“The Geography of Genius” – an atlas of exceptional creativity


Several years ago I thoroughly enjoyed reading Eric Weiner’s book entitled The Geography of Bliss. As an urban planning professional and geography geek, I was hooked just by the subject matter.

So, when I saw that he had released a follow-up entitled The Geoography of Genius, I was excited to read the sequel. What I wasn’t expecting is how much more insightful and engaging the second book would be compared to the first one. This may have been partially due to the fact that the author was exploring this topic on the urban level versus the national. But, where Bliss was largely entertaining and intriguing, Genius is downright spellbinding in its astute, deeply probing, and thought-provoking analysis of why nodes of genius occur in certain cities at certain moments in human history.

In the book, the author explores cities like Ancient Athens, old Hangzhou, Renaissance Florence, Edwardian Edinburgh, Bengali Renaissance Calcutta, 18th and 19th Century Vienna, and modern San Jose/Silicon Valley. Each brought unique pieces to the puzzle, while also revealing fascinating similarities between most of them. These include tolerance, compactness (at the time), inclusiveness, mentoring, lack of specialization, restlessness, a degree of chaos, and significant challenges/obstacles to overcome.

I could hardly put Genius down, as each subsequent page was like a bright light being shone upon a closely guarded state secret. Rarely, if ever, have I highlight so much text in a single book. Here are just a few excerpts from Genius:

  • “What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.” – Plato
  • Maybe that is the best definition of a work of genius: something that renders silly and futile any thought of an upgrade.”
  • “To create is to have faith not only in the moment, but in the moments yet to come.” 
  • “…every golden age – was interdisciplinary, and all creative breakthroughs the result of …”mental cross-fertilization between different disciplines.”
  • “We are at our most creative when confronted with constraints, and time is the ultimate constraint.”
  • “Places of genius are never easy. The Bengal Renaissance didn’t happen because Calcutta was a nice place to live. It happened because it wasn’t a nice place to live. The creative flourishing was, as it always is, a reaction to a challenge.”
  • “The greatest asset a city provides the aspiring genius, I realize, is not necessarily colleagues or opportunities, but distance. A buffer between our old selves and our new.”

Many kudos to Mr. Weiner for this exemplary book – literally and figuratively a stroke of genius unto itself. I only hope he follows it up with yet another geographic analysis…perhaps on peace or empathy. After absorbing the “genius” of Geography of Genius, yesterday isn’t soon enough for the next publication to be released. Namaste!

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