Format Hardcover
Publication Date 11/07/23
ISBN 9781639364893
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 496

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Beyond Genius

A Journey Through the Characteristics and Legacies of Transformative Minds

Bulent Atalay

An in-depth and unified exploration of genius in the arts and sciences through the life and works of five seminal intellectual and cultural figures: Leonardo da Vinci, William Shakespeare, Isaac Newton, Ludwig von Beethoven, and Albert Einstein.

Who among us hasn't read Hamlet, listened to the Fifth Symphony, gazed at the Mona Lisa, or marveled at the three laws of physics and the Theory of Relativity and been struck with the same simple question: how on Earth did they do it? Where did these masters draw inspiration to produce some of the most stunning achievements in human history? Were their brains wired differently than ours? Did they have special traits or unique experiences that set them on the path to greatness? Genius is a broad and elusive concept, one that is divisive and hard to define—and gravely misunderstood. There are “ordinary” geniuses who achieve remarkable feats of brilliance, as well as “magicians” (a term James Gleick invoked to describe Richard Feynman) who make an outsize impact on their given field. But highest among them are transformative geniuses, those rare individuals who redefine their fields or open up new universes of thought altogether.

These are the masters whose genius Bulent Atalay decodes in his engrossing, enlightening, and revelatory book. No, Atalay doesn’t have a road map for how we might become the next Einstein or Leonardo, but his revolutionary study of genius gives us a stunning new lens through which to view humanity’s most prolific thinkers and creators and perhaps pick up some inspiration along the way.

At first, it seems that transformative geniuses don’t follow any sort of topography. Their prodigious output looks effortless, they leap from summit to summit, and they probably couldn’t explain exactly how they went about solving their problems. They might not even recognize themselves in the ways we talk about them today. Atalay argues that these heroes fit more of a mold than we might think. As evidence, he rigorously dissects the lives, traits, habits, and thought patterns of five exemplars—Leonardo, Shakespeare, Newton, Beethoven, and Einstein— to map the path of the transformative genius.

How did Beethoven, who could not perform basic multiplication, innately encode the Fibonacci Sequence in his symphonies? Is it possible that we understate Shakespeare’s poetic influence? How did Leonardo become equally prolific in both the arts and the sciences? How did Newton formulate the universal laws of physics, the basis of so many other sciences? And what prompted TIME Magazine to declare Einstein, a man whose very name is synonymous with genius, the “Individual of the 20th Century”? With great clarity and attention to detail, Atalay expertly traces how these five exemplars ascended to immortality and what their lives and legacies reveal about how transformative geniuses are made

Bulent Atalay, PhD, was a professor of physics at Mary Washington College and the University of Virginia, and a member of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, is also an accomplished artist whose lithographs have been published in Lands of Washington and Oxford and the English Countryside. He is the author of Math and the Mona Lisa and Leonoardo's Universe and lives in Virginia.

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Endorsements & Reviews

“A well-informed deep dive into genius. Atalay explores the lives of Shakespeare, Leonardo, Beethoven, Newton, and Einstein. Readers will enjoy his account of their accomplishments, accompanied by portraits of rival immortals who didn’t make the cut. His digressions into phrenology, Einstein’s brain, geniuses' physical maladies, and rankings of various sorts of greatness throughout history are entertaining and enlightening.” Kirkus Reviews
“As only he can do, Professor Atalay presents a fascinating analysis of the similarities and differences in genius in the arts versus the sciences. While his book examines the lives and works of hundreds of gifted men and women, the focus is on just five unrivaled geniuses. Through his unique lens as both a physicist and artist, the author engages with readers of different backgrounds. Having taught the general education course 'Changing Views of the Universe' for many years, I found Beyond Genius a captivating read. A true masterpiece.” Teresa L. Larkin, Physics Professor and Advisor for Women in Science, American University
"Bulent Atalay writes about music with the same effervescence, conviction, and illumination that he brings to physics, the visual arts, and all the realms of genius he traverses. He presents to us a Beethoven who is vivid, human, troubled, and even ornery, at the same time that he is unutterably inspired.” Alan Fletcher, composer, President of the Aspen Music Festival and School
"This is an absolutely brilliant and profoundly fascinating book about the nature of true genius and the causes of creativity. Weaving together scientific studies with historical insights, Atalay explains how the greatest minds work. Walter Isaacson, author of Steve Jobs
Praise for Math and the Mona Lisa
“Bulent Atalay takes us on a delightful romp through millenia and across continents, bringing together art, architecture, science, and mathematics. His writing is informed by his artist's eye for beauty, his historian's appreciation of context, and his scientist's love of order and symmetry. Leonardo is the prototype for the renaissance man—artist, architect, philosopher, scientist, writer. There are few like him today, but Atalay is indeed a modern renaissance man, and he invites us to tap the power of synthesis that is Leonardo's model.” William D. Phillips, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics.
“The broad sweep of Professor Atalay's brilliant mind brings us an approach to understanding the Vincian genius that is so insightful, so original, and so well-reasoned that it immediately becomes an essential volume in the canon of Leonardiana. I read this monumental achievement in awe of the author's perceptions.” Sherwin Nuland, author of Leonardo da Vinci and winner of the National Book Award for How We Die
“A masterful examination of the differences and similarities in the sciences and the arts, as embodied by that genius of both fields: Leonardo da Vinci. Professor Bulent Atalay has penetrated Leonardo's mind, in a way that is both highly readable and very informative.” Jamie Wyeth