The Rise and Fall of William James Sidis: From the Smartest Man Alive to a Social Reject (2023)

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Tech genius Elon Musk is believed by some to have an IQ of around 150, which is close to the estimated IQ of great scientists like Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, who were thought to have IQ of around 160. However, Einstein, Musk, and Hawking stand nowhere near William James Sidis, a less-known individual who some estimate may have had an IQ of between 210 to 250.

The intelligence quotient (IQ) is a controversial but widely used means to assess the intelligence of any person. It can be measured using any one of several tests designed to measure reasoning and problem-solving skills. The tests are generally revised every few years in order to maintain 100 as the average score.

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Now you may be wondering if Sidis was so intelligent, why isn't he a household name, like Einstein or Hawking? Why have most people never heard of him? The answer to this question lies in the rather unusual life that he led.

The unheard life of William James Sidis

The Rise and Fall of William James Sidis: From the Smartest Man Alive to a Social Reject (1)

Born in New York on April 1, 1898, to Russian immigrants, Sidis could easily read the newspaper when he was only 18 months old. His parents were also no ordinary people, mother Sarah Mandelbaum Sidis was a medical doctor who received her education from BUSM (Boston University School of Medicine) and his father Boris Sidis was a renowned psychologist who himself made remarkable contributions in the field of Psychopathology.

In Sidis’ biography, The Prodigy, author Amy Wallace reveals that his parents were extremely pushy, as they desperately wanted him to seek knowledge and nothing else. His mother spent huge sums of money on books, maps, and other materials to encourage his learning behavior. While Boris Sidis desired to give his son the perfect tools to shape his reasoning and thinking abilities. He even used to conduct debates with William Sidis on psychology and various other advanced subjects from an early age. However, Sidis wasn’t happy to get such special treatment from his parents.

By the time Sidis turned eight, he could speak eight languages, including Greek, English, and Russian. Later, he also created a language of his own that he called 'Vendergood'. When Sidis was only nine years old, he was accepted at Harvard University but under the condition that he has to wait until he was 11 years of age to be officially enrolled in the college. So, for the next two years, Sidis studied mathematics at Tufts University,where he reportedly spent his time correcting mistakes in textbooks and combing Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Though no scorecards or test reports concerning his intelligence exist today, considering Sidis' age and academic brilliance, his IQ score is estimated by some to be somewhere between 50 and 100 points greater than that of Einstein or Hawking.

In 1909, the 11-year old William Sidis became the youngest person to attend Harvard. He was considered the brightest of a group of prodigies at Harvard in 1909 which includedNorbert Wiener, considered the father of cybernetics, and composer Roger Sessions. That same year, Sidis delivered a presentation on four-dimensional bodies to the Harvard Mathematics Club. His understanding of the complex subject garnered the attention of various experts.

Listening to Sidis, American Physicist Daniel F. Comstock, who was a professor at MIT at that time, said “I predict that young Sidis will be a great astronomical mathematician, the leader in that science in the future".

How did intelligence become a curse for Sidis?

The Rise and Fall of William James Sidis: From the Smartest Man Alive to a Social Reject (2)

Unfortunately, Comstock’s predictions didn’t turn out to be true. Throwing light on the years Sidis spent at Harvard, his biography reveals that Sidis struggled to live a normal life. He was often teased and mocked by other students at Harvard and he also felt disturbed by the unwanted media coverage.

According to Amy Wallace “He had been made a laughing stock at Harvard, all he wanted was to be away from academia and be a regular working man". After graduating from Harvard University at the age of 16, Sidis also admitted to one of the reporters chasing him, “I want to live the perfect life. The only way to live the perfect life is to live it in seclusion. I have always hated crowds.”

After graduating from Harvard at the age of 16, Sidis went to Rice University to work as an assistant mathematics professor. He taught undergraduate students for a year and also wrote a book on Euclidean geometry.

However, soon Sidis got fed up with his department and the disrespectful behavior of some students towards him, so he left Rice University and went back to Harvard to study law. Sidis studied law for almost three years but then he dropped out of college in 1919 for unknown reasons.

He took up socialist causes and that same year, he was arrested for participating in a communist-led anti-war rally. Since he had a celebrity-like status in the media, his arrest made headlines in several newspapers at that time. Sidis defended himself at trial and wassentenced to 18 months jail — six months for rioting and a year for assaulting an officer.However, later his parents managed to have him held at his father's sanatorium, and work at MIT, instead of prison.

