The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places, from Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley by Eric Weiner delivers a lot of what you expect based on the title.

Weiner analyzes what makes a good environment for genius by looking at historical clusters of world-changing intelligence. The subtitle refers to Athens (birthplace of hundreds of things/beliefs/systems that are commonplace today) and Silicon Valley (birthplace to hundreds of technological advances/beliefs/habits as well.) He also delves into many other gatherings of creativity and intellectual growth.

The geography of genius is not the story of a few smart people getting together and then attracting more of the same. It is the story of conditions necessary to create that genius. In fact, Weiner isn’t really writing about genius per se. He is equating it with the creativity required to make leaps considered genius. This book is more about what setting is required for creativity than anything else.

It is his contention that comfort stifles creativity. Interaction with nature encourages it. Mind-altering substances are required – but not to extreme… only to loosen one’s mind. Walking too, seems to factor largely among his examples.

Weiner examines a half dozen examples of spontaneous creativity throughout history and each is fascinating. I loved this information.

The travel writer in him takes over from time to time though and a good third of the book is about acquiring a cup of coffee or similar. In these asides, he slips into a snarky comedic writing style that really took me out of the educational aspect of the book. To me, he should do one or the other as they don’t mix well.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Yes, you have to dig through stories of him interacting with locals to get to the research, but it is worth it.

by Chris Doelle