An enthusiastic examination of the creative process.

A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist explores creativity.

In his latest investigation, New York Times reporter Richtel does not limit himself to artistic or scientific inspiration, emphasizing that creativity is an inborn human trait as natural as reproduction. “Creativity is…part of our more primitive physiology,” he writes. “It comes from the cellular level, part of our most essential survival machinery. We are creativity machines.” The result may not be a work of genius, but it is always characterized by originality, novelty, and meaning. As Richtel shows, it can also be disruptive, not always in a good way, and it invariably changes how we relate to the world. It’s common knowledge that children possess open minds with creative imaginations, “generating random thoughts, concepts logical and mad.” Unfortunately, according to pioneering studies, education, peer pressure, and parenting often quash this inborn creativity, resulting in the popular label “Fourth Grade Slump.” Not every expert agrees, but it’s a catchy phrase that undoubtedly contains an element of truth. “The number one enemy of creativity is perfectionism,” writes Richtel. “There isn’t even a close second-place enemy.” In that vein, the author stresses the importance of permission. Research reveals a surprisingly laissez faire attitude in parents of creative children who raise them with far fewer rules. Studies also show that creativity doesn’t necessarily follow along with IQ, but openness and curiosity are critical. Richtel presents a host of illuminating interviews with gifted individuals happy to reveal their insights. He pays closest attention to singer Rhiannon Giddens and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, but he also includes an entertaining chapter on Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, who is “exceedingly open in a jock culture that can be very closed.” There is no shortage of inspiring advice, as Richtel’s definition of creativity broadens as the narrative proceeds. Eventually, it includes a vast swath of human behavior. Despite the author’s warning that this is not a self-help book, readers will learn more about achieving personal fulfillment than the secrets of pure genius.

An enthusiastic examination of the creative process.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-063-02553-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022


If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998


Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019