In 1921, he was released from his father's institution and spent the remainder of his life leading an independent existence out of the public eye. He disavowed his knowledge of mathematics and took work as a bookkeeper, often using an alias, and changing jobs and cities every time someone recognized him.

And he wrote books — some under his own name, others under a variety of pseudonyms. He wrote a 1,200-page history of the United States and a book on streetcar transfer tickets. In 1925 he published a remarkable book on cosmology in which he predicted black holes — 14 years before Chandrasekhar did. But primarily he fled his childhood, and he fled his parents.

He kept on changing his jobs and name because he didn’t want to be identified as the “child prodigy William Sidis” anymore. He spent his time writing books, collecting streetcar transfer tickets, and even doing some unskilled jobs that can be considered very lowly for a person with gifted intelligence like him.

In 1925, Sidis wrote The Animate and the Inanimate, a book that discussed his thoughts on cosmology and the potential reversibility of the second law of thermodynamics. Ten years later in 1935, he published another book titled Tribes and the States (under the false name John W. Shattuck) that covered various aspects of Native American history. He also invented a type of perpetual calendar that was specially designed to look for leap years.

Sidis managed to live without notoriety until 1937 when an article published in The New Yorker on what had become of the "boy genius"brought him backinto the limelight. Unhappy with the contents of the article, William Sidis accused The New Yorker magazine of libel and of violating his privacy and filed a lawsuit against the publication. He won the libel case in 1944 but died of a brain hemorrhage the same year.

Intelligence is just one of the many aspects of being a human. The journey of William Sidis also shows that human life has so many different elements that intelligence alone can not always guarantee a fulfilling life.

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Was William James Sidis the smartest person alive? ›

To those who knew of his son, William James Sidis was quite possibly the smartest man who ever lived. Born in Boston in 1898, William James Sidis made the headlines in the early 20th century as a child prodigy with an amazing intellect. His IQ was estimated to be 50 to 100 points higher than Albert Einstein's.

What happened to William James Sidis? ›

Sidis died from a cerebral hemorrhage in 1944 in Boston at age 46.

Who has higher IQ than William James Sidis? ›

Top 10 Highest IQ Ever
William James Sidis250-300
Christopher Hirata225
Johann Goethe210-225
Terence Tao210
6 more rows
Feb 12, 2023

What made William James Sidis a genius? ›

William — he was called that once he entered Harvard — showed an early proficiency in languages, but later became a veritable genius in mathematics, too, devising a series of logarithmic tables. He held his first lecture, with Harvard faculty on hand, in 1910. He was still just 11.

Who has the highest IQ still alive? ›

Pictured above, Terence Tao is said to have the highest IQ score in the world currently, with an impressive score of between 225-230. If the Chinese-American mathematician scored 230 he is definitely out in front.

Who is the No 1 intelligent person in the world? ›

Nobody doubts that Isaac Newton was an intelligent man, but he also exhibited in spades the two other characteristics outlined above: knowledge and creativity. Newton was a true polymath. Not only did he master physics and mathematics, but he was also a theologian.

Who is the smartest person right now? ›

Evangelos Katsioulis (IQ: 198)

He can be called the smartest man in the world.

Is Albert Einstein the smartest person in the world? ›

There is not a distinct answer to who has the highest IQ, but it is not Albert Einstein. Those with higher IQs in comparison with Einstein include William James Sidis, Leonardo Da Vinci and Marilyn vos Savant.

Who easily had an IQ between 250 and 300? ›

“I have tested more than five thousand people. Of all the mentally superior individuals that I have seen, nobody begins to approach the intellect and perspicacity of William Sidis. According to my computations, he easily had an IQ between 250 and 300.”

What is Elon Musk's IQ score? ›

Let's try to understand Elon's level of IQ now that we know the obvious answer to that question. Elon Musk has a 155 IQ, which is regarded as being quite high.

What is Bill Gates IQ? ›

What is interesting is that he supervised the programming of all the products. In fact, he stepped down in 2008 from running the company to being its product's chief architect. But how did Bill Gates achieve this? The simplest and the most common answer is that he has a rare high IQ score of 160.

