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The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery Hardcover – March 4, 2014

52 customer reviews

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"Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. See more

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this scholarly yet accessible text, art curator and cultural critic Lewis seeks to redefine the place of failure in the creative process. Beginning with the metaphor of the archer’s arrow that cannot travel in a direct line but must rise and fall before it hits its target, Lewis deftly weaves together theories on failure from hundreds of sources. Moving smoothly from Wynton Marsalis’ thoughts on jazz improvisation to Al Gore’s reflection on presidential loss, Lewis’ chapters profile those who have achieved mastery in their field by following the indirect path, often moving backwards, losing out, experimenting, and playing the amateur. These tales of grit and endurance include Samuel Morse’s failed painting career prior to inventing the telegraph, Ben Saunder’s solo ski to the North Pole, choreographer Paul Taylor’s disastrous early performances, and physicist Andre Geim’s playful discovery that earned him the 2010 Nobel Prize. Lewis focuses on the broadest definition of creativity, finding cross-disciplinary inspiration in entrepreneurship, mathematics, sports, and religion. Throughout, she illuminates the ways in which failure offers the irreplaceable advantage of propelling us forward. --Lindsay Bosch


"The Rise points us toward the dazzling afterlife of the dead end, shining light on numerous other counter-intuitive paths to mastery. It delineates the impetus that can be prized from failure, the genius lurking in amateurism, the scientific insights hidden within artistic process. Sarah Lewis meditates on the ways we can will ourselves across the chasms of self-doubt that separate us from astonishing innovation and insight.“ (Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree)

"Success and failure are often seen as polar opposites, one the peak and the other the abyss. In The Rise, Sarah Lewis reexamines our views of both and offers news paths and paradigms. Like Malcolm Gladwell, she brilliantly takes complex ideas and makes them easy to follow, making it possible for us to see the world in a brand new way." (Edwidge Danticat, author of Create Dangerously)

"Sarah Lewis has assembled a rich trove of reflections not just on creativity but on the too-often ignored role that failure and surrender play in almost any ambitious undertaking. That counter-intuitive point of attack makes The Rise a welcome departure from standard accounts of artistry and innovation." (Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift)

"The Rise is a tour d' force—uplifting, smart, and important." (Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of Counter Clockwise)

"A work of rare insight and sensitivity, brilliantly researched and beautifully written, The Rise shows you how to stay open and be fearless. Sarah Lewis takes you to unexpected places, to spheres that just may become fabulous. There is no other book like it in the world." (Nell Painter, Edwards Professor of American History at Princeton University)

“The Rise marks the arrival of Sarah Lewis. With wit, heart, and remarkable research, Lewis elegantly demonstrates why excruciating, even humiliating failure is essential for success and mastery. The Rise is rich with lessons for all of us.” (Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation)

"Creativity is not a process, as so many books would like us to believe. It is a human condition waiting to be unearthed, as Sarah Lewis so beautifully shows us through her sharing of connected stories and personal insights in The Rise. " (Ivy Ross, CMO of

"Sarah Lewis is one the most talented writers and curators of her generation. The Rise should not just be read by every artist, but by every person hoping to unearth his or her own capacity for discovery and creativity. She provides an important and positive voice for the arts in a turbulent time." (Agnes Gund, President Emerita, The Museum of Modern Art)

“I was raised to be terrified of making mistakes, as though there was a smooth way forward without them. There is no other way forward; either you stumble through error, failure, risk and uncertainty on the available paths or you're stuck. Sarah Lewis's The Rise makes a beautiful case both for the necessity of risk and failure and experimentation and for how the road to success is paved with such things, and along the way she tells us about arctic exploration, a future Supreme Court lawyer's captivation with Louis Armstrong's music, something surprising about Hollywood, Frederick Douglass's emphasis on beauty, and a host of other captivating stories to prove her points. ‘My life is full of mistakes. They're like pebbles that make a good road,’ said the great ceramicist Beatrice Wood; this is a map of such roads and a collection of the most beautiful of those stones.” (Rebecca Solnit, author of The Faraway Nearby)

"Independence from everything other than life itself, is what makes any writer significant to the serious reader. Sarah Lewis is sensitive to deep meanings that are not common but always, due to her vibrant prose, seem exquisitely natural. Too much about her independence from the expected, cannot be said." (Stanley Crouch, author of Kansas City Lightning)

"Lewis’s erudition in art and history is matched by her sympathy to the iterative failures of great art, making inspiring readers for those in the process of creation" (Publishers Weekly)

"Creativity, like genius, is inexplicable, but Lewis’ synthesis of history, biography and psychological research offers a thoughtful response to the question of how new ideas happen." (Kirkus)

"A well-written book that examines creativity, failure, and success. Recommended for anyone who wants to comprehend the value of innovation and discovery, as well as undergraduate and graduate students, scholars, and researchers of psychology, sociology, and the visual and performing arts." (Library Journal)

"Without a whiff of self-help preachiness, The Rise will make you reconsider your own foibles and flops, if only by showing how minor they are compared with the epic setbacks she details. From Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle to overcome a distracting verbal tic to the phenomenon of elite women archers who go from regularly nailing the bull’s-eye to suddenly not even making the target, the book gives the old chestnut “If at first you don’t succeed…” a jolt of adrenaline." (Elle)

