling practices frequently work counter to the ways they should. Children often get negative messages; allowed an over-extended childhood and adolescence that limits their growth, or are not forced to learn how to apply themselves to a task at hand. Such limited development can result in a growing number of "adult children" who have never fully grown up. And he faults teachers because they not only cannot predict which children will succeed, but give preference to those with the narrow set of capacity for memorization and test taking skills. Those so favored receive an "accumulative advantage" by getting special advancement and training even though others may have greater potential for numerous important vocations.
All in all, it is a very interesting and informative book. It can be read in pieces from time to time, and the chapters are all useful independent of each other. But taken as a whole, the book lays out the case for a different type of training needed for our kids, and reveals the large amount of "wasted talent" that comes from not recognizing the many new findings about how our brains and bodies develop.