Who has 500 IQ? ›

Marilyn vos Savant (/ˌvɒs səˈvɑːnt/; born Marilyn Mach; August 11, 1946) is an American magazine columnist who has the highest recorded intelligence quotient (IQ) in the Guinness Book of Records, a competitive category the publication has since retired.

Who is smarter than Albert Einstein? ›

Yusuf Shah, who was in sixth-grade in November 2022, scored 162 in the MENSA IQ test, two points more than Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking. For the unversed, the Mensa IQ test is an intelligence test by one of the most elite institutions in the world.

Who had an IQ of 200? ›

Nadia Camukova. Nadia Camukova, who has an IQ of 200, was born in Moscow in 1976. The Brain Research Institute in Moscow reported later on that she had the highest IQ in the world.

Was Nikola Tesla the smartest person ever? ›

Nikola Tesla

Whenever you think of "Tesla," the luxury car brand may come to mind. However, Nikola Tesla was one of the smartest people ever to walk the planet. Born during a lightning storm in 1856, Tesla had an IQ range from 160 to 310.

What is the average IQ of a doctor? ›

So what's the average I.Q. of a doctor? The average I.Q. of a doctor is approximately 125. Studies have determined that a doctor's I.Q. will normally fall within the 110-130 range, putting them into the 'high average' and 'superior' Wechsler classifications.

What is Taylor Swift's IQ? ›

Taylor Alison Swift is an American singer songwriter. According to some acclaimed websites, she is said to have an IQ of 160. As a matter of fact, she is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest singer ever to sign at age 11.

What is the IQ of Einstein? ›

The genius child, Adhara Pérez Sánchez, has an IQ that beats Albert Einstein — whose IQ is estimated to be around 160.

Are geniuses born or made? ›

The Origin of Genius

In other words, genius is born only through nature and cannot be taught or made. This idea that genius is born and not made, was popularized by Francis Galton, a prominent nineteenth-century scientist and cousin of famous biologist, Charles Darwin.

What is the average IQ in the United States? ›

What's the average IQ in the U.S.? According to 2019's The Intelligence of the Nations report, the average IQ in the United States is 97.43. This number was calculated using multiple versions of IQ tests as well as detailed sample data regarding socioeconomic and environmental factors.

What is the IQ of a billionaire? ›

As Forbes' publisher Richard Karlgaard puts it: “[The scary smart] have inherited the world. The surest way to become a billionaire today is to be born with a 150-plus IQ and 800 math SAT skills.”

What month are most genius people born in? ›

Those born in September are, apparently, the smartest out of the entire year. According to Marie Claire, a study published in the National Bureau of Economic Research found that there's a clear correlation between the month during which you were born and how smart you are.

Who has the highest IQ in the United States? ›

Marilyn Vos Savant (IQ - 228)

Louis, Missouri in 1946 when Marilyn Vos Savant was 10 years old, in an adult level Stanford-Binet Test found out that her IQ is 228. Due to this record-breaking result, her name was recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records.

What is a super genius IQ? ›

130 to 144: Moderately gifted. 145 to 159: Highly gifted. 160 to 179: Exceptionally gifted. 180 and up: Profoundly gifted.

What was Newton's IQ? ›

Isaac Newton: IQ 190–200

Though he's best known for his universal principles of gravity, the 17th-century thinker was also a mathematician, astronomer, and writer. It is estimated that his IQ score would fall between 190 and 200, depending on the measures used.

Who was smarter Einstein or Tesla? ›

Who was smarter Einstein or Tesla? As far as standard measures of intelligence such as IQ, Tesla's was estimated to be about 195, so near the high end of the range (200). I've seen Einstein's estimated IQ to be anywhere from 160 to 220.

What country has the smartest population? ›

Here are the 10 countries with the highest IQs:
  • Singapore - 105.89.
  • Hong Kong - 105.37.
  • China - 104.1.
  • South Korea - 102.35.
  • Belarus - 101.6.
  • Finland - 101.2.
  • Liechtenstein - 101.07.
  • Germany - 100.74.

