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Contributions Beyond Our Own Books

Brian Holding

The first question our staff asks during an acquisitions meeting is this: Does this book make a contribution? That question comes before we ask if the project will be profitable, and it’s followed by many related questions:

  • Does it compete with an existing Human Kinetics title?
  • Will it increase the knowledge in existing resources?
  • Is the author a highly regarded expert on the topic?
  • Will it enhance our publishing credibility?

Answering those questions has been part of our acquisitions process since Human Kinetics was founded by Rainer Martens nearly 40 years ago. It’s a disciplined and rigorous process that has enabled HK to remain the leading source of information across the sport and physical activity sciences.

So it was with great curiosity I opened The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance by David Epstein (Penguin, 2013). It’s a terrific new book. It’s a title I wished HK had had the chance to publish because it makes a major contribution in helping consumers understand sport.

Epstein, a senior writer with Sports Illustrated, masterfully unravels many of the mysteries surrounding nature versus nurture when it comes to sport performance. Along the way, he challenges and changes many commonly held perceptions about why athletes excel. He explores questions related to genetics, gender, physical development, and skill acquisition.

Epstein scoured thousands of articles and interviewed hundreds of scientists. What is gratifying from HK’s perspective are the many contributions of our authors. Epstein singles out the value of American College of Sports Medicine conferences where he served on a panel with HK authors Claude Bouchard, whom Epstein calls “the most influential exercise geneticist in the world,” and K. Anders Ericsson, who is known for research on the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. In addition to those two authors, other HK authors playing roles are Janet Starkes, Bruce Abernethy, Timothy Olds, Kevin Norton, Robert Malina, Oded Bar-Or, Tim Noakes, Michael Sandrock, Jack Daniels, Randall Wilber, David Martin, Peter Coe, Tudor Bompa, Gregory Haff, Stephen Roth, Krista Austin, Bengt Saltin, and Ronald Maughan.

Starkes’ and Abernethy’s research helps Epstein explain why it is not Albert Pujols’ reaction time that allows him to hit a baseball. It is his chart-topping ability to project the path of the baseball. It is more Albert’s athletic software than hardware. Bouchard’s genetic research sheds light on the trainability of some athletes over others. Bouchard also played a role connecting malaria to sickle-cell gene variant to low hemoglobin to fast-twitch muscle fibers—and thus the genetic potential to be a great sprinter.

The Sports Gene is a fascinating book, and it’s rewarding to see the contributions from our authors. In an exchange with Epstein, he cited HK for its many works. “My personal library is absolutely filled with HK books,” he wrote.

I was inspired as a publisher reading The Sports Gene. My mind raced with ideas about new publishing projects to further expand the areas covered by Epstein or to explore new ground in the fields of genetics, psychology, and physiology.

How we deliver information is being transformed, but our success still hinges on content. The Sports Gene will point HK in some new directions to pursue.



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