Exceptional People

Exceptional People


IC Library Print & Media Resource

Works on Ability, Performance, and especially Achievement Motivation have a good deal to say about excellence, as do books on the psychology of Motivation, Goal-setting and Happiness (if Aristotle is right and happiness is always our ultimate goal).  In whatever the field, Success seems to be what we are trying to attain outwardly and Self-actualization or Self-realization inwardly.

Achievement motivation  [be sure to browse these]
Intellect, Imagination, and Creative Ability are traditionally viewed as the means to achievement and success, though don't overlook Attention--since this ability to focus on ends and means often seems as critical as ability and talent. 
There is a literature that examines people who are deemed Gifted:
Gifted persons
Gifted persons--Case studies
Savants (Savant syndrome)  [people who are exceptionally gifted in only one narrow area]

There is a large--oceanic--literature that focuses on Leadership or Executive Ability as it applies to excellence in business and politics.  In this connection you might also want to sample works on how these forms of success lead to Power and power Elites.
Finding works on athletic excellence will require patience in skimming past all the works on particular training regimens and winnowing out information about the heart, mind, and body of a champion.

You might also want to consider moral or spiritual forms of excellence:
Gifts, Spiritual

Whether dealing with political, artistic, athletic or moral excellence, an alternative approach is to study the people who are emulated--either by category or by individual:

As a last resort, consider if there are particular honors or awards in the field that interests you and look for works that profile the recipients:

IC Library Databases (Articles)

General OneFile :
     The most user-friendly of our comprehensive databases, covering almost any topic from a wide range of disciplinary angles and offering lots of full text.  Use the default Subject search to find the best subject heading for your topic (and when you find a good one be sure to look at the "Related Subjects" to see if there's something even better).  Many of the Subject Headings available in the Library catalog will work here, including "gifted persons," "Gifted children," Genius," "Creativity," "Artistic creation," "Musical ability," "Athletic ability," "Olympic Athletes," "Intelligence (psychology)," and "Achievement motivation."
     When you settle on a subject heading, open the "Subdivisions" link below it.  Most General OneFile subject searchs produce very large retrievals and the "subdivisions" help you narrow your search to a particular aspect: "Causes of," "Evaluation," "Methods," "Physiological aspects," "Psychological aspects," "Social aspects," "Standards," "Study & teaching," and "Training," to name only a few.
      If the best available subdivision is still too broad, open it and add your own Keywords in the "Search within these results" slot at the upper left.

PsycINFO :  
     The American Psychological Association use their own Subject vocabulary (called "Descriptors"), so a visit to the "Thesaurus" below the search slots is a good idea. If you find an article on exactly what you want, be sure to check the assigned "Descriptors" on the right of the citation for more ideas about useful search terms.  Among the Descriptors available here are "Gifted," "Cognitive ability," "Intelligence," "Artistic ability," "Musical ability," "Creativity," "Achievement," "Mathematics achievement," "athletic performance," "occupational success," and "Divergent thinking" ("divergent thinking" is used here to describe any particularly creative or original way of accomplishing a task).

     ProQuest Research Library :
     This is another comprehensive database with substantial full text.  Use the "Thesaurus" (above the search slots) to preview what Subject Headings are available.  Subect searching can be a more efficient way to search than with only Keywords, since it guarantees that the articles retrieved actually be about the Subject--not just use a particular word.  Available Subject Headings here include "Gifted," "Gifted children," "Intelligence," "Creativity," "Achievement," "Artistic ability," "Musical ability," "Athletic performance," and "Success factors."
     Note that to the right of your search results you can limit your retrieval by "Source Type" (including Magazines, Newspapers, Scholarly Journals),  "Document Type," (including Cover Story, Editorial, or Interview), "Document Feature" (including Photographs, Illustrations), and "Location."
     Above each set of articles you retrieve ProQuest will display related Subject searches to help either broaden or narrow your focus.
     User Advisory: ProQuest is fussy about entering Subject searches in the designated search slot. If your subject is a person, enter the name--last name first--in the "Person" slot; if a named group of any kind--Microsoft, the Catholic Church, Radiohead, the New York Mets--enter it in "Co/Org"; if a place enter it in "Location."

Academic Search Premier
     Like General OneFile and Proquest, a large comprehensive database with ample full text.  Note that you can browse the "Subject Terms" (above the search slots) and once you find a likely Subject Heading for your topic you can "explode" (double click) it for a list of related Subject terms.  Among the available Subjects here are ""Gifted persons," "Genius," Creative ability," "Originality," "Divergent thinking," "Intellect," "Creative thinking," and "Athletic ability."

