Introduction: a brief history of the science of expertise and overview of the book

Document Type

Book Chapter



Place of Publication

New York, NY


School of Arts and Humanities




Originally published as: Hambrick, D. Z., Macnamara, B.N., & Campitelli, G. (2017). Introduction: a brief history of the science of expertise and overview of the book. In Hambrick, D., Campitelli, G., & Macnamara, B. (Eds.), The science of expertise: Behavioral, neural, and genetic approaches to complex skill (pp. 1-9). New York, NY: Routledge. Original article available here


Nearly everyone has witnessed a feat of human performance that is so extraordinary—so far outside of the range of normal human capabilities—that it defies belief. Spectators at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City were witness to perhaps the greatest athletic feat of all time, when Bob Beamon won the gold medal in the long jump with a belief-defying leap of 29 feet 2 ¼ inches. In an event usually won by no more than a few inches, Beamon bettered silver medalist Klaus Beer by a bewildering 28 inches. His world record stood for 23 years, and his Olympic record still stands. More recently, the world watched as 60-year old Diana Nyad swam the 110 miles between Havana and Key West. Of course, it is not just athletes who astound us with their exceptional skill. Performances of prodigies are especially memorable for their seeming otherworldliness (that is a child), as when a 12-year old Evgeny Kissin made his debut with the Moscow Philharmonic and a 13-year old Magnus Carlsen played chess World No. 1 Garry Kasparov to a draw in Iceland. On a more everyday level, we admire people for the professional expertise—their amazing skill in complex tasks as varied as curing diseases, fixing automobiles, and flying airplanes.