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In 'The Real Work,' New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik reflects on what it means to master something

"The Real Work" by Adam Gopnik cover. (Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company)
"The Real Work" by Adam Gopnik cover. (Courtesy of W. W. Norton & Company)

To many, Adam Gopnik has mastered the art of writing. He’s been a writer, essayist and critic for The New Yorker since 1986, and plays himself critiquing Cate Blanchett’s imperious composer Lydia Tár in the introduction to Oscar-nominated film “Tár.”

But in Gopnik’s most recent book, he delves into what it really means to master something. “The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery” sees Gopnik try numerous skills from baking to drawing to boxing to even urinating (because of a personal medical issue) in a quest to see what mastery feels like outside the realm of written words.

Gopnik also spent some time with magicians to understand magic tricks and picked up the phrase “the real work” from them. When someone does “the real work” as a magician, they combine technical prowess and audience engagement to make a trick really work.

“It was a kind of epiphany for me because I think it’s exactly what all of us seek in the vocations we practice and the things we do,” Gopnik says. “We always recognize ‘the real work’ when we see it.”

Adam Gopnik is the author of “The Real Work.” (Brigitte Lacombe)

Book excerpt: ‘The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery’

By Adam Gopnik

Excerpted from “The Real Work: On the Mystery of Mastery” by Adam Gopnik Copyright © 2023. Used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company. All rights reserved.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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