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Genius Explained (Canto) Paperback – 31 May 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 236 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (31 May 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521008492
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521008495
  • Product Dimensions: 13.8 x 1.4 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 556,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'… an enjoyable and informative book … His insights are thought-provoking … This argument, worked through the case histories, is not only impressive but encouraging, opening the way up to all of us and our children.' Galton Institute Newsletter

'The richness of Howe's examples and his clear flowing writing style, recommend this book for serious popular readers.' Contemporary Psychology

Book Description

Michael J. A. Howe addresses the belief that genius is born not made, suggesting that it is not a gift but the product of a combination of environment, personality and sheer hard work. These ideas are developed through case studies of figures such as Darwin, the Brontë sisters and Einstein.

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Genius appears to be a mystery, immune to scientific analysis. Read the first page
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Kieran Sheahan on 24 April 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent read and very informative. I was always under the impression that a genius is born not made. This book has changed my perception completely. Practice Practice Practice is the order of the day. This book has helped ignite me on my journey to achieving my goals and objectives and making me believe that they are achievable.. There is another book called The Talent Code which i am reading now and both books go hand in hand and if possible i would recommend reading this as well.Overall very happy, lots of food for thought and a very enjoyable and challenging read.
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By Dr Suranjan Ghoshal on 13 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
this was absolutely a bargain price including postage! it took a few days to come. however considering everything else, this was well worth the wait!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Genius within our reach 15 Nov. 2002
By Gia - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a great book in every sense. He is basically saying that the geniuses of the world have achieved their accomplishments through sheer hard work, persistence, and countless hour commitments. And therefore, genius is within all of our reaches, if we only apply the same principles that they did. I have seen what he is talking about played out in real life. For example, when I was working as an engineer, I had to share an office with a man who was known in the company as a genius, with astonishing achievements. He has since gone on to achieve national recognition for his work, and there is no end in sight. Therefore, I was astonished, when I was sharing an office with him, about how little he knew about some things, and how many mistakes he made even about engineering. In fact, I corrected him, and pointed things out to him on many occasions. After he left the company, I even redid some of his work, and everyone agreed it was an improvment. Seeing that side of him, I never thought he was born with some unexplained gift that caused him to be labeled genius by those who didn't see behind the scenes. He did what he did through sheer hard work. In fact, he is the hardest working person I have ever met. He would come into work at 5 in the morning. He would often work between 12 to 20 hours. He would work weekends. When he wasn't doing the direct work at hand, he would go home and read on background material for several hours. He was constantly studying. Hence, the finished product Genius. In this case, his genius came from a mind carefully, and very painstackingly trained through sheer hard work.
Now one point I would disagree with the author is that he says there are no born differences in people. I think there are individual differences in brain capacity between people, since the brain is an inherited organ just like any other. However, there a tons of people in the world who could potentially be an Einstein or Darwin, and very few actually do.
Further evidence for the author's claim is evident if we examine Chinese and Japanese cultures. They operate under the assumption in their schools that work is much more important than natural ability. As a result, about 60 to 70% of their students achieve in school, what our few 5% of 'geniuses' achieve. Their work takes their students a lot further than our kids go, and it will eventually catch up with us. I think this is a great book, which gives hope to so many people to achieve their potential. I know it has given me hope.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Genius Carefully, Cautiously, and Kindly Explained 6 April 2002
By Thomas Reynolds - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book looks at the question of whether or not there is any such thing as genius. Are there innate, genetically programmed abilities whose possession makes one person smarter than another? Was Mozart qualitatively different from the rest of us poor mortals who were not composing piano concerti by the time we were four years old?
Dr. Howe (I presume) argues that there may very well be some innate genetic quality that makes Mozarts different from the rest of us, but it is difficult if not impossible to define. He argues that what leads to exceptional intellectual accomplishment as adults is primarily focus, dedication, and lots and lots of practice. He backs up his claim with abundant carefully reasoned, cautiously qualified and fairly presented evidence that is a pleasure to read.
Anyone like me who has repeatedly seen good, smart, capable people discouraged from pursuing intellectual studies because they were considered "not smart enough" owes it to themselves and those people to read this book. This is a MARVELLOUS book
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Motivating (Give a Copy to a Slacker Teenager) 10 Sept. 2006
By S. F. Bell - Published on
Format: Paperback
Through a series of biographical sketches of historic "geniuses" in a number of fields, Howe argues that they develop their abilities from their experiences rather than having them arise from any innate or mysterious qualities. In his profiles of Einstein, Darwin, the Bronte sisters, and others, Howe essentially argues that a close examination of their lives shows that they studied hard, practiced their craft for many, many hours, and generally received training from knowledgeable parents or mentors.

The biographies are interesting, particularly the story of British engineer George Stephenson, a designer of the British railways (and therefore founder of the Industrial Revolution) who is little-known in America; through sheer hard work, he pulled himself up from poverty and illiteracy. Howe's basic argument is convincing, and also motivating (it would be a good book to give to a teenager), since it indicates that just about anyone can develop extraordinary abilities (if they only can or will put in the many, many hours of study and practice that it might take).

