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Showing 1-9 of 9 reviews(5 star). Show all reviews
on November 19, 2001
This book presents one theory on creativity, but that misleads. It covers another 30 theories along the way, using its one favored theory to knit and mesh, distinguish and fit all the others. Each page contains the same contents as entire other books on the subject (fortunately for this book; unfortunately for the others). I try my best to find faults with the books that I buy but I would be hard pressed to find a single fault with this book. You will learn more about creativity from this book, even if the theory it presents turns out to be wrong, than you will from any other book, I believe, though Sternberg, Amabile, Runco, Martindale, Gruber and a few few others have near competitors so excellent that you would be foolish not to buy their books as well. This book teaches you 30 theories of creativity while presenting its favored one. It is wonderful. Finite limited human beings can do no better.
Some readers might think that this book is too researchy, especially readers looking for how to books on quick and easy creativity methods. Strangely, this book while maintaining all the professional balance and careful definition of any academic work, makes it much clearer what you have to do to become creative than the top 50 how to books combined. I counted an amazing 1100 particular suggestions in this book for how to make someone more creative--that is about 1000 more than any other published how to book and this book avoids the exaggerations, the sales language, and the imbalanced treatment of pros and cons of such lesser books.
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on August 23, 2002
I don't know how the author did it, but he produced a great book that was both ponderous and a real page-turner.
I found this book to be extremely interesting and well-written in detail. But the author could be ponderous in repeating some sub-themes and points.
You will learn a lot about the causes of genius and creativity but you won't walk away with a quick set of techniques to help you on your immediate problem. You will learn an overall approach of what has worked in the past.
His references and analogies to Darwin make the book even better. His references of other readings are also excellent and very detailed.
I really liked his comparison of artistic vs. scientific creativity or genius. One selection from the book that I found very interesting was this one on what makes for greatness in a genius:
"... individual differences in total lifetime output are indeed associated with the degree of eminence achieved. In fact, research has consistently shown that the most powerful single predictor of reputation among both contemporaries and future generations is the person's sum total of contributions. Furthermore, almost all other variables that may correlate with the differnce in fame between individuals do so only because they affect the output of creative products."
The point made in this sub-theme by Simonton was that it was the QUANTITY rather than the just the QUALITY that often was the leading indicator of peer acceptance of genius. If the genius is not stepping up to the plate and taking a lot of swings, he won't go down as a "Babe Ruth." Most of the geniuses studied were single home-runners.
Another thing I liked about the author was an often used approach of revealing a concept, proving it with lots of historical details and studies, then when you were really convinced, he showed you why other studies show why that logic might be flawed. He did this several times in the book, and it was quite stimulating to see the flaws in many people's logic... after you had made the same fatal assumption or mistake.
I highly recommend this book for those interested in the background and causes of genius and creativity. My copy of this book is heavily underlined.
John Dunbar
Sugar Land, TX
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on January 5, 2000
I have read several of Simonton's books and dozens of his scientific articles. This book is without any question his very best. It is absolutely superb! Simonton is always extremely intelligent and awesomely creative. But in his previous works, I sometimes got the feeling that he was racing so fast to be productive that something important was being passed by. But in this extraordinary volume, he seems to have slowed down enough to smell the roses that he himself (as well as other creativity researchers) have flowered, and his careful reflection and superb writing shines in what ranks as possibly the best book yet written on the topic. It is bracingly, jarringly creative, beautifully crafted, highly counter-intuitive, sufficiently well-explained that even a statistical dufus like me can understand, and awesome in its expanse. Anyone who wishes to understand creativity must read this great book.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 18, 2003
Studies abound on the causes of outstanding human accomplishment. A glance at Simonton's bibliography will confirm that observation. His own efforts to define the roots of creativity are of long standing. This work artfully assembles this wealth of information, placing it squarely within a "Darwinian perspective". With a modest disclaimer, Simonton sees this book as "one long argument", the phrase Darwin applied to Origin. He's correct to do so. This book exemplifies how far Darwin's ingenious idea of natural selection can reach. Simonton's well organised and clearly presented survey of the roots of creativity is an noteworthy effort.
Darwin himself provides the pivotal focus in Simonton's study. He explains how Darwin's work is symbolised by a combination of genius, creativity and the capacity for hard work to bring ideas to fruition. He postulates two forms of "Darwinism" - primary, the purely biological and the secondary which he describes as "adaptive with environmental interaction". He strives to relate how primary Darwinism underlies the secondary form where genius can emerge. It's clear from his analysis that genius doesn't "just happen". Many elements are involved, and most or all must be brought into play to express creativity and have ideas disseminated to the wider world.
Simonton places heavy reliance on the model proposed by Donald Campbell. Campbell proposed an "ideational" concept with the creative mind coping with rich variations of concepts and ways of expressing them. From this foundation Simonton goes on to discuss individual differences and how these fit within a Darwinian framework. From the individual, he analyses the "product" of the creative mind. In what is certain to arouse protest, he shows how the creative process is as "blind" in "seeking results" as is biological selection itself. The "product" is neither predictable nor easily fit into simple causation.
Simonton's ideas have been thoroughly researched with the limits of available data. He has proposed a novel thesis in a fresh and readable manner. As a lighter touch, he offers a survey of the research linking genius with madness. While there will be much dissent, perhaps even acrimony in response to his ideas, it's certain much more research will result from his suggestions. If nothing else, that will keep this book as a point of focus for some time. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on August 12, 1999
I have recently finished Origins of Genius and am about to dig into Simonton's Genius. I felt privileged to share a few hours with Simonton over the past week seeing how Darwin's ideas play a significant role in creativity. I was swept away by the book's breadth and enthralled by its Darwinian perspective. The book avoids technical jargon and is readily accessible to the general reader. Even after I finished the book, I found myself going back to reread the good bits.
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on October 4, 2008
Simonton has written an excellent book--and a thorough one at that. He has been careful in studying and thinking about all the possible sources and influences going into the make-up of a genius, including a consideration of social context.

