What makes a genius? Author Eric Weiner wrote a new book called The Geography of Genius to answer that very question and to discover more about who and what we consider to be genius. Weiner considers genius to be a social construct, something that people agree on rather than something that is born or made. Weiner thinks that genius is grown and that it’s not always an easy road.
Weiner studied people widely considered to be geniuses, both in the present day and in the past. He looked at the lives of Mozart, Freud, Michelangelo and even such modern-day geniuses like Steve Jobs. None of these people were born particularly special; their talent and expertise were born of many years of struggle, study, and hard work.
These people had similar cultures of change and competition. In each of their lives the society around them was undergoing massive amounts of intellectual, religious, and social change which may have set the stage for genius to come out. Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were both fierce competitors, and yet this struggle to compete with someone of equal caliber prompted artistic genius in both men.
Genius is also produced or encouraged when there is friction against the things the genius is doing, creating, or saying. Someone like Sigmund Freud worked in the very beginnings of psychoanalysis and much of his work wasn’t accepted by the people of his time. However, his work certainly provided a foundation to an entirely new area of study and thinking.
Weiner theorizes that genius is like fashion- genius is made genius because other people say it is. Mozart sold out concerts and created musical pieces that were lauded in his time; men like Steve Jobs are considered to be genius because they (or their ideas) are desired by the people around them. Whether or not these people are actually genius is irrelevant because society has already accepted their ideas, products and way of thinking as something new exciting.
The Book: The Geography of Genius