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.
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.