Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers

Book review by Deane Barker

This is a pretty simple book. It tells short, chapter-length biographies of 12 people (plus one bonus person). It tries to get at the source of what made each of them special.

Some examples:

  • Shirley Temple had a strong bond with her mother who managed her career. She avoided Hollywood child actor dysfunction and launched a second career in politics by becoming an ambassador and working with non-profits.

  • Sara Blakely – the founder of Spanx and a self-made billionaire – was a born entrepreneur, always trying to find a way to make money even as a child. She never stopped looking for the right product, until she found it.

  • Alexander Fleming was messy, which caused him to leave a used petri dish lying around his laboratory which grew – and, more importantly, didn’t grow – bacteria, which led to the discovery of penicillin.

All of the chapters are interesting. They culminate in a conclusion about Leonardo Da Vinci, who I guess is the “ultimate genius.”

I enjoyed the book, but in the end, is any of this actionable? No, probably not. For every Alexander Fleming, there are a thousand people who are messy and disorganized in a way that never results in a world-changing discovery.

What makes someone a genius? Is there any one thing? I doubt it. It’s likely a combination of external factors that collide with someone’s personality and innate habits in really unique ways. A combination of X, Y, and Z in one person makes them a genius, and in another it makes them a convict.

I’ve read quite a few books about “genius” people, and I guess the only common thread I have found is curiosity. Smart people tend to be intensely curious and proactively search for answers. If there is indeed a common thread, I feel like that’s it.

(Fingers crossed… Stuff I Looked Up.)

The book was published by National Geographic, which I find a little odd. But it fits the nature of the book. It’s just a bunch of interesting narratives about things.

I’m glad I read it, but it’s not something that’s going to stick with you for the rest of your life, and in that sense, it doesn’t really deliver on the subtitle.

Book Info

Claudia Kalb

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