The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery (Hardcover)

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Longtime New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik investigates a foundational human question: How do we learn—and master—a new skill?


For decades, Adam Gopnik has been one of our most beloved writers, a brilliantly perceptive critic of art, food, France, and more. But recently, he became obsessed by a fundamental matter: How did the people he was writing about learn their outlandish skill, whether it was drawing a nude or baking a sourdough loaf? In The Real Work—his title the term magicians use for the accumulated craft that makes for a great trick—Gopnik apprentices himself to an artist, a dancer, a boxer, and even a driving instructor (from the DMV), among others, trying his late-middle-age hand at things he assumed were beyond him. He finds that mastering a skill is a process of methodically breaking down and building up, piece by piece—and that true mastery, in any field, requires mastering other people’s minds. Exuberant and profound, The Real Work is ultimately about why we relentlessly seek to better ourselves in the first place.

About the Author


Adam Gopnik is a staff writer at The New Yorker. He has won three National Magazine Awards for essays and for criticism. The author of numerous best-selling books, including Paris to the Moon, he lives in New York City.

Praise For…


A masterful speculation on the nature and art of mastery. Gopnik, a longtime critic for the New Yorker and a librettist, tells us 'the real work' is a term used by magicians to refer to the 'accumulated craft, savvy, and technical mastery that makes a great magic trick great....' To fully appreciate the real work in others means gaining some sense of how it feels for them to do it, so Gopnik apprenticed himself to masters in various fields—magic, drawing, boxing, dance, etc.—to grasp their singular attainments, strategies, and styles.... Gopnik builds his book around Seven Mysteries of Mastery, deciphering these matters with shrewd but self-effacing skill... [his] intelligence gleams on nearly every page.... Like Malcolm Gladwell, he has a gift for forging connections and making even the seemingly mundane compelling. In top form, Gopnik makes his subject intellectually and viscerally thrilling.

— Kirkus Reviews, starred review

[J]oyous and insightful . . . Through observation and deduction, Gopnik grasps much about the meaning of mastery . . . [Gopnik’s] unusual analysis of expertise and accomplishment includes his own charming moments and can-do attitude.
— Tony Miksanek - Booklist


Product Details
ISBN: 9781324090755
ISBN-10: 1324090758
Publisher: Liveright
Publication Date: March 14th, 2023
Pages: 256
Language: English