- Familiar things happen, and mankind does not bother about them. It requires a very unusual mind to undertake the analysis of the obvious. [Alfred North Whitehead, “Science and the Modern World” (1925).]
A genius is someone who has transcended the previous limits of thought. Geniuses are responsible for much of the progress in human affairs, especially science and technology, music and art, but we have encountered geniuses in every field of endeavor. Daniel Boorstin and others have written excellent narrative accounts.
Biographies of Einstein
- Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe (Simon & Schuster, 2007).
- Jürgen Neffe, Einstein: A Biography (Polity Press, 2007).
Some of Einstein's writings:
- Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (Modern Library, 1994)
- Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, The Evolution of Physics: From Early Concepts to Relativity and Quanta (Simon & Schuster, 2008).
- Albert Einstein, Relativity: The Special and General Theory (Ancient Wisdom Publications, 2010).
- Albert Einstein, Essays in Humanism (Philosophical Library, 1950).
Because geniuses transcend practically everyone else, in the domain of their genius, often they go unappreciated for decades or longer.
- Hugh Eakin, Picasso’s War: How Modern Art Came to America (Crown, 2022): “Even after the 1913 Armory Show, which is usually credited with introducing modern art to this country, it took another several decades before it was possible to mount a full-scale Picasso exhibit, and years to get the Museum of Modern Art off the ground, much less turn it into the formidable institution it is today.”
- Sam Wasson, The Big Goodbye: “Chinatown” and the Last Years of Hollywood (Flatiron, 2019): “Whatever unfathomable traumas engendered his worst compulsions also fueled his genius. It was a package deal. No Polanski, no 'Chinatown.'”
- Ananyo Bhattacharya, The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann (W.W. Norton & Company, 2022): “The mathematician John von Neumann was an undeniable genius whose many accomplishments included an essential role in the development of quantum mechanics, computing and the atom bomb.”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Private Notebooks, 1914-1916 (Liveright, 2022): “These journals offer a view of the philosopher’s preoccupations, his sexual anguish, his struggles with work and his time in the military.”
Narratives on the dark side of genius:
- Edward Renehan, Dark Genius of Wall Street: The Misunderstood Life of Jay Gould (Basic Books, 2005).
MacArthur Fellows: genius awards
Technical and Analytical Readings
- Kevin Hartley, The Advanced Genius Theory: Are They Out of Their Minds or Ahead of Their Time? (Scribner, 2010).
- John Gibbs, The Weight of Genius
- William Blake, The Genius of Shakespeare
- Eugene Delacroix, Frédéric Chopin (1838)
- René Magritte, The Face of Genius (1926)
Film and Stage
- Amadeus: though most directly about Salieri’s jealousy, the film is most striking for its portrayal of Mozart’s quirky genius
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Historically and developmentally, the string quartet rests on Franz Josef Haydn’s broad shoulders. His Op. 33 quartets (1781) mark the period when he made the genre his own, paving the way for others.
- String Quartet No. 31 in B minor, FHE70, III:37, Op. 33, "Russian," No. 1
- String Quartet No. 30 in E-flat major ("The Joke"), FHE71, III:38, Op. 33, "Russian," No. 2
- String Quartet No. 32 in C major ("The Bird"), FHE72, III:39, Op. 33, "Russian," No. 3
- String Quartet No. 34 in B-flat major, FHE73, III:40, Op. 33, "Russian," No. 4
- String Quartet No. 29 in G major, "How Do You Do?", FHE74, III:41, Op. 33, "Russian," No. 5
- String Quartet No. 33 in D major, FHE75, III:42, Op. 33, "Russian," No. 6
These composers and these works are represented elsewhere on this site but they belong here, too, because they exemplify the novel rising above that is the hallmark of genius. Each of them expanded the range of its genre.
- Bach, The Well-Tempered Clavier, Books I and II, bwv 846-893
- Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125
- Mahler, Symphony No. 3 in D minor