Expand Your Range

The first written record of the phrase “jack-of-all-trades” as an insult dates to 1592. In the New Latin form “Johannes factotum,” it was contained in a pamphlet by a playwright criticizing his own industry. The jab refers to a poet with no university education who was involved in myriad roles, like copying scripts, bit-part acting, and even trying to write plays. The poet on the receiving end of the insult: a young William Shakespeare.

The phrase evolved over time, and today it’s usually “jack-of-all-trades, master of none.” I think it is culturally telling that we habitually hack off the end of the full version: “A jack-of-all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”

Curiosity and wide-ranging interests are precious assets, not liabilities. As Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, wrote of people with broad interests: “To him who observes them from afar, it appears as though they are scattering and dissipating their energies, while in reality they are channeling and strengthening them.”

Range Widely spans science, art, self-improvement, and sometimes all three together. Some posts will help you interpret science in the headlines; others will feature a Q&A with a best selling author — like this one about building team culture.

Please join me as we expand our range together. You can support Range Widely with a free or paid subscription.

Who’s writing this?

I’m David Epstein, author of the New York Times best sellers Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. I’m a science writer and investigative reporter. My last two jobs were at ProPublica and Sports Illustrated. You can learn more than you want to know about my background here.

If you want to get the general gist of my books, check out my TED Talks — one for each book.

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David Epstein 

Author of the New York Times best sellers RANGE: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, and The Sports Gene.