"Lewis, driven by her lifelong “magpie curiosity about how we become,” crafts her argument slowly, meticulously, stepping away from it like a sculptor gaining perspective on her sculpture and examining it through other eyes, other experiences, other particularities, which she weaves together into an intricate tapestry of “magpielike borrowings” filtered through the sieve of her own point of view. The Rise is a dimensional read in its entirety — highly recommended." (Maria Popova Brain Pickings)

"Lewis's voice is so lyrical and engaging that her book, "The Rise," can be read in one sitting, which is so much the better since its argument is multilayered and needs to be taken whole." (The New York Times)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (March 4, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1451629230
  • ISBN-13: 978-1451629231
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #72,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Margarethe Bracey on April 24, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read many great reviews of this book and having read hundreds of self-help and inspirational books as well as a number on mastery, innovation and creativity, I was expecting something really good. I was disapointed. She tells some good stories but tends to ramble on and not stay on point. The literary style of her writing might work well in a novel but I found it distracting in this type of book where one generally wants to get to the point and move on to the next in a more or less robust manner. I found mysel reading and re-reading long tangled sentences that didn't seem to quite nail down what she wanted to say but danced around it. Literary and artistic -- yes. Direct and succinct -- no. Nothing in the content is new or original, nor does she bring any of her own experience into the book which might have saved it from the blandness -- maybe because she doesn't have any. She's gone to school a lot is the only thing I can tell from her biography. She clearly did a lot of research and all that data might have overwhelmed the clear line of thought one has to hold to write a really good book, as well as the heart required to connect with the reader. She writes like a very bright school girl and not like someone who has had any real experience with the subject she chose. Not bad, but a book on overcoming failure, gaining mastery, and living a truly creative life needs an author who has lived it, at least to some extent, and not just gathered pretty stories to thread together.
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Format: Hardcover
There are many famous achievements noted in THE RISE, but the most salient point about failure and what it provides the person who has failed in a particular endeavor comes from a member of Scott’s failed Arctic bid, Navy Explorer George Nares: “It is true that we failed to bring home the North Pole as a national present to the world, but those who regret that circumstance may be consoled with the knowledge that failure implants more deeply in all breasts the desire to excel.” THE RISE attempts to make the case that the lessons learned from spectacular failures can only enhance and support the masterpieces that come when anyone is forced to confront the bad and reconstruct an idea into its inevitable success.

Sarah Lewis doesn’t have a huge history with failure herself. She has a BA from Harvard, a Masters of Philosophy from Oxford, and is getting a Ph.D. from Yale this year. She has been a curator at the Tate Modern and MOMA in New York. She was on Obama’s Arts Policy Committee, on Oprah’s “Power List” and a Critic at the Yale University School of Art in the MFA program. Is it possible for someone this accomplished (and under 40) to really understand what failure is for most people? Well, Lewis doesn’t bother with any stories about ordinary people. Instead, she fills the book with tales from those who, despite searching for success at some point in their lives, found huge fame and accolades later on after a period of reconstruction and reinvention.

Mythmaker J.K.
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Format: Hardcover
In a world where many are happy to share their opinions regarding matters about which they have given little thought, Sarah Lewis has taken the time to gift us a deeply thoughtful and meticulously crafted book that chronicles with great aplomb how failure has led to some of the world's most well-regarded successes.

The impeccable research in "The Rise" and Sarah's ability to make connections between the complex and simple make the book infinitely quotable:
"We all have a blind spot around our privileges shaped exactly like us," as Junot Díaz said, and it can create a blindness to failures all around. It results in the Einstellung effect: the cost of success is that it can block our ability to see when what has worked well in the past might not any longer. In the face of entrenched failure, there are limits to reason's ability to offer us a way out. Play helps to see things anew, as do safe havens. Yet the imagination inspired from an aesthetic encounter can get us to the point of surrender, giving over to a new version of ourselves."

Play, safe havens, imagination, surrender. This book is filled with no shortage stunning illuminations.

Perhaps one of the greatest gifts Sarah offers us is the distinction between "success" and "mastery":
"Mastery requires endurance. Mastery, a word we don't use often, is not the equivalent of what we might consider its cognate -- perfectionism -- an inhuman aim motivated by a concern with how others view us. Mastery is also not the same as success -- an event-based victory based on a peak point, a punctuated moment in time. Mastery is not merely a commitment to a goal, but to a curved-line, constant pursuit.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Irfan A. Alvi TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 30, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The topic of this book interests me greatly, and I really wanted to like this book, but in the end I found myself exasperated and wishing I hadn't spent the time.

The author apparently likes to tell stories and think out loud, so she writes many words, but I repeatedly found myself saying "that's nice, but what exactly is your point?" I don't think she's trying to be elusive, I suspect the problem is just that she becomes so enchanted with nuances and complexity that she forgets to focus and get to the bottom line. In other words, her style of thought is highly intellectual rather than pragmatic.

And to the extent that she makes a point, it seems rather obvious: if you want to succeed in anything which is generally considered challenging, expect to face difficulties of various kinds - including uncertainties, risks, obstacles, setbacks, and failures - so you'll need to be persistent and patient, and also wise in making judgments regarding when to change course or even give up to avoid making things worse. Really, that's about it, that's the whole book in a nutshell. Nothing here that isn't widely known, especially to those who have some real life experience with success and failure.

And what the author *doesn't* note is that *luck* is also a factor in success versus failure. We routinely hear about those who faced many failures before succeeding because those stories inspire us, but we don't tend to hear about those who kept trying and failing without ever really succeeding, thus fading away into the obscurity of the masses.
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