The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America's Greatest Child Prodigy Hardcover – June 26, 1986
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Publisher : Dutton Adult; 1st edition (June 26, 1986)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 297 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0525244042
- ISBN-13 : 978-0525244042
- Item Weight : 1 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.1 x 9.5 x 1.25 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,824 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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The book includes the following chapters -
The Little Father - explains the early life of Boris Sidis, the father of William James Sidis, and a Ukrainian immigrant to America. Boris Sidis was to attend Harvard where he achieved notoriety in the fields of psychiatry and psychology and was influential in the circle around Josiah Royce, William James, and other famous thinkers. Sarah Mandelbaum was born in Russia and immigrated to America where she met Boris Sidis and was tutored by him. She was to go on to become a medical doctor, though she was never to use her M.D. degree. She became the mother of William James Sidis.
April Fool - describes the birth of William James "Billy" Sidis on April 1, 1898 noting his early uncanny genius and abilities. The author notes the early accomplishments of the infant Sidis in speaking and reading as well as his early education under his father psychiatrist Boris Sidis.
The Little Professor - explains Sidis schooling and his excellent performance in subjects such as mathematics, astronomy, languages, anatomy, map and calendar making, and grammar at the very early age of eight. Notes Sidis uncanny abilities in particular in mathematics and languages and his renown as a "little professor".
Sidis an Avatar? - explains Sidis attendance at Harvard University along with two other prodigies the mathematician Nobert Weiner and the statesman Adolf Berle. Notes the problematic relationships Sidis had at Harvard due to his young age. Explains Sidis astounding performance in a lecture he gave on four-dimensional mathematics. Compares Sidis to other prodigies such as Gauss and John Stuart Mill and notes their accomplishments.
Utopian Dreams - explains the fact that the press was to hound the child prodigy Sidis and when he became sick maintained that he had suffered a breakdown. This hounding of Sidis was to occur for the rest of his life. Considers Sidis' grades at Harvard as well as his early political writings concerning a utopia which he referred to as "Hesperia" and the role of the Constitution in Sidis' political theories. Notes the fact that Sidis was opposed to art and swore never to marry at an early age.
Portsmouth - considers Boris Sidis' researches into Abnormal Psychology and the Sidis Psychopathic Institute. Notes the role of the Sidis family in Portsmouth, New Hampshire as well as the relationship of the family to William James and other important Harvard professors and personalities.
The Perfect Life - explains the problematic relationship of Sidis to women and his vow never to marry. Notes some of the comments made by Sidis on Harvard's anti-Semitism, unconscious intelligence (his dabblings in his father's field of psychology), education, eugenics, and the family.
Rice - explains the experiences of Sidis at Rice and various proposals made there for marriage. Notes Sidis accomplishments but also his difficulties at Rice and notes his early involvement in radicalism and socialism.
Too Radical for the Radicals - explains how Sidis was ridiculed in the press and his relationships with women were brought to public attention; notes Sidis continuing involvement in radical politics at the time of the Russian Revolution. Notes the role of socialism in the political understanding of Sidis and his identification as a radical by the authorities.
May Day - explains Sidis' first job at MIT and his involvement in the May Day riots and his support for Russian radialism. Explains Sidis difficulties with the authorities, his atheism, and support for the Soviet system.
Rebellion, Romance, and Reversibility - explains Sidis' rebellion against his family, his romances, his involvement with radicalism and the American Communist Party, and his writings on cosmology. In particular, Sidis was to write on cosmology in his book _The Animate and the Inanimate_ (1925) which considers theories of the Big Bang and the "Great Collision", noted the role of the Second Law of Thermodynamics and "Fermi's paradox", and explained various issues surrounding black holes. This book was highly praised by Sidis' Harvard classmates Buckminster Fuller and Norbert Wiener.
In Search of Solitude - explains Sidis search for solitude from the prying eyes of the press explaining why he left academic life and his taking up as a clerk running a comptometer, his rebellion against his father, his relationship with Martha Foley, and relates his own experiences to those of another child prodigy John Stuart Mill.
The Peridromophile - explains how Sidis took up the eccentric hobby of collecting street car transfers ultimately writing an obscure book on the topic entitled _Notes on the Collection of Transfers_ (1926). Sidis was to form _The Peridromophile_, a magazine devoted to this hobby and further engaged in radical politics.
The Double Life - explains Sidis further dedication to this hobby and his double life as an operator of the comptometer. Sidis was to attempt to avoid the press who hounded him repeatedly because of his earlier life as a child prodigy.
The Tribes and the States - notes Sidis' involvement with the American Indians and his writings in _The Tribes and the States_ which attempted to discuss American prehistory. Here, Sidis tried to show the influence of the American Indians on the American Founders and their understanding of liberty (which differed from Sidis' earlier political musings about "Hesperia"). Sidis also was to comment on issues of equality, liberty, money, and democracy in these volumes and to support the American Indian involvement in early American history.
Friends and Relatives - notes the role of some of Sidis' friends and relatives and their discussion and relationships including discussion of the ideas in _The Animate and the Inanimate_. This also explains Sidis attempt to lead a quiet life at his job free from the press.
Invasion of Privacy - notes the role of the press in once again invading the privacy of Sidis when his life and job were revealed to the public and his life came under assault from the press who hounded him.
The Pacifist and the Transfer Wars - explains Sidis' support for pacifism during the Second World War and some of the conflicts that developed as a result of this pacifism and support for radical politics.
"America's Greatest Brain" - explains what happened to Sidis after Boris' death and his troubled relationship with Sarah his mother. Notes how new difficulties arose for Sidis in light of his pacifism during the First and Second World Wars which was considered radically un-American. Notes how the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was to investigate Sidis' "Peridromophilists" and consider them a radical organization. Explains the reaction of Sidis' friends to the press and their attempts to set the record straight about Sidis.
A Superior Spirit - describes Sidis death and the reaction of his various friends and relatives and their support for his memory. Notes the role of "child prodigies" and "child geniuses" in the history of the United States and the reaction of individuals such as Norbert Wiener to that notion. Explains how the treatment of child prodigies and the gifted resulted in unhappiness for Sidis.
Epilogue - argues that William James Sidis did not burn out or decline as was argued but simply was forced to go underground (the author quotes Ayn Rand's novel _Atlas Shrugged_ to show how frequently the man of genius was forced to go underground in the light of a totalitarian society). The author argues that Sidis had an I.Q. estimated between 250 and 300 putting him easily amongst the world's highest I.Q.s ever recorded. The author considers some of the achievements of Sidis and his early talents relating this to Boris and Sarah's child rearing methods. The author shows some of the problems for gifted education and reflects on comments made by Norbert Wiener concerning gifted education and the Quiz Kids. Explains how gifted children must be allowed to grow up in a world supportive of their talents and that does not shun their oddities.
This book offers an interesting biography of a forgotten genius William James Sidis. Sidis was a brilliant child prodigy who excelled in both mathematics and linguistics but was later to leave these fields to pursue menial labor. Sidis was involved in radical politics and had many eccentric ideas concerning politics, the American Indians, cosmology, and other topics as well as the eccentric hobby of collecting street car transfers. This book provides an interesting study of Sidis and demonstrates some of the difficulties and cruelties inflicted upon him by an intolerant society.
Top reviews from other countries
His life is a lesson to Anglo-Saxon society on how not to treat the geniuses whom our lives depend on.
How he was educated is the standard for child rearing and although this isn’t a guide there are strong clues on developing precocity in children. Montessori would present a full system of these ideas but no one implemented them better than Boris and Sarah Sidis.