Reviews for The geography of genius : a search for the world's most creative places from ancient Athens to Silicon Valley

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Where to find innovators. In the genial style of Bill Bryson, Weiner (Man Seeks God: My Flirtations with the Divine, 2011, etc.) scouts the world looking for places that have spawned geniuses. Rejecting the "geniuses-are-born myth," he learns from one psychology professor that geniuses "do not pop up randomlybut in groupings.Certain places, at certain times, produced a bumper crop of brilliant minds and good ideas." Brilliant minds and good ideas are not quite the same as genius, but what Weiner is searching for, it turns out, are places where creativity has flourished. He identifies seven, of which a few are not surprising: Athens at the time of Socrates; Florence during the Renaissance; Mozart's and Freud's Vienna; and, in our own time, Silicon Valley. Added to these are Hangzhou, China, during the Song Dynasty, from 969 to 1276; the dour city of Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment; and Calcutta, from 1840 to 1920, a period known as the Bengal Renaissance. Weiner is eager to find commonalities among these disparate sites, and of course, he does. Places of genius, he writes, "occupy the center of various cultural currents." In Calcutta, where cooking, eating, defecating, and urinating all occur in public, the author was struck by the idea that life "lived so publicly increases the amount and variety of stimulation we're exposed to." Stimulation is good for creativity, as is "political intrigue, turmoil, and uncertainty." And intimacy: people inhabiting small places "are more likely to ask questions, and questions are the building blocks of genius." Intimacy also fosters cross-fertilization of ideas and challenging banter. Woe to a community that becomes complacent or vulnerable to "creeping vanity.Bling has reared its shiny head" in Silicon Valley, Weiner warns, "and that is never a good sign." After all his travels, the author distills his findings to "the Three Ds: disorder, diversity, and discernment." A somewhat superficial yet entertaining romp. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Journalist Weiner (The Geography of Bliss) illustrates the power that culture and location can lend to creative efforts. Using a series of well-crafted travel essays, the author propels readers across the globe from Athens to the Song Dynasty in China, Florence during the Renaissance, Vienna, Calcutta, and even Silicon Valley to experience the "origins" of invention in each of these places, illuminating historical figures such as Socrates, Plato, Michelangelo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven, and Sigmund Freud. Each essay goes into the depths of the environs that spawned many of the world's great artistic, intellectual, scientific, and philosophical awakenings. Weiner illustrates several of the properties of these innovative events, proving that all arose from the cultural milieu of the time. No two were alike yet many received their initial spark of genius from unlikely places, whether a back street in Calcutta or a coffee shop in Vienna. The author successfully carries to fruition his intentions of providing a well-written compilation of "histories" of renaissance events, proving that imaginative ideas can originate in any place at any time as long as the mind is receptive. VERDICT A welcome read for lovers of geography, history of geography, historical travel, travelogs, and the history of science. [See Prepub Alert, 7/13/15.]-John Dockall, Austin, TX Copyright 2015. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

In this follow-up of sorts to his best-seller The Geography of Bliss (2008), Weiner explores the concept of the creative golden age, attempting to get to the heart of why certain places produce clusters of geniuses. A former foreign correspondent for NPR, Weiner sets up his exploration as a travelogue, devoting each chapter to a trip through a place where geniuses once thrived (Athens, Hangzhou, Florence, Calcutta, Vienna) as well as present-day Silicon Valley. Weiner is an affable tour guide and a lively, witty writer in the style of Bill Bryson; the connections he makes between places of genius are sharp and sometime unexpected. Though the characters he encounters are engaging and entertaining, they occasionally seem a bit too convenient, showing up with sound bytes of wisdom just when he needs it. Nonetheless, Weiner not only leads readers on an enchanting journey with serious questions at its core, he also thoroughly debunks the myth of the lone genius and makes a provocative case for the three d's of creativity: disorder, diversity, and discernment.--Winterroth, Amanda Copyright 2015 Booklist


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In an ambitious attempt to determine the genesis of genius and the conception of creativity, former NPR correspondent Weiner (The Geography of Bliss) travels to history's great hot spots of innovation. As he walks the hallowed streets of Athens, Calcutta, Edinburgh, Hangzhou, Silicon Valley, and other storied locales, he investigates the elements and factors that came together to turn these places into centers of cultural and technological advancement. Weiner speaks with resident experts and recounts the stories of thinkers and doers alike to chart the progress of ideas over the centuries. "Do these genius clusters come in one flavor or many," he asks, "and did the genius of the place evaporate completely, or do trace elements remain?" But in Weiner's quest to understand what makes genius and what causes certain places at certain times to hit a creative critical mass, he seems to end up with more questions than answers, accepting that there is no one true, predictable way to determine how and where genius will strike. He tackles this thought-provoking topic intelligently and doggedly, but occasionally loses focus and direction. Weiner's work is definitely more about the journey than the destination. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM. (Jan.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Publishers Weekly
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

In an ambitious attempt to determine the genesis of genius and the conception of creativity, former NPR correspondent Weiner (The Geography of Bliss) travels to history's great hot spots of innovation. As he walks the hallowed streets of Athens, Calcutta, Edinburgh, Hangzhou, Silicon Valley, and other storied locales, he investigates the elements and factors that came together to turn these places into centers of cultural and technological advancement. In the audio edition, Weiner reads with a clear and articulate voice while also communicating the fun and amusement of his travels. He is most entertaining when recalling the people encounter amid his research. These interactions provide clear cut opportunities to change pace and pitch, which helps not only to clarify who is speaking but also add texture to the performance. Other times, during long bouts of straight prose, his straight forward narration does not keep the listener fully attuned. A Simon & Schuster hardcover. (Jan.) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Former NPR reporter Weiner (Man Seeks God) narrates this personal exploration of places that have at some point in their history spawned significant numbers of geniuses, or at the very least brilliant people. He attempts to discover if these locales (Classical Athens, Sung Dynasty Hangzhou, Renaissance Florence, Enlightenment Edinburgh, Calcutta of the Bengal Renaissance, the Vienna of Mozart and Freud, and modern-day Silicon Valley) have certain traits in common that might be responsible for producing the surge in creativity and intellectual ferment for which they are known. Weiner's voice conveys a wry thoughtfulness reminiscent of Bill Bryson as he muses on the common factors of disorder, diversity, and discernment that help explain why conditions were right in these locations at certain times in their history to produce outstanding achievement. Supplemental materials including a bibliography, acknowledgments, and an index are not included in this recording. VERDICT Recommended for history and travel lovers. Bryson fans may also enjoy.-David Faucheux, Lafayette, LA Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

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