I am presently reading this biography of Friedrich Hayek by Alan Ebenstein. The book is not an intellectual biography, but more focused on the events of Hayek’s life – which is where I have biggest gaps in my knowledge of Hayek.
One interesting aspect of Hayek’s early years, that I had not known, is that he was a poor student. Ebenstein writes:
He showed little interest in any subject except biology. Once, at age fourteen, having failed Latin, Greek, and mathematics, he was required to repeat a grade. . . . He would generally “swot up in a few weeks before the end-of-the-year examiantions the whole substance of a year’s teaching in several subjects” in which he had done “no work whatever” . . . . As a schoolboy, he irritated most of his teachers by his combination of intelligence and disinterest.
At home, it was a different matter. Here, he was the little scholar helping his father with botanical work and attending meetings of the Vienna Zoologic and Botanical Society with him.
Hayek is hardly the first genius to have performed poorly in his early education. His failings as a student are not all that surprising. Hayek had an independence of mind and a desire to pursue his interests that led him to make important contributions to several fields, but these would not necessarily have been the ingredients that led to success in high school.