But the book is not just commendable as an objective overview of genius. One of its joys is that Simonton occasionally (perhaps unknowingly) provides some practical wisdom. At one point, Simonton writes, "[g]iven that the solution requires the ability to look at the problem in an original way, the individual must attain a more relaxed state to allow low-probability associations a reasonable chance to emerge." That useful bit of advice made it into my notes. It's not that someone could automatically turn into a genius by following such advice. But if such strategies work for geniuses solving their problems, then the same strategies should also work on other (albeit lower) levels.

I do have a couple of criticisms.

First, the book is highly biased to science--as against the arts. To be sure, Simonton includes much commentary on the arts, and I suppose that he intended the book to be categorically targeted at genius in general, whether in science or the arts. But it's clear that Simonton's own experience and background research is concentrated on science. As an example, even though the book includes some very high praise for Shakespeare (who is my own nomination for unparalleled genius), Simonton relies on indirect evidence for that genius: what others have said about him and how often Shakespeare's work has been adapted by other artists. But Simonton himself seems immune to the magic of Shakespeare. It would guess it unlikely that Simonton ever once read through "Hamlet" and declared "genius!" at the end. At one point, Simonton quotes Darwin: "I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me." Simonton's feelings may not be very different. But perhaps my criticism is unfair. The number of products created by the geniuses of the world is multitudinous, and one researcher could never be expected to be acquainted with them all.

Second, I was never persuaded by the book's central argument: the Darwinism of creative genius. The argument's main point is that a creative genius develops many ideas, selects some, develops those further, and so on in a sort of evolutionary cycle. The idea certainly has some merit, especially in the sciences. But in "Origins of Genius," the idea never seems proved. In fact, in my eyes, Simonton's Darwinism served primarily as a structure to hang the rest of the book on--sort of like a chair on which a sheet is hanging. The proponent proclaims the underlying structure of the sheet to be chair-like; but the suspicion of an observer is that the sheet is only looking like a chair because that is what it is hanging on.

Further, regarding Darwinism, I have personally found many artistic works of genius to have a sort of universal quality: as if the work had existed since eternity and will always exist. The work stands as a universal symbol, whose value lies partly in its presentational whole. The maker did not so much as create the work as he discovered it. Something similar happens in mathematics and the sciences, when the final product is noteworthy for its simplicity. But contrasting with that are evolutionary processes, which can be complicated and messy. Evolution certainly has resulted in the human eyeball--not as some perfect organ, but rather as an adaptive, functional organ. There is something incongruous between messy evolution and perfect creative products. It's not that I think that Darwinism is wrong here--rather that it merely provides one perspective, and a limited one at that.

But my criticisms should not be taken as a recommendation against the book. One of its assets is that it makes you think through your own ideas on genius.

P.S. Simonton has an article in the "Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research." This excellent 20-page article, entitled "Creativity and Genius," is an abbreviated version of some of the ideas in this book.
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on July 11, 2006
One of the best books I've read in years.

Simonton does a great job of linking old and new ideas into something meaningful. He references many known and reliable studies to prove out his points. He also assumes that the reader has a good background knowledge on related issues, so he doesn't belabor things that we already know.

Due to the complexity of the topic, it is very detailed. I wouldn't really describe it as a recreational read, but it is well work the effort. You'll be surprised and challenged by the things you'll learn.
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on February 14, 2015
This is an essential, scholarly work for anyone interested in creativity and its processes! Origins of Genius has helped me understand creativity and discuss it more effectively with my own students.
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on December 26, 2000
So good, I just about peed in my pants!
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