How do I know my IQ number? ›

The IQ score can be calculated with the formula of IQ = (intelligence age/actual age) x100. Here is a short list of the most common IQ tests (intelligence quotient test), other than MentalUP's online IQ test that you or your children may want to take: Stanford-Binet (SB-V) Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV)

How high is Stephen Hawking's IQ? ›

Professor Hawking, the theoretical physicist known for his work on black holes, is said to have had an IQ of 160. Professor Einstein, also a theoretical physicist, is said to have had an IQ of around 160, although it is unclear whether either man did a test.

How do I raise my IQ? ›

Activities that can boost your IQ
  1. Memory activities. Memory activities don't only improve memory but can also enhance reasoning and language skills. ...
  2. Executive control activities. ...
  3. Visuospatial reasoning activities. ...
  4. Relational skills. ...
  5. Musical instruments. ...
  6. New languages. ...
  7. Frequent reading. ...
  8. Continued education.
Nov 19, 2019

What is Snoop Dogg's IQ? ›

Regarding his IQ, Snoop took to Instagram to repost a graphic made by RapTV Zone. The post reads, 'Snoop Dogg has an IQ level of 147 that is thought to be extremely high and that of a gifted genius. ' Following the post, the Gin and Juice star then added a string of emojis into the caption.

Does Ashton Kutcher have a high IQ? ›

Ashton Kutcher

But little do fans of That '70s Show and Dude, Where's My Car know that Kutcher bears no similarities to some of his former on-screen characters. The-now 44-year-old has an estimated IQ of 160, evident in his humanitarian work (he's assisted with the plight of child trafficking) and investment work.

What is Steve Jobs IQ? ›

"Steve Jobs likely had an IQ roughly 160 or above. In Walter Isaacson's biography, near the end of 4th grade, Jobs was tested. Jobs said: 'I scored at the high school sophomore level.

What is Jeff Bezos IQ? ›

There are several successful entrepreneurs who are known for their high IQ scores, such as: Jeff Bezos: The founder of Amazon, Bezos has an IQ estimated to be around 145.

Does Bill Gates have a higher IQ than Einstein? ›

Here's the catch: Albert Einstein never took an IQ test. Experts calculated his IQ using historical records and speculated that his IQ was at least 160. Other famous people who are thought to have (or have had) a 160 IQ score are Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, Benjamin Franklin, and Bill Gates.

Who has 10,000 IQ? ›

Is it possible to get 10000 IQ? First an IQ of 10,000 is an impossibility, in the current system of reporting intelligence, and is therefore an intangible. Being the smartest person in the world might or might not lead to ever possessing a similarly large amount of money.

How rare is 150 IQ? ›

Historical IQ classification tables
IQ Range ("ratio IQ")Percent of Group
10 more rows

Does anyone have 250 IQ? ›

William James Sidis (IQ: 250-300)

Sidis had the highest IQ score in history. He attended Harvard at the age of 11, which at the time made him the youngest person to ever enroll in the university, and mastered over 40 languages. Later, he left a teaching job in Texas and started a political career.

Who has 400 IQ? ›

Adragon De Mello (IQ Score: 400)

His record was broken in 1994 by another student, but today, De Mello is known to have one of the highest IQ scores in all of human history – an IQ score of 400!

Who had an IQ of 300? ›

William James Sidis (IQ: 250-300)

Sidis had the highest IQ score in history. He attended Harvard at the age of 11, which at the time made him the youngest person to ever enroll in the university, and mastered over 40 languages.

What is Elon Musk's IQ? ›

Let's try to understand Elon's level of IQ now that we know the obvious answer to that question. Elon Musk has a 155 IQ, which is regarded as being quite high.

Who has 500 IQ level? ›

Marilyn vos Savant (/ˌvɒs səˈvɑːnt/; born Marilyn Mach; August 11, 1946) is an American magazine columnist who has the highest recorded intelligence quotient (IQ) in the Guinness Book of Records, a competitive category the publication has since retired.

What is the IQ of Leonardo da Vinci? ›

According to the University of Houston, he attended Harvard University at 11 years old and graduated at the age of 16. Da Vinci, famed painter and theorist, is estimated to have had IQ scores ranging from 180 to 220, according to

What is a normal IQ? ›

In general, an IQ score is defined with a median and mean of 100. Scores above 130 are labeled as above average or “very superior,” while scores under 70 would be considered below average or labeled as “borderline impaired.” Most people have an average IQ between 85 and 115.


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