William James Sidis: The Smartest Man Alive In The Early 20th Century
By | June 25, 2020
Imagine being nine years old and, while all the other children experiment with booger sculpture, creating your own language while studying experimental mathematics at Harvard University. What a life you could lead! William James Sidis actually lived that life. As a child prodigy in the early 20th century, he was notable for reading the newspaper before he could walk and getting accepted to one of the most prestigious universities before he was a teenager. Sidis's life is fascinating, but it's also a cautionary tale for anyone who's set apart from the pack.
Making A Genius
Born on April 1, 1898, William James Sidis practically exited the womb with a book in his hand. His parents, Boris and Sarah, were accomplished academics from the Ukraine determined to create a super genius from scratch, filling young William's tiny head with a variety of knowledge before he could so much as tie his own shoes. Whether or not you think it's appropriate to push academia onto a child only a few months into its life, it's hard to argue that it didn't work. William was reading The New York Times by 18 months but soon got bored of the English language. By the age of eight, having already learned multiple languages, he created his own called Vendergood, based in Latin and Greek with a splash of the Romance languages.
Lonely At Harvard
When he was nine years old, Sidis's father tried to enroll him in Harvard University, but the school balked at the concept ... for two years. He was finally admitted at 11 years old, making him the youngest student to ever attend Harvard, but his years at the school weren't the intellectual paradise you might imagine. The other students treated him like a freak and refused to take him seriously even after he gave a lecture to a group of mathematicians on the topic of four-dimensional bodies. The New York Times noted that while it was impossible to understand what Sidis was talking about, it was clear that he'd become quite the young professor. He used advanced vocabulary, dressed like a little teacher, and even checked his watch as he finished his presentation. He earned a bachelor's degree when he was only 16 and vowed to live a private, celibate life in pursuit of education.