Divine Fury: A History of Genius, Basic Books, 2013
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Selected Comments and Reviews
"[An] erudite and engaging history of genius…McMahon is refreshingly unafraid to embrace the mythic dimension of his subject as part of its true importance, an approach that offers to deepen, not undermine, our appreciation of genius." —The New York Times
"A deeply researched history of the idea of genius in the Western world." —The Wall Street Journal
"An engaging survey of the history of genius in European culture…McMahon tells the history of genius with verve, wit and insight, and his book is a pleasure to read. Divine Fury makes innumerable fascinating connections and weaves many threads into a coherent narrative spanning 2,500 years. No theoretical statement could vindicate a revived history of ideas so well as this exemplary work…a superb book that judiciously blends celebrations of genius with cautionary tales."—Nation
"There have been many studies of the idea of genius, but a signal virtue of this new account is its comprehensiveness. Rather than start in the 18th century, when the modern idea of genius emerged-as an exceptional quality located not in God but in man-or with the 19th-century Romantic poets' exaltation of genius as a kind of 'divine fury', McMahon . . . begins with the ancients, contrasting the Roman notion of ingenium with varied interpretations of genius in modern times. Crucial to the change in meaning of the term was 'the waning of mimetic aesthetics,' the idea that art was imitation rather than creation. Uniqueness and creativity became the hallmarks of genius from the 18th century on: 'The man of genius has a way of seeing, of feeling, of thinking,' wrote Diderot, 'unique to him alone.' McMahon concludes by examining the not always happy fate of the idea in our times. VERDICT This exceptional intellectual history is too densely written to appeal to the casual reader, but it's a gem of a book to be widely read by scholars in many fields, not just in the history of ideas." —David Keymer, Library Journalmore comments and reviews
"An exceptional work of accessibly written scholarship that seems poised to usher the history of ideas back into vogue.... A book that is bound to intrigue anyone interested in the concept of genius, especially today when it seems that anyone and everyone can be one" —Buffalo News
"This absorbing history of ideas about genius includes genius's 'intimate connection to the divine,' as well as the social construction of genius. From the ancients to today, every possible aspect of this fascinating topic is explored... It’s a book for scholars, certainly, but also for anyone wanting to get behind and beyond the way genius is discussed in popular media." —Psychology Today.com
"McMahon delivers a comprehensive look at the concept of genius in all its philosophical glory. 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." —Publishers Weekly
"As Darrin McMahon shows, the genius is the god among men, providing one of the last connections to the transcendent that our common secular culture retains, and setting up a struggle between our desire for exceptional beings and our leveling egalitarianism. In its absorbing and remarkable way, Divine Fury educates and entertains, vindicating the importance of grand history told over the long term." —Samuel Moyn, Columbia University, author of The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History
"Darrin McMahon has become one of the world's greatest historians of ideas. His analysis of genius is eye-opening and original, his insights are deep and fresh, and his prose is sparkling and subtle. Prepare to be blown away." —Daniel Gilbert, Edgar Pierce Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of Stumbling on Happiness
"Darrin McMahon has given us all we could want in an intellectual history of genius. I especially liked his sharp observations on the cult of Michelangelo and his droller ones on Einstein in prose that is a delight to read for its elegance and lucidity" —Jim Holt, author of Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story
"This elegant and probing book is about much more than genius; it is about why we think of ourselves as we do. Demons, saints, angels, poets, physicists, and generals parade through these pages, offering the reader an extraordinary series of insights into the modern tension between the cult of celebrity and a deepening suspicion of greatness." —Lynn Hunt, author of Inventing Human Rights
"What an illuminating book Darrin McMahon has given us. By tracing the history of a seemingly simple idea, that of the individual genius, he sheds a bright and sometimes disturbing light on how we think about ourselves and our societies today. Drawing artfully on a wide range of philosophical, religious, artistic, and scientific material, McMahon forces us to ask: why are we so eager to identify geniuses? What do we expect from them, and why? After reading his compelling story you may never use the term 'genius' again." —Mark Lilla, author of The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West
"It is rare to find an historian who writes in a style both so sure-footed and so light, and with such joy in the telling of a tale. In his engaging new book Darrin McMahon takes us on an intellectual adventure, tracing the transformation of the idea of genius as it shed its sacred garments to become the common property of our own democratic age. Ranging with ease across history, from the poets of Romanticism to the tyrants of the twentieth-century, from Einstein to the 'IQ Test,' and from Benjamin Franklin to the 'wiz-kid' inventors of silicon valley, McMahon invites us to consider a central paradox of our time: If anyone can be a genius, then perhaps no one is." —Peter E. Gordon, Amabel B. James Professor of History, Harvard University, and author of Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos
- The New York Review of Books, Tamsin Shaw
- The New York Times, James Ryerson.
- The Wall Street Journal, Eric Felten.
- The Nation, Warren Breckman.
- Buffalo News, Jack Quinan.
- The Globe and Mail, Peter Scowen.
- The Daily Beast, Nick Romeo.
- Brain Pickings, Maria Popova.
- Commentary Magazine, Joseph Epstein.