Divine Fury: A History of Genius

Darrin McMahon. Basic, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-465-00325-9
McMahon (Happiness: A History) delivers a comprehensive look at the concept of genius in all its philosophical glory. He takes readers from Socrates to Enlightenment figures like Isaac Newton and on to Oscar Wilde, noting how the ancient Greeks conceived of genius as the daimonion (the root of our modern “demon”) that inhabited a body, whereas the 19th-century Romantics’ notion of genius privileged originality. He goes on to show that our contemporary idea of genius is based on celebrity. McMahon touches briefly on the usual names—Mozart, Shelley, Einstein, and Lenin—and he also addresses the inherent dangers of genius, from Dr. Frankenstein to Adolf Hitler. He ends with a look at the medical and religious implications of the idea, from the development of IQ tests to the perception that geniuses pose potential dangers to the social order. Throughout its history, genius has been attributed mostly to white European males, and this account admittedly reflects that. Covering topics from science to the arts to philosophy, the book offers a densely packed, earnest look at how genius has been viewed throughout the centuries. It’s clear that McMahon knows his topic; it’s less clear that we are any better off for having geniuses among us. Agent: Tina Bennett, William Morris Endeavor. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/05/2013
Release date: 10/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
MP3 CD - 978-1-5113-9684-4
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