Sudden Genius?: The Gradual Path To Creative Breakthroughs, by Andrew Robinson
If the only agenda that this author had was to support the idea that genius requires a long development, then I would have appreciated and respected this book a lot more. There is a common, if misguided, belief that a great many developments came about because of sudden insights, without the understanding that these sudden insights were accompanied by a great deal of time and effort spent mastering various fields and developing sometimes very divergent thinking as a result of multiple serious interests. That point is demonstrated well in this book. Unfortunately, the author (as is quite common in most of his writing) has a strong anti-biblical bias when it comes to both the historical reliability of scripture as well as the moral injunctions of scripture, and he tends to view as geniuses those people who deliberately acted hostile to God’s ways and often paid a heavy price in terms of mental illness and other forms of distress for their rebellion against God’s way, making it seem as if to be a creative genius that one has to be involved in some sort of demon possession, with all of the horrors that entails. It hardly encourages any sane person to want to become a genius.
This book is a bit more than 300 pages and is divided into three parts. The first part of the book examines the ingredients of creativity (I), starting with a comparison of genius and talent (1), ten moving on to the reality that intelligence is not enough (2), the way that creativity often makes people strangers to themselves (3), a look at the relationship between geniuses and idiot savants (4), as well as the relationship between the lunatic, lover, and the poet (5). These chapters indicate a strong connection between genius and certain kinds of madness, making it a less than desirable phenomenon. After that the author writes ten case studies of geniuses in looking at breakthroughs in art and science (II), by discussing Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (6), Wren’s St. Paul’s Cathedral (7), Mozart’s Marriage Of Figaro (8), Campollion’s deciphering of the Egyptian hieroglyphs (9), Darwin’s misguided views on evolution (10), Marie Curie’s discovery of Radium (11), Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity (12), Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway (13), Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photography (14), and Satyajit Ray’s film Pather Panchali (15), showing how these breakthroughs often required multiple domains of expertise and long periods of working at problems. Finally, the book closes with a look at patterns of genius (III) in examining family histories (16), the importance of having hostility to conventional education (17), the difference between creative science and artistic creativity (18), the question of whether a creative personality type exists (19), the transient nature of reputation, fame, and those who are viewed as geniuses (20), and the ten year rule of requiring domain mastery (21), followed by a look at the relationship between genius and general society in an epilogue, followed by references, a bibliography, and an index.
By and large this author thinks that geniuses will become increasingly rare in a world that requires a high degree of talent and the need to master specializations in order to provide anything worthwhile. By and large, the author also shows a certain degree of hostility to the ordinary masses that is only exceeded by his hostility to divine truth and standards of morality. By and large the author appears not to view usefulness as being important in defining creativity, for what is “useful” about the sort of aesthetic achievement he sees in Ray’s films or Woolf’s decadent and deeply flawed novels? There is also a strong bias in the author for what is viewed as the last or current world when it comes to scientific truths, which allows Darwin to be seen as a genius as well as Einstein but not Newton. This book has a lot of problems, and even though the author achieves his goal of demonstrating that creative breakthroughs take a lot of time and effort, the author’s delving into demonology makes it a book that ought to actively discourage people from seeking to become geniuses of the sort that he would recognize.