Shenk (Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, 2005, etc.) debunks “the myth of the lone genius [that] has towered over us like a colossus” and its counterpart, “the most common alternative [that]…locates creativity in networks.”
The author admits that he was drawn to the topic by his own sense of isolation. In his view, creative partnerships share some features of romantic couples and may have an erotic component—e.g., the relationship between the famous Russian-American choreographer George Balanchine, who brought the artistry of the Ballets Russes to America, and his protégé Suzanne Farrell—but their main purpose is the creative work they share. Shenk ranges over a large territory encompassing the partnerships of Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett (who collaborate on investment decisions), Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (joint creators of the field of behavioral economics), Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy (whose journals provided material for his poems), and many others. However, the core of the book is the relationship between Paul McCartney and John Lennon, who not only founded the Beatles, but whose songwriting collaboration changed the landscape of pop music. The author uses the evolution of their partnership, which began in 1957 when they met in Liverpool, to illustrate many of his themes. These include the shared interests and backgrounds that bring two people together, the development of trust as their collaboration deepens and the complementarity of their roles even to the point of rivalry. In many instances, one member of the pair may appear to dominate, but both have essential roles—e.g. in their comic duo, buffoon Lou Costello got the biggest laughs, but straight man Bud Abbott was “the head guy.”
Shenk's inclusion of fascinating biographical material enlivens his provocative thesis on the genesis of creative innovation.