In The Real Work—the term magicians use for the accumulated craft that makes for a great trick— Adam Gopnik becomes a dedicated student of several masters of their craft: a classical painter, a boxer, a dancing instructor, a driving instructor, and others. Rejecting self-help bromides and bullet points, he nevertheless shows that the top people in any field share a set of common qualities and methods. For one, their mastery is always a process of breaking down and building up—of identifying and perfecting the small constituent parts of a skill and then combining them for an overall effect greater than the sum of those parts. For another, mastery almost always involves intentional imperfection—as in music, where vibrato, a way of not quite landing on the right note, carries maximum expressiveness. Gopnik’s simplest and most invigorating lesson, however, is that we are surrounded by mastery. Far from rare, mastery is commonplace, if we only know where to look: from the parent who can whip up a professional strudel to the social worker who—in one of the most personally revealing passages Gopnik has ever written—helps him master his own demons.
Adam Gopnik, legendary and beloved writer for the New Yorker, has—in his three decades with the magazine—written fiction, humor, memoirs, critical essays, and reported pieces from at home and abroad. He was the magazine’s art critic from 1987 to 1995, and the Paris correspondent from 1995 to 2000. Gopnik has received three National Magazine awards for essays and for criticism, the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting, and the Canadian National Magazine Award Gold Medal for arts writing. In March of 2013, he was awarded the medal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters. An international bestselling author, his newest book is The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery (2023).