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Trouble for Hedgehogs 

Michael M. Rosen

Are generalists due for a comeback?

The fox knows many things,” the ancient Greek poet Archilochus wrote, “but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” This pithy characterization of the battle between generalists and specialists, between breadth and depth, that has raged for centuries formed the basis for Isaiah Berlin’s landmark 1953 work The Hedgehog and the Fox, which pitted hedgehogs like Plato, Dante, and Nietzsche against foxes like Aristotle, Shakespeare, and Goethe.

In Range, David Epstein, a contrarian journalist who describes his own polymathy in foxlike terms, skillfully updates Archilochus’ and Berlin’s dichotomy for the twenty-first century. Epstein comes down decisively and persuasively on the side of the generalists, and expounds on the urgent need for members of the modern workforce to channel their own foxlike instincts. His broad survey of an extraordinary variety of fields — ranging from psychology to sports to bioengineering to comic books to music to physics — reveals a consistent truth beginning to emerge at an especially fraught moment in the professional evolution of the Western world, which “increasingly incentivizes, even demands, hyperspecialization.” To wit, only those who branch out, who read and study widely, who make connections between fields, and who think and hypothesize and collaborate unconventionally will gain purchase in our progressively automated post-industrial society...

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Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer in Israel and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Michael M. Rosen, "Trouble for Hedgehogs," The New Atlantis, Number 60, Fall 2019, pp. 99-104.