Speaking of geniuses it might be useful quoting a sentence from the film “My Friends”, film by Mario Monicelli

what’s genius? It is fantasy, intuition, decision and speed of execution

Despite the prankful moment in which this quote was originally pronounced, the sentence sums up pretty accurately the concept of what a genius is. This means not only the pure logic intelligence but a combination of many other qualities that, altogether  make up the conglomerate that genius is.

Intelligence: the ability to adapt your own thought and conduct in front of new conditions and situations – William L. Stern

And when the mind goes to what a genius is it is hard to think of someone only good at solving logical problems. However the calculation of the IQ test is almost exclusively able to intercept that type of ability.

Certainly being good with logical issues is fundamental to adapt in a complex environment, yet this should not be the only aspect to take into consideration.

This long introduction is important in order to explain the story of William James Sidis, the man who, since the QI test was created around the 1905 circa, has received the highest score ever registered


To make a comparison, Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking obtained 160 and the minimum score to be part of the Mensa International, organization which gathers together the 2% of the worldwide population, is 148.

William Sidis is completely off the chart

His life, like the one of many other children prodigy was somewhat dramatic and it was demonstration that a high IQ does not necessarily translate in professional and personal fulfillment.

William was born on the 1st of April 1898 in New York from a Ukrainian family of Jewish belief. His parents, both graduates decided to educate the little boy thoroughly from the very beginning; his father, professor in Harvard decided along with his wife to teach him how to read and write and by the time he was 18 months old, William was already able to read the New York Times. In his 8 years old he had already learnt a few languages as a self- taught and made one up too, named “Venvergood”, which was the core of his his second book written in his 8 years old.

The language was a mixture between Greek and Latin and other Romance languages. Some examples of Venvergood:

Do I love the young man? = Amevo (-)ne the neania?
The bowman obscures. = The toxoteis obscurit.
I am learning Vendergood. = (Euni) disceuo Vendergood.
What do you learn? (sing.). = Quen diseois-nar?
I obscure ten farmers. = Obscureuo ecem agrieolai

After applying for Harvard at the age of 9, when he turned 11 the child was admitted inside a program thought for precocious geniuses and from then he became the youngest student ever allowed inside the prestigious American school.

In 1910 he was noticed to be able to carry out a lesson about the 4th dimension of solids, hence everyone would expect him to forward with a degree in math followed by a position within the University as a teacher.

The events started to unfold differently though as William got a degree in his 16’s in Art

MIT physics professor Daniel F. Comstock praised the young man with these words:

“Karl Friedrich Gauss is the only example in history, of all prodigies, whom Sidis resembles. I predict that young Sidis will be a great astronomical mathematician. He will evolve new theories and invent new ways of calculating astronomical phenomena. I believe he will be a great mathematician, the leader in that science in the future.”

The boy, in the academic circle for 5 years and in the spotlight as one of the most promising students of the States, declared to the press his intent of retiring to private life, far from the exposure of the academic environment.

Below: William’s father

In 1915 he was bullied by other students and his parents managed to get him a PhD at the William Marsh Rice University. Even there though things started going bad with his lessons of geometry and math which were laughed at by the students who were older than him. Sidis decided to leave the Rice University and come back to Harvard, choice which was highly enlightened by media.

In 1915 William, who was 17, had already been professor, PhD student, author of many publications; in his 18’s he started studying Law in Harvard, but things kept worsening so the young boy dropped it in March 1919, during his last year.

Shortly after William went back in the newspapers, this time though not for his abilities.

William Sidis was considered as a riotous person who would foment the workers against the American capitalism

Openly socialist, William got arrested but his influential parents spared him from prison by keeping him inside their “sanatorium” where they were treating patients with mental illnesses.

The experience was for William devastating

In 1921, at the age of 23, William Sidis was done with his family as well as with many aspects of his public life that by that point he would utterly despise.

The young man decided to disappear for a while, in his own style, starting by working humble jobs in factories while living in New York for his following 23 years, The press never left him alone, trying to display him as an outcast with no purpose or social group.

Although William was conducting a normal life far from the one he had become famous for when he was 10, this was not lacking of personal gratification: he kept on publishing about his own passions for example about trams and lecturing for small groups of friends. During this period he also managed to get involved in a romantic relationship with a girl named Martha Foley unlike his adolescence, where he declared he had always been by himself.

William Sidis died in 1944 in New York in complete solitude. He was hit by cerebral hemorrhage, same condition which had killed his father 23 years before.

Of him only a few publications are left, of relative importance, one about the classification of trams and others about the American history; he was a Native Americans rights supporter and interested in the historical revision of the American colonisation.

What is left of him though is mainly the story of ambition of his parents over him, of media exploitation and of the heavy burden placed on top of the fragile shoulders of a too young child, become an unhappy adult unable to express his full potential. The intelligence of William took second place to the many mistakes they had committed in his upbringing, and this did not let him live freely like any other man around him.

Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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