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Sparks of Genius: The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World's Most Creative People Paperback – August 9, 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
Operating on the arguable assumption that creative thinking is essentially pre-verbal, intuitive and emotional, the Root-Bernsteins (Honey, Mud, Maggots, and Other Medical Marvels) outline 13 "tools" that help translate spontaneous imaginative experiences into specific media, such as painting, music, scientific experiments and poetry. Among the techniques they identify and describe are "imaging," "abstracting," "body thinking" and "empathizing." Although there is considerable overlap between categories (for example, in the sections on "analogizing" and on "recognizing patterns"), the Root-Bernsteins succeed in defining each category's uniqueness. Freely acknowledging that they are not asserting anything startlingly novel, the authors present an impressive number of firsthand accounts of the creative process, from Albert Einstein and Merce Cunningham to Oliver Sacks and Charles Ives. Some may have trouble accepting the premise that all creative thinking--whether for poetic composition or scientific experiment, and regardless of the thinker's native culture or language--is "universally" categorizable, but the authors make a strong case for a view that is becoming increasingly popular. They conclude with a list of suggestions for how to transform education from the elementary level up so that it is better suited to our demanding, multidimensional culture. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Are there special thinking strategies that characterize genius? How did the Einsteins, Freuds, Picassos, Galileos, and Mozarts come up with their ideas? The Root-Bernsteins, Robert (physiology professor, Michigan State Univ.) and Mich?le (history and writing teacher), have been studying creativity for more than a decade. Using results from these studies, they have identified the following 13 thinking tools to help us tap into our own personal genius and free our minds to be more creative: observing, imaging, abstracting, recognizing patterns, forming patterns, analogizing, body thinking, empathizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, playing, transforming, and synthesizing. The book is well written and easy to follow, with each chapter containing a thorough discussion of each tool. An outstanding section of "Minds-on-Resources" assists the reader in using the tools. Scholarly and inspiring, this book is highly recommended for psychology and education collections in academic and large public libraries.
-Elizabeth Goeters, Roswell, GA
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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I think that "Sparks of Genius" is the first book I have ever read on the subject of how to develop genius, but I cannot imagine a better complilation of what it takes to foster and inspire genius and creativity in people. The main reason for this is that the authors base their material on how creative people in the arts, sciences, etc., acquire and develop their skills, and every chapter except the last one (appropriately) are full of firsthand examples from people of genius and creativity in (almost!) all walks of life. Yet the authors themselves exhibit their own kind of genius in organizing the material, writing chapter after chapter with genuine vision and clarity, and most importantly, after intellectually explaining "sparks" such as observing, imaging, analyzing, and empathizing, give specific, generally uncomplicated, exercises on how to develop these skills.
Throughout the book the authors demonstrate that people in very diverse walks of life exhibit the same "sparks of genius" in their work, which I find quite inspiring in itself. In this way they themselves exemplify the value of "synthesis," perhaps the key that links all the methods they depict.
The book is a call to "rethink thinking," to teach cross-discipline learning, and I feel that the methods discussed in the book, and then discussed specifically in the context of education in the final chapter, would be invaluable as educational tools. I believe that if children's education could be fostered along the lines of these tools of creative genius, if children could be taught to use their own internal resources instead of relying on the obvious external garbage such as TV and video games, the improvement to society would be tremendous.
My favorite chapter in the book is called "Empathizing," where the authors discuss what artists and scientists do to go inside of whomever or whatever they are portraying (actors), drawing (artists), treating (physicians), as well as other real-life examples.
My only small addition to "Sparks of Genius" would be in the penultimate chapter, called "Synthesizing," some mention of the "gestalt" in experiencing the whole in music, art, etc. I liked this term from personal experience and from books on gestalt therapy that came out some time ago, and it's a very intuitive concept that fits in well with the chapter's discussion.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough!
Since this book was published more than a decade ago, there has been significant research conducted on metacognition - especially creative thinking -- that adds to the support of several of the Root-Bernsteins' key points. For example, as they explain, "Creative thinking in all fields occurs preverbally, before logic and linguistics comes into play, manifesting itself through emotions, intuitions, images, and bodily feelings." Only by formulating a new conception of knowledge can we formulate a new form of both formal and informal education. The Root-Bernsteins wrote this book to explain how to do that. More specifically, they studied some of the world's most creative thinkers in the arts and sciences, then share in this book what they learned from them.
Consider these two quotations, first from Paul Horgan: "Illusion is first of all needed to find the powers of which the self is capable"; then from Albert Einstein: "In creative work, imagination is more important than knowledge." However, as the Root-Bernsteins' affirm, they are both important, in fact [begin italics] interdependent [end italics]. "Fantasy and imagination suggest how the world might be; knowledge and experience limit the possibilities; melding the two begets understanding. Without the illusions of the mind, a clear grasp of reality is impossible, and vice versa."
I am greatly indebted to Howard Gardner and his research in the field of multiple intelligences. The Root-Bernsteins may have had that concept in mind as they conducted their own research for this book. They may also agree with a paraphrasing of Walt Whitman's affirmation in "Song of Myself," that human beings are "large," they contain "multitudes."
When I first read the book and then re-read it recently, these are three of the subjects of greatest interest and value to me:
o There is a common set of thinking tools at the heart of creative understanding that need to be mastered: observing, imaging, abstracting, recognizing patterns, forming patterns, analogizing, body thinking, empathizing, dimensional thinking, modeling, playing, transforming, and synthesizing (what Roger Martin describes as integrative thinking). The Root-Bernsteins thoroughly discuss each, citing various creative thinkers and including their own thoughts about how they use one or more of them.
o The Root-Bernsteins stress "six important points about these thirteen tools" (Pages 27-29), noting that most people can at least try to "unite Illusions and Reality into Understanding through the medium of Tools for Thinking."
o In Chapter 16, after having "teased apart the threads of creative thinking and rewoven them into a synthetic understanding of innovation," they shift their attention to explaining "a new kind of transdiciplinary, synthetic education." First they note, "we need not change [begin italics] what [end italics] we teach. At synthetic education requires only that we change [begin italics] how [end italics] we teach, bearing eight goals in mind." (Pages 316-319)
Those who read this book with appropriate care will be generously rewarded by the substance and quality of the content, brilliantly presented by the Root-Bernsteins in their lively and eloquent narrative. After reading and then re-reading Sparks of Genius, I have concluded that "the whole point of gourmet thinking and education" involves a never-ending process of exploration and discovery rather than any one head-snapping insight, a process best viewed as a journey. Think of Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein as your travel agents, then as you expert guides. Bon voyage!
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