A blurry book, desperately in need of sharper vision in order to succeed either as a history of creativity or as a guidebook...

CREATIVITY AND BEYOND

CULTURE, VALUES, AND CHANGE

With much enthusiasm but little focus, Weiner’s history of creativity dulls the intellect even as it attempts to stimulate the soul.

In his overview of creativity in the western world, Weiner skims the historical and literary record from the Bible to the Dalai Lama (taking into account nearly everyone and everything in between) in order to consider the multiple meanings that creativity has held for humanity throughout the centuries. Despite this laudable objective, Weiner’s project collapses under the weight of its own scope—which is too massive to be organized in a single concise volume. The entire Middle Ages, for example, warrant a mere eight pages of text, while another equally unwieldy chapter condenses the innovations of the Romantics, the Victorians, and the Modernists into one freeforall of creative frenzy. A consideration of the cultural variables that influence perceptions of creativity follows this brief history, concluding with a puzzling investigation of recent Chinese history and its effect upon the creation of a new national identity. The great failing of Weiner’s study thus lies in its failure to stick to a working and meaningful definition of creativity: The formation of China’s national character is an interesting question, of course, but to view national identity formation as a result of a specific creative process tempers creativity into a meaningless and hopelessly nebulous term. In a similar vein, the Spanish Inquisition emerges in Weiner’s account not as a religious war, but as a stifling of heretical creativity. Creative heretics? This confluence of disparate personal and social forces under the rubric of creativity undermines the initial promise of the investigation. Concluding with a paean to the blessings of creativity in everyday life, Weiner digresses into blathering suggestions about creative joys and other bloated selfhelp trivialities on his way to a disappointing finish.

A blurry book, desperately in need of sharper vision in order to succeed either as a history of creativity or as a guidebook for the lost.

Pub Date: March 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-7914-4477-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

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The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

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Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should...

MASTERY

Greene (The 33 Strategies of War, 2007, etc.) believes that genius can be learned if we pay attention and reject social conformity.

The author suggests that our emergence as a species with stereoscopic, frontal vision and sophisticated hand-eye coordination gave us an advantage over earlier humans and primates because it allowed us to contemplate a situation and ponder alternatives for action. This, along with the advantages conferred by mirror neurons, which allow us to intuit what others may be thinking, contributed to our ability to learn, pass on inventions to future generations and improve our problem-solving ability. Throughout most of human history, we were hunter-gatherers, and our brains are engineered accordingly. The author has a jaundiced view of our modern technological society, which, he writes, encourages quick, rash judgments. We fail to spend the time needed to develop thorough mastery of a subject. Greene writes that every human is “born unique,” with specific potential that we can develop if we listen to our inner voice. He offers many interesting but tendentious examples to illustrate his theory, including Einstein, Darwin, Mozart and Temple Grandin. In the case of Darwin, Greene ignores the formative intellectual influences that shaped his thought, including the discovery of geological evolution with which he was familiar before his famous voyage. The author uses Grandin's struggle to overcome autistic social handicaps as a model for the necessity for everyone to create a deceptive social mask.

Readers unfamiliar with the anecdotal material Greene presents may find interesting avenues to pursue, but they should beware of the author's quirky, sometimes misleading brush-stroke characterizations.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02496-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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