William James Sidis: What Happened To One Of The Smartest Men Ever Lived

Date May 11, 2020 11:27

William James Sidis – this name probably doesn’t sound familiar to you now. However, in the early 20th century, everyone was talking about him. He was a boy genius, a miracle kid, a child prodigy. William James Sidis’ IQ was thought to be up to 100 points higher than Albert Einstein's. Interested to learn more about him? Then keep on reading.

William James Sidis’ achievements

William was born in 1898 in Boston to Jewish emigrants from Ukraine. His father was an established physiatrist and his mother was a skillful doctor so the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. But what a rare apple it was!

Sidis’ father was obsessed with the idea to raise his son a genius and it’s fair to say he achieved what he wanted. He started teaching his son English using alphabet blocks when William was still in his crib.

The young boy wasn’t even 2 when he could already read New York Times. William was not the only child prodigy in the world. Yet, he was one of the very few who excelled in multiple fields. Here are William James Sidis’ most impressive achievements:

  • between the ages of six and eight, he wrote 4 books, one of which was on the anatomy of the human body;
  • he wrote French poetry and a constitution for a utopia;
  • he could pass a student medical exam at 6;
  • it’s believed that at 8 years old, Sidis was able to converse in 8 languages and invented his own;
  • at 9, he was accepted at Harvard but refused the attendance due to “emotional immaturity;”
  • he eventually enrolled at Harvard at 11, being one of the youngest students who’d ever attended the prestigious institution, and lectured there on the Fourth Dimension to a vast number of professors;
  • at 16, he graduated cum laude and enrolled at Harvard Law School;
  • by the end of his life, he supposedly knew 40 languages.

Years spent at Harvard were not the brightest ones for the young genius. He had a nervous breakdown and was constantly mocked by other students.

According to NPR, Sidis’ biographer Amy Wallace commented on that time:

He had been made a laughing stock at Harvard. He admitted he had never kissed a girl. He was teased and chased, and it was just humiliating. And all he wanted was to be away from academia [and] be a regular working man.

William’s biggest dream was to run away from the public eye to live “the perfect life” in seclusion. On his graduation day, he famously said to reporters:

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.

His whole life Sidis was trying to hide from public scrutiny. He went from one job to another, constantly moving cities. He secretly published a number of books under different pseudonyms.

William led the life he wanted until the New Yorker’s reporter found him and wrote an article about his life, for which Sidis sued the publication for giving false information about him.

The boy genius passed away at 46 from a cerebral hemorrhage. Despite a very difficult childhood, Wallace believes that Sidis was much happier as an adult. It’s thought that his IQ was between 250 and 300 but was he really the smartest guy in the world?

The smartest people in the world

It’s acknowledged that the average IQ score is 100 and anyone who has it higher than 140 is considered to fall into a genius category. However, those extremely smart people only make between 0.25 - 1.0 percent of the whole population.

Egyptian ruler Cleopatra believed to have IQ 180 while German writer Johann Goethe could boast IQ 213. The famous Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci reportedly had IQ around 200. Currently, an Australian Professor of Mathematics at UCLA, Terence Tao, has an IQ score between 220-230, which is likely one of the highest scores of our time.

So if the words about William James Sidis’ IQ are true, then based on the human intelligence test, he was, indeed, the smartest man in the world. He could have been the greatest mathematician of all times or a Nobel prize winner, yet, he wanted to be a regular man with a regular job and that’s what he’d become by the end of his life.