Each summer six math whizzes selected from nearly a half-million
American teens compete against the world's best problem solvers at the
International Mathematical Olympiad. Steve Olson followed the six 2001
contestants from the intense tryouts to the Olympiad's nail-biting
final rounds to discover not only what drives these extraordinary kids
but what makes them both unique and typical. In the process he provides
fascinating insights into the science of intelligence and learning and,
finally, the nature of genius.
Brilliant, but defying all the math-nerd stereotypes, these teens want
to excel in whatever piques their curiosity, and they are curious about
almost everything — music, games, politics, sports, literature. One
team member is ardent about both water polo and creative writing.
Another plays four musical instruments. For fun and entertainment
during breaks, the Olympians invent games of mind-boggling difficulty.
Though driven by the glory of winning this ultimate math contest, they
are in many ways not so different from other teenagers, finding pure
joy in indulging their personal passions.
Beyond the the
Olympiad, Olson sheds light on many questions, from why Americans feel
so queasy about math, to why so few girls compete in the subject, to
whether or not talent is innate. Inside the cavernous gym where the
competition takes place, Count Down uncovers a fascinating subculture
and its engaging, driven inhabitants.