The chief faults I found with the book are that Howe gets a bit repetitious in stating his main points and the biographical profiles are rather thinly sourced: Howe seems to have conducted little or no original research about his subjects (or at least no digging in the primary documents), and the profiles are based on a relatively small number of standard biographies, with Howe selecting the details that support his thesis. Still, it's clearly written and an interesting read.
8 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Scientistic psychobabble 27 Sept. 2000
By John Weretka - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The project of Michael J.A. Howe's 1999 Genius Explained is an extremely worthy one: to explicate the origins and characteristics of that special class of persons commonly denoted genius through the significance of their intellectual achievements and the lasting impression which they make on our lives and civilisation. Unfortunately, in this aggregation of logical non sequiturs, Howe brings us no closer to an understanding of the nature of genius. Howe's methodology is examined in the introduction, in which he asserts that rather than having to rely on magical or miraculous explanations for genius, we can see the explication of the phenomenon of genius as a problem which can be solved. Specifically, the solution to explaining the seemingly astonishing capabilities of some people is directly attributable to circumstances which nurtured them (home environments, learning opportunities, etc). He goes on to point out that through extraordinary diligence and application over a period of years, generally though not exclusively in the formative years of their early childhoods, these geniuses became exceptionally proficient in their areas of study. Due to this, Howe suggests, geniuses need not be born but can be readily explained as products of a certain set of environmental factors. His thesis further suggests that an exploration of the well-documented childhood of certain geniuses will reveal that they did indeed enter into protracted periods of training before contributing in the ways which would later mark them as geniuses, rather than emerging as full armed intellectual giants. Chapters 2-5 examine the childhoods of Charles Darwin, George Stephenson and Michael Faraday. Chapters 5 and 6 broadly explore the phenomenon of the child prodigy. Chapter 7 leaves the world of scientist and shows that the Bront? children and Mary Evans experienced similar and lengthy periods of experimentation with fiction as children before 'arriving' at their first major novels, many of which contain threads of thought from their juvenilia. Chapter 8 examines the person of the inventor and Chapter 9 casts an eye over the idea that talent is inborn. The theme of scientific 'explanation' is a heavy and destructive one in this book and at no time does Howe countenance any other explanation of genius than a 'scientific' one. Howe naively relies on the limited conception that 'science explains everything'. A passage in the introduction reveals how perilous this position is: Howe offers it is more reasonable to believe the skilled conjurors who can imitate his feats rather than Uri Geller's explanation that he uses his mind to bend spoons. This is of course the more reasonable explanation if you believe the pat explanations of scientific 'observation'; but I do not, as a matter of course, happen to believe them myself and nor do I necessarily suppose that Geller's explanation is invalidated because of the existence of the scientific explanation. It would take more that this flimsy argument to show that. The scientific explanation only shows that the action is replicable by means other than the powers of one's mind. A far more serious problem besets Howe's project: nowhere does he explain what a genius is or even what it might be, problems that might have been addressed had he investigated the existing philosophical standpoints on this issue. I for one do not believe in the concept of human genius (although I do not rule out divine genius) and neither do I believe that any of Darwin, Mozart, Faraday, Elliott, Stephenson, or any of the other examined in this book are geniuses. I further think that all Howe does is to demonstrate how facile or capable (a topic never canvassed by Howe) certain individuals were in certain areas of expertise: are human calculators like George Bidder geniuses for being able to multiply six-digit numbers rapidly; or is Mozart a genius for being able to notate the incredibly repetitive Allegri Miserere, an unverified achievement? The suggestion is offensive. A genius, if it existed, would simultaneously be the most excellent in all fields of endeavour; the suggestions offered by Howe merely touch genius or reflect a fraction of its total. Richard Burton's considerable achievements in several fields are dismissed early in the book for being so diffuse as not to attract the title of genius, and yet as far as I am concerned, Burton is the most genius-like case offered in this book. With a true genius, there would be no question of facility. A genius would not be good at any thing, but merely unsurpassed in all things. All variations of this all-encompassing position merely indicate varying levels of facility. Finally, a word on the historical perspective which dominates this book. I see genius as a outgrowth of the late eighteenth century which received considerable exposure particularly in musical circles in the nineteenth century and which unfortunately continues to plague us today. Howe's book is firmly in the thrall of nineteenth century polemics. It is not surprising that he must rely on nineteenth century accounts of the childhoods of his heroes; earlier centuries did not seem to credit childhood with the significance we are now accustomed to giving it. His claim that Bach and Handel were regarded as prodigies is anachronistic and unsupportable to a large extent. Tales of Handel's amazing the court of Saxe-Weissenfels with his organ playing date from Mainwaring's attempts after the composer's death to canonize him and stand firmly in the nascent tradition of the genius. Darwin, Stephenson and Faraday's contemporary biographies stand either in the tradition of the hagiography or the self-improvement story (this is the age that produced The Improvement of the Mind, after all). Everything in this book is necessarily read backwards. A history suggests nothing of itself: we suggest to it. Biography in fact may or may not show something with regard to facility in a certain area, but if offers nothing in terms of being a genius. A disappointing book. It is time for a serious study to enter this field and put to rest the psuedo-scientific musings and comfortable certain explanations which the scientific establishment offers.
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