BOOK REVIEW: Genius: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Robinson

Genius: A Very Short IntroductionGenius: A Very Short Introduction by Andrew Robinson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars Page

This book examines the myths and realities of that state of capability we call genius. It’s not about “geniuses” as individuals who test well on IQ exams, or who are eligible for Mensa membership, but rather about those luminaries who’ve made breakthroughs that changed the course of their discipline. It considers artistic and literary type geniuses (Shakespeare and Picasso) as well as scientific geniuses (e.g. Einstein and Darwin,) as well as discussing the differences (perceived and real) between these groups and the intriguing rarity of crosscutting figures (e.g. Da Vinci.)

The bulk of the book evaluates characteristics that are (rightly or wrongly) commonly associated with genius, including: heredity, education, intelligence, creativity, madness, personality traits, and discipline. Don’t expect clear and straightforward connections. That’s not the author’s fault. There just aren’t any traits unambiguously linked to genius in an uncomplicated way. One might expect education would be an unequivocal boon to genius, but it can be a hindrance to genius in its training of conformity. There may be a disproportionate number of geniuses with mental health issues, but there are even more without them. Hard work maybe a necessary condition, but it’s clearly not a sufficient one.

The book addresses a few other related subjects, beyond the traits associated with geniuses. For example, the degree to which genius can be defined and what it means if we can (or can’t) do so. Few individuals would be unanimously judged geniuses, and to the degree some are, mightn’t that say more about the public’s role in bestowing genius rather than the individual’s earning the designation. There is also discussion about eureka moments versus slow-builds.

This book is thought-provoking and raises intriguing and counter-intuitive debates. If you’re interested in the perception, the reality, and the interplay between the two with regard to genius, check it out.

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POEM: All Hail, Warhol! [Day 17 NaPoMo: Doggerel]

[With doggerel the only way to be “good” is to be ironically bad.]

Being a true genius must be hard work.
Is there a less laborious path to the perks?

I’m so glad you asked:
Just convince the right person you’re a genius,
and you’ll be in like porn star penis.

Just stack some boxes of Brillo pads,
reprint some old burger joint ads,
slather color on portraits — Tammy Faye Bakker-style —
(just make sure to showcase the subject’s creepiest smile.)

Lest you think I’m just being snarky,
I say this without a trace of malarkey,
if you can buy mansions off a soup can label you didn’t design,
genius is too meek of a word, you stink of the divine.
[Like Odysseus being dropped in the lap of goddesses
who were ready & eager to pop open their bodices.]
Do you think the Campbell’s marketing artist has a mansion?
He probably retired with a meager pansion.

I say this without derision,
to be great artist you don’t need to show in galleries, Parisian
you simply need to showcase your vision
of some poor shmuck’s labors
to the person who can get you a better class of neighbors.