#FuturisticFriday Review: The Geography of Genius

January 19, 2016 Uncategorized 9 ★★★★

#FuturisticFriday Review: The Geography of GeniusTitle: The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley
Author: Eric Weiner
Source: from publisher for review
Links: Bookshop (affiliate link) |Goodreads

Summary: This an enjoyable, engaging microhistory, full of lots of fun facts about some really interesting places.

Travel writer Eric Weiner’s exploration of genius begins with the observation that, historically, geniuses often appear in clusters, with many geniuses originating in one place during one era. To explore what made these places inspire genius, Eric visits places of past and present genius, from Athens to Silicon Valley. He observes  similarities and differences between the places he visits and connects them to many theories about what inspires creative thinking.

Like Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief, the story was organized around the author’s experience doing research. I found this an engaging way to tell the story, although in this case, it did sometimes lead to disorganized jumping between different theories of genius. I also wish each idea were explored in more depth. Most often, the author mentioned only one study that supported a theory or just supported it anecdotally. I think it’s possible that this is about as good as it gets with theories of genius though – if we knew the answer to the questions the author asks, we’d all be geniuses 🙂

Even though I wish that there had been more science and definitive answers, I found this book very enjoyable. The author has an irreverent sense of humor that reminded me a bit of A.J. Jacobs. It seemed genuine, not over the top, and made the book even more fun. I also appreciated the author’s efforts to be inclusive. Although Africa and Australia were left out of the author’s travels, I’m pretty sure he at least mentioned both. He also notes that there are few women recognized as geniuses because of the social constraints preventing women from pursuing the work necessary to gain that recognition.

I would recommend picking this book up when you want a microhistory, looking at the world through the lens of studying genius. I expected something a bit more about science and maybe a little about self-help, but instead it was full of all the fun facts and interesting stories I look for in a good microhistory.

This is my first read out of my Futuristic Friday picks for this quarter. If you’re looking for some more exciting reads coming out this year, be sure to check out my and Tamara’s other picks in our Futuristic Friday post over at her blog, Travelling with T. 

9 Responses to “#FuturisticFriday Review: The Geography of Genius”

  1. Laura Roberts

    Hmm. I find the term “genius” fairly loaded, particularly when applied to things that aren’t scientific, so I wonder if his suggestion that women’s social constraints preventing them from pursing the necessary work to gain recognition is really more of a cop-out. Does Weiner talk only about scientific geniuses, or is he trying to be inclusive of artistic genius as well? Because I definitely could name a bunch of female artists that I’d consider “geniuses,” and I don’t think they are in any way clustered, geographically or historically!

    • DoingDewey

      He talks about artistic genius, including painting and writing, at least as much as scientific genius. It’s possible he didn’t talk more about female geniuses because they didn’t fit his theory as nicely. I’d also believe that there really are fewer well-known women from the periods he talks about, especially since he defines genius as including public recognition of brilliance. If so, this may be as much a reporting bias as anything else. I’m certainly starting to feel this way about science, where it seems as though the contributions of women have often been overlooked. I occasionally find out about awesome things female scientists did in the 1900s and feel I should be more aware of their contributions.

  2. Tara @ Running 'N' Reading

    There have been times when I’ve really enjoyed this style (organized around the research) and other times when it’s been a disaster; I think, when it is done well, it’s a great format. This sounds relatively interesting, but it’s an awfully broad topic to tackle! Thanks for sharing, Katie!

    • DoingDewey

      I was thinking, reading Laura’s comment above, that this is a little like Malcolm Gladwell’s book, where the author is trying to support a very broad theory with anecdotes. So, it’s definitely not scientifically sound. It was a fun way to learn about different time periods though and I enjoyed it 🙂 I agree that the tactic of organizing nonfiction around the author’s research can be really well done and can also be a complete mess.

    • DoingDewey

      I may have to check that out! I enjoyed this one and Geography of Bliss sounds like something I’d enjoy. Research into what makes people happy is one of my favorite nonfiction niches.

  3. Jackie

    Aw yeah! This is on my to-read list this year, so I’m happy to hear it’s getting a positive review from you. I’m also interested in checking out his book, The Geography of Bliss. I’m thinking it’s similar in structure to the Geography of Genius, but it focuses on happiness instead.

    • DoingDewey

      I can’t believe I hadn’t heard of the Geography of Bliss before picking this one up! I love nonfiction about happiness, so it’s something I’ll be checking out too. I’d definitely recommend this one 🙂

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