I read this as a teen in the 1970s.

The protagonist wanted particular job and found an old book and read it. He gets told he can’t be taught with the machine- goes to a remedial school that uses an “old fashioned” technique of teaching. I think it may be post a war and people don’t live out in the surface world generally, because there are just ruins?


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As mentioned in the comments above, this could be the Isaac Asimov novella "Profession" (1957; ISFDB, Wikipedia links). To quote from the Wikipedia article:

People in this future society are taught to read at the age of eight and then Educated at the age of eighteen. Each person's professional speciality is dictated by an analysis of his or her brain, with no choices allowed to the subject. ... George Platen is determined to be a Computer Programmer, a profession in demand, and he hopes to qualify for "export" to a top-flight Outworld.

George, the protagonist, reads about computer programming in the hope of pushing his brain in that direction. To quote from the story:

“You’ve been what?” Now the doctor looked genuinely astonished and George took pleasure in that.

“Reading about it, sir. I bought a book on the subject and I’ve been studying it.”

“A book for Registered Programmers?”

“Yes, sir.”


Dr Antonelli said, “Or do you believe that studying some subject will bend the brain-cells in that direction, like that other theory that a pregnant woman need only listen to great music persistently to make a composer of her child? Do you believe that?”

George flushed. That had certainly been in his mind. By forcing his intellect constantly in the desired direction, he had felt sure that he would be getting a head-start. Most of his confidence had rested on exactly that point.

However, he is told that he can't be anything at all:

“Every once in a while, George, we come up against a young man whose mind is not suited to receiving a superimposed knowledge of any sort.”

“You mean I can’t be Educated?”

“That is what I mean.”


“Can’t you try Educating me. You haven’t even tried. I’m willing to take the risk.”

“The law forbids us to do that, George. But look, it will not be bad. We will explain matters to your family so they will not be hurt. At the place to which you’ll be taken, you’ll be allowed privileges. We’ll get you books and you can learn what you will.”

One thing which doesn't fit: I don't think there's anything in "Profession" to suggest that the surface of the Earth has become uninhabitable. In some novels by Asimov (e.g. Pebble in the Sky and The Stars, Like Dust), the Earth has become radioactive, so it's possible that you might be confusing "Profession" with something else Asimov wrote.

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