National Geographic. Apr. 2021. 368p. ISBN 9781426220937. $27. SCI
Kalb, author of the best seller Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder, brings her award-winning journalistic talent to cover the topic of genius. In Spark, she profiles 12 renowned lives, each of them gifted with intelligence, curiosity, creativity, perseverance, and luck. Intriguingly, the book is organized by the time in the subjects’ lives in which genius first stood out. Some are child prodigies (Pablo Picasso, Shirley Temple, Yo-Yo Ma, Bill Gates). For others, genius arrives in young adulthood or middle age (Isaac Newton, Sara Blakely, Julia Child, Maya Angelou, Alexander Fleming). Three of the profiles are for individuals who achieved their greatest success late in life (Eleanor Roosevelt, Peter Roget, Grandma Moses). One is profiled because echoes of his genius are seen in each of the others’ lives (Leonardo da Vinci). Each profile focuses on brilliant attainments but also discusses challenges and times of unhappiness. Kalb uses each brief biography to explore a series of questions: Is genius innate or nurtured? What allows people to excel? What accounts for “aha” moments?
VERDICT Kalb’s book should have universal appeal for public and academic libraries but may particularly resonate with readers who are comforted by the notion that accomplishment and discovery come at many different ages.
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