     A disciplinary database in Education—at all levels. The field of Education has its own set of Subject Headings so be sure to browse the “Thesaurus” (above the search slots) for the best "Descriptors." ERIC provides access not only to relevant journal literature (citations for these end in a number preceded by EJ—ERIC Journal), but also to research published directly to ERIC (citations for these end in a number preceded by ED—ERIC Document. 
     Education uses its own Subject Headings, so a useful first stop is the ERIC "Thesaurus" (above the search slots) to see what Subject searches will work here. This is also a helpful exercise in that once you have found the appropriate Subject Heading you can "explode" it (double click) and generate a list of related Subject Headings.   Among the Headings here are "Gifted," "Ability," "Cognitive ability," "Spatial ability," "Verbal ability," "Aptitude," "Aspiration," "Creativity," and "Talent" (this is one of the few databases where "talent" is a Subject).

SPORTDiscus with Full Text :
     Note that there's a "Thesaurus" of available Subject terms above the search slots.  Most notable among these is "Elite athletes," which by itself retrieves so many hits that you may wish to pair it with another Subject such as "Motivation" or "Psychology."  This also holds true for "Athletic ability."  You might also want to look into "Eye-hand coordination" and "Motor ability," as well as "Achievement motivation."

ScienceDirect :
     Because it’s a large database with a great deal of full text, the absence of Subject searching means that your Keyword searches will often retrieve large sets of articles, many of which mention but don’t discuss your search term(s). One way around this is to limit your initial search to the “Abstract Title Keyword” field. Once you have found an article that sounds on-target, click the “Related Articles” link beneath the citation. This will open a range of articles on the same topic.  
     You may find articles of interest running the type of search described above on creativity, "creative thinking" (remember the quotation marks needed for a Keyword phrase), or athlet* and achievement (*is the truncation symbol in this database: athlet* will retrieve athlete, athletes, and athletics). 
     Also note: The default date range is 10 years, but you can choose any date range you wish.
     Also also note: it's a good idea to uncheck the "All books" box below the search slots, if you are in fact looking for articles.

     In addition to finding biographic articles by individual name, note that you can search by "Occupation" or under "Category Browse" search groups such as Athletes, World Leaders, Notable Women, and Religious Leaders.

Want More?  Take a look at my top 21 database recommendations in Desert Island Databases.  Or open the Library's drop-down menu of  "Research Guides," each of which begins with database recommendations.  These should help you target resources for particular fields such as Music and Art.


Most of the IC Libary databases listed above contain only some full text.  If the article you want is not availabe full text from the database you are searching, check below the citation for one of the images above.  This is ArticleLinker and if available it will search a wide range of other IC Library databases, retrieving links to any full text it finds.

Contact Us

Picture: Brian Saunders
Humanities Librarian
(607) 274-1198

Web Resources

Web Search Engines

  Google Advanced Search: When doing research on the Web, always use the Adanced Search version of Google. This not only provides more flexibility in entering search terms, but more importantly it allows you to target the Web domains that are likely to provide the most authoritative information.
Under "Need More Tools?" you will find the "Search within a site or domain" slot. You may enter only one domain at a time, but it's worth targeting each of the three domains likely to supply the best information: colleges and universities (enter the "edu" tag), nonprofit organizations (enter the "org" tag), and the United States government (enter the "gov" tag).

Web Directories

     Web Directories differ from search engines like Google in that all the online resources have been selected and annotated by editors, thereby promising a much higher degree of quality control.   

Selected Web Sites

Below are a few sites devoted to children and adults who are considered "gifted" in the sense of having high IQs. Otherwise, Web resources on exceptional achievement will tend to be specific to some field of endeavor--business, poetry, basketball, piano playing, soldiering, etc.  Use Google Advanced as described above, enter clear, concrete search terms wherever possible, and be patient.

National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
: from the University of Connecticut.  Take a look at "Research-based Resources," "On-line Resources," and "Resource Links."

National Association for Gifted Children
: See in particular "Information & Resources and Publications.

Johns Hopkins University: Center for Talented Youth: Publications

Resources (Mensa)

Citation Help


Noodlebib guides you through the required data entry for citation in the MLA, APA, and Chicago/Turabian styles. It takes care of punctuation, alphabetization and formatting, producing a polished source list for import into Word.


  1. MLA citation for books: in print, from databases, on the Web
  2. MLA citation for articles: in print, from databases, on the Web.
  3. MLA citation for Web and Multimedia resources, including Web sites, movies, DVDs, CDs, and videos.
  4. MLA in-text (parenthetical) citation (far less satanic than the first three).