ENG 111

Fall 2002


READING GUIDE:  Extraordinary Minds, chapter 1—Introduction:  Toward a Science of Extraordinariness


Vocabulary . . .


A  Learn what these words mean as they are used in the places indicated in the text.


Longevity (p. 1)

Prodigious/-ness (p. 1)

Incredulous (p. 2)

Entertain (p. 2)

Denigrate (p. 3)

 Ambivalence (p. 3)

Presumptuous (p. 4)

Dynamic (p. 7)

Posthumous (p. 7)

Posit (p. 8)

 Ethereal (p. 9)

Proclivities (p. 9)

Ensemble (p. 10)

Amalgam (p 15



B  On p. 4, our writer, Howard Gardner, uses the phrase “between Scylla and Charybdis.”  A more common way to say the same thing is “between a rock and a hard place.”


C  On p. 7, there are five words in italics.  The three at the top of the page are familiar to you.  So why are they in italics?  Because Gardner is giving them an operational definition—that is, a special, narrow meaning.  Page 7 will be only our first pass at these words; they are crucially important to Gardner’s theory, and we’ll be returning to them throughout the semester.


We find the two other words in italics at the bottom of the page.  These are probably not familiar to you; they were not to me.  Notice how Gardner connects them to ideas he’s introduced on the previous page, and also notice what grammatical device Gardner uses to define them in his text.


Notes . . .


By the time you read this, we will already have spent some time discussing Gardner’s purpose in writing this book.  We also will have previewed and skimmed the first chapter to see how it addresses that purpose.  Having done that, let’s turn now to specifics in the text.


Note that Gardner is not content to study extraordinary people (unlike what Mallory said about climbing Mt. Everest) because they’re there.  In addition to filling a gap in the record, Gardner is making a case for relevance.  At the bottom of p. 5, he lists three “tasks,” as he calls them, for the book.  Be sure you know what these are.  Also:  before we find out what Gardner has to say about these tasks, what is your untutored opinion of them?  What are extraordinary people like?  How are they different from the rest of us?  And what, if anything, can we learn from them?


A section entitled “The Building Blocks of Extraordinariness” begins on p. 8.  Gardner is being pretty considerate of us here; the first time he mentions each of the building blocks, he writes it in italics.  How many of these building blocks are there?  What are they?  And how much language does Gardner devote to each one?  You may begin your reading of this section thinking it looks like a five-paragraph essay—but it doesn’t end that way.


The following section, “Four Forms of Extraordinariness,” is maybe the most critically important one in the chapter.  In it, Gardner describes his way of putting extraordinary people into four categories.  We’ll be working with these categories all semester, so we will soon have them committed to memory.  For now, the real issue is not memorizing the framework, but testing it out, seeing if we agree with it.  What do you think?  Are these four categories of master, maker, introspector, and influencer the best way to understand extraordinary people?  Can you anticipate any problems with this framework?  Can you think of any other way of putting extraordinary people into groups?  Or do you question the need or desirability of putting people into groups in the first place?


The final section of the chapter is simply a preview of what Gardner will tell us in the rest of the book.  Why do you suppose he feels the need to do this?  And how about this:  Gardner not only tells us that there will be three lessons waiting for us in the last chapters, he actually tips his hand and tell us what those lessons are.  Wow.  Is he making a good decision as a writer when he does this?