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

  • From the Publisher
September 1, 2020

Spot­light­ing 13 icons past and present, Kalb explores how and when inspi­ra­tion strikes among prodi­gies, midlif­ers, and late bloomers, from Yo-Yo Ma and Issac New­ton to Julia Child and Eleanor Roo­sevelt. What pro­pels some indi­vid­u­als to reach extra­or­di­nary cre­ative heights in the ear­li­est years of life while oth­ers dis­cov­er their pas­sions decades lat­er? The chap­ters in Spark are orga­nized not by birth order but by the age at which genius ignites. Through engag­ing sto­ry­telling and deep report­ing on human behav­ior, Spark unrav­els the rela­tion­ship between brains, tal­ent, pas­sion, cre­ativ­i­ty, willpow­er, and imagination.

To illu­mi­nate her his­tor­i­cal pro­files, Kalb took trips to land­marks of inge­nu­ity: she trav­eled to Vin­ci, Italy, the birth­place of Leonar­do da Vin­ci; stood in Newton’s bed­room over­look­ing his famed apple gar­den; vis­it­ed the lab where Alexan­der Flem­ing dis­cov­ered peni­cillin; and walked along Roosevelt’s favorite path through the woods at her home in upstate New York. Kalb inter­viewed a num­ber of chil­dren, grand­chil­dren, and great-grand­chil­dren of Pablo Picas­so, Shirley Tem­ple, Roo­sevelt, and Grand­ma Moses, and bol­stered her report­ing by delv­ing into let­ters, mem­oirs, and biogra­phies. Although her 13 sub­jects dif­fer in numer­ous ways — the eras in which they were born, the liveli­hoods they pur­sued — they share a com­bi­na­tion of core fea­tures that tie them togeth­er: intel­li­gence, cre­ativ­i­ty, per­se­ver­ance, and luck.

Spark’s cap­ti­vat­ing nar­ra­tive and deft analy­sis offer a fresh inter­pre­ta­tion of genius that will sur­prise and ener­gize read­ers. My home is that these pro­files will not only illu­mi­nate the many junc­tures at which dis­cov­ery can hap­pen,” Kalb writes, but also inspire those who are still search­ing for fulfillment.”

Discussion Questions