Review: The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

Where did I get this book? A giveaway sponsored by The Reading Room and Simon & Shuster.

Where did I get this book? A giveaway sponsored by The Reading Room and Simon & Shuster.

In The Geography of Genius, “philosophical traveler and recovering malcontent” Eric Weiner travels the world in search of the source of genius. Why did Athens experience a golden age in the time of Pericles? Why was Hangzhou home to genius during the Song Dynasty? What sparked the Enlightenment in Edinburgh or the Bengal Renaissance in Calcutta?

Weiner walks the streets of modern cities, visiting the former homes and old stomping grounds of geniuses like Mozart, Michelangelo, and Rabindrinath Tagore. He interviews current residents and searches the historical record to determine what combination of factors led to the concentration of great minds and extraordinary talents in these particular places and times.

While there’s ultimately no mathematical formula for genius, Weiner identifies a number of forces and conditions that appear to foster the onset of a creative surge: the perfect combination of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation,  the imposition of hardship or a set of constraints, the type of society that fosters serendipitous interactions and interdisciplinary cross-polination. Ultimately, however, genius is the product of a nonlinear system, where the slightest input can result in huge changes in the outcome. No one can predict when and how it will arise.

Genre: Nonfiction that blends history, travel and sociology.

Read it if: You enjoy meandering through history and exploring the roots and influences of creativity; you appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

Skip it if: You are looking for an instruction manual on how to create instant brilliance; you dislike digressions, trivia, and similes about genius (“Genius is like a toddler…”)

Movie-worthy: Actually, I can imagine a really interesting documentary based on this book. All those exotic destinations would make a great visual accompaniment to Weiner’s distinctive voice.

2 comments on “Review: The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

  1. Great review and interesting looking read!

  2. Thanks for reading!

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