This section of the book focuses on Chris Langan. He was briefly mentioned in the beginning of The Trouble with Geniuses, Part 1. The chapter discusses his family history, mentioning how poor his family was in his upbringing. They had to wash clothes naked, because they only had one pair, the pair they were washing. It goes on to state that he lost a scholarship to Reed College, because Reed College, “didn’t give a shit about their students. There was no counseling, no mentoring, nothing.” This probably sounds familiar to many students today, as college move away from being educational institutions and move closer to becoming inhuman corporate machines. He moved back home after losing his scholarship, had a few labor-intensive jobs, and eventually enrolled at Montana State University where the college experience continued to leave him with a bad taste in his mouth. They were unwilling to help him with schedule difficulties when his car broke down, because of the bad grades he received at Reed College. He lost his scholarship. It wasn’t his fault. Reed College never even notified him. But that’s life. He decided then that the college experience was not for him.
Comparisons are then made between Langan and Robert Oppenheimer, the famous physicist who helped develop the nuclear bomb. Oppenheimer tried to kill his tutor at Cambridge University, but was only put on probation and psychiatric treatment. Langan committed no crime, but was forced out of school. The difference is really only charisma, and people skills. Both were geniuses. Oppenheimer just happened to be a charismatic genius as well. Comparisons are then made between their backgrounds. Langan was obviously from a less fortunate background, and Oppenheimer was from a well-to-do background. More often than not, family background has a greater influence on your success than anything else. There are cultural and fundamental differences in the way the upper and lower classes raise their children. The upper class are able to afford all kinds of things that put their children at an advantage. Whether it be little league, piano lessons, or anything of that nature, the lower class have less access to these types of learning experiences for their children. They have more of a self-nurtured upbringing, and success is rarely a solo achievement.
“…no one – not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses – ever makes it alone.”