This is a companion volume to Intellectuals (first published in 1988) in which Johnson focuses on a number of prominent as well as diverse intellectuals who include Rousseau, Shelley, Ibsen, Brecht, and Sartre. He proceeds in the same manner in Creators with his focus on an equally diverse group whose members include Chaucer, Bach, Austen, Eliot, and in Chapter 14, Picasso and Disney. Most of those who have already read one or more of Johnson's other works probably disagree with several of his opinions but no one can (or at least should) question the scope and depth of his erudition. Of course, the appeal and value of this book will depend almost entirely on each reader's own interests but I presume to suggest that this book be read in its entirety because several lesser known people (A.W.N. Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, for example) are far more interesting than I (at least) anticipated.
The title of the first chapter (i.e. "The Anatomy of Creative Courage") could well have served as the book's subtitle. Each of the 17 whom Johnson rigorously examines demonstrated throughout their lives and careers extraordinary courage when pursuing their visions despite all manner of barriers. "What can be said is that creation is always difficult. If it is worth doing at all, we can be sure it is hard to do. I cannot think of any instance in which it is accurate, let along fair, to use the word `facile.'" Johnson also suggests that "courage and creativity are linked, for all creation requires intellectual courage." Also when overcoming physical disabilities, as well as severe poverty, alienation, voluntary or involuntary isolation (often resulting in severe loneliness), and constant awareness of hardships which one's loved ones have been forced to share and endure. "All the same," Johnson concludes, "creation is a marvelous business, and people who create at the highest level lead a privileged life, however arduous and difficult it may be. An interesting life, too, full of peculiar aspects and strange satisfactions. That is the message of this book."
Please keep in mind that this volume does not consist of 17 mini-biographies, although there is a wealth of biographical information provided. Nor is it a definitive critical analysis of what each of the subjects created, although their major achievements are acknowledged. Nor is it a cultural history, although Johnson briefly but deftly correlates a number of cross-generational themes. Granted, he could well have devoted an additional chapter to each of several others such as Vermeer, Mozart, Richard Wagner, Caravaggio, Mary Cassatt, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Emily Dickinson. (He does briefly discuss them in the first chapter.) I think it is important to realize what this book is not so that it can be properly understood and appreciated for what it is: what an uncommonly intelligent, eloquent, and erudite historian has found most interesting and informative in the lives and careers of 17 creators. "Creativity, I believe, is inherent in all of us. We are the progeny of almighty God...He created the universe, and those who inhabit it; and in creating us, he made us in his own image, so that his personality and capacities, however feebly, are reflected in our minds, bodies, and immortal spirits. So we are, by our nature, creators as well...and [because ] we are all made in God's image, there is creativity in all of us, and the only problem is how to bring it out. A farmer is creative -- none more so -- and so is a shoemaker."
I presume to suggest, however, paraphrasing George Orwell, that all human beings are creative but some are more creative than others.