The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley

The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World's Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley
Eric Weiner
Simon & Schuster (2016)
Rating: ★★★★☆

“An intellectual odyssey, a traveler’s diary, and a comic novel all rolled into one. Smart, original, and utterly delightful.” —Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and bestselling author of
Stumbling on Happiness

“A charming mix of history and wisdom cloaked as a rollicking travelogue.” —Walter Isaacson, bestselling author of
Steve Jobs

Travel the world with Eric Weiner, the
New York Times
bestselling author of
The Geography of
, as he journeys from Athens to Silicon Valley—and throughout history, too—to show how creative genius flourishes in specific places at specific times.

The Geography of Genius,
acclaimed travel writer Weiner sets out to examine the connection between our surroundings and our most innovative ideas. He explores the history of places, like Vienna of 1900, Renaissance Florence, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, and Silicon Valley, to show how certain urban settings are conducive to ingenuity. And, with his trademark insightful humor, he walks the same paths as the geniuses who flourished in these settings to see if the spirit of what inspired figures like Socrates, Michelangelo, and Leonardo remains. In these places, Weiner asks, “What was in the air, and can we bottle it?”

This link can be traced back through history: Darwin’s theory of evolution gelled while he was riding in a carriage. Freud did his best thinking at this favorite coffee house. Beethoven, like many geniuses, preferred long walks in the woods.

Sharp and provocative,
The Geography of Genius
redefines the argument about how genius came to be. His reevaluation of the importance of culture in nurturing creativity is an informed romp through history that will surely jumpstart a national conversation.

** Review

An Amazon Best Book of January 2016:
Eric Weiner’s first book,
The Geography of Bliss
, found him in search of the happiest places on Earth. Now, in
The Geography of Genius
, he looks for creative hotbeds where geniuses from Socrates to Steve Jobs thrived, and asks why. Moreover, why do these hotbeds eventually fizzle? The book—an irreverent and surprisingly entertaining blend of historical biography, travel essay, and sociological study—centers around this quote by Plato: “What is honored in a country will be cultivated there,” be it intellectual discourse, art, music, literature, or life-altering gadgets like the iPhone. In the process of determining the conditions by which golden ages of genius happened when and where they did, Weiner also uncovers intriguing anecdotes that serve to illuminate and humanize god-like “characters” like Michelangelo, Beethoven, and Freud. He likewise stumbles upon answers to compelling questions like, why does genius seem like such a boy’s club? I am one of those people who dog-ear pages that contain things I find particularly interesting, and few pages of this book remained intact. There are enough fascinating and fun factoids in
The Geography of Genius
to keep you supplied at cocktail parties and around water coolers for years. But aside from that, it documents a moving quest that wasn’t undertaken just to satisfy a journalist’s curiosity. Weiner is a father and while it’s supposedly “too late for him,” his young daughter can still reap the lessons he learned from his travels, from defining genius, and apply them to her life. I would argue it isn’t too late for any of us. *–Erin Kodicek *


"A witty, entertaining romp. Weiner’s vivid descriptions of modern-day life in each locale make the spots feel like must-visit destinations.”
— *The New York Times Book Review

“There are some writers whose company is worth keeping, whatever the subject… And Mr. Weiner is blessed with this gift. He is a prober and questioner, a big-hearted humanist who will always take a colorful, contradictory reality over some unfounded certainty.”
— *Wall Street Journal

"A global odyssey that seeks to discover why geniuses gather in certain places during certain eras and why these hot spots burn out, often after a half-century of grand achievements. Weiner is a superb travel guide: funny, knowledgeable, self-deprecating and always up for sharing a bottle of wine."
— *Washington Post

The Geography of Genius
is witty, informative, and compulsively readable. Whether you’re getting genius tips from Freud in Vienna or hearing the secrets of high-tech powerhouses in Silicon Valley, you’ll emerge smarter after reading this delightful travelogue of ingenuity."
— Daniel H. Pink, bestselling author of
To Sell Is Human
and *Drive

"It’s rare to read a book that makes you laugh and learn, but Eric Weiner has done it again. This witty, wise explorer offers fascinating insights on how culture has inspired creativity across the ages—ripe for chats at water coolers and cocktail parties—and offers a practical map for how we can all become a bit more inventive."
— Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of
Give and Take
and *Originals

"Eric Weiner has single-handedly invented a new nonfiction genre in which a brilliant and hilarious writer leaves his home and family to circle the globe in search of the answer to a timeless question.
The Geography of Genius
is an intellectual odyssey, a traveler’s diary, and a comic novel all rolled into one. Smart, original, and utterly delightful, this is Weiner’s best book yet."
— Daniel Gilbert, Harvard professor and bestselling author of
Stumbling on Happiness

“An entertaining and thought-provoking book, a combination of history and travelogue… Part of the book's charm stems from the pure joy of experiencing these places alongside a narrator like Weiner… His wry wit shines through as he drinks sublime tea in China and contemplates a coffin collar in an Edinburgh museum; as he interviews figures such as Jack Ma, a Hangzhou native who founded multibillion dollar company Alibaba; and as he wanders the Ringstrasse of Vienna and the strip malls of Silicon Valley, pondering the conditions that lead to genius.”

Christian Science Monitor

"Why do certain places produce a spontaneous eruption of creativity? What made Athens and Florence and Silicon Valley? This witty and fun book has an insight in every paragraph. It’s a charming mix of history and wisdom cloaked as a rollicking travelogue filled with colorful characters."
— Walter Isaacson, bestselling
author of
The Innovators
and *Steve Jobs

"Weiner is an affable tour guide and a lively, witty writer in the style of Bill Bryson; the connections he makes between places of genius are sharp and sometime unexpected."
— *Booklist

“Informative and dryly witty, Weiner's odyssey is both an insightful examination of genius and a call to readers to explore their own untapped creative resources.”

Shelf Awareness
(starred review)

“Fun and thought provoking.”
— *Miami Herald

"Weiner illustrates the power that culture and location can lend to creative efforts. Using a series of well-crafted travel essays the author propels readers across the globe… A welcome read for lovers of geography, history of geography, historical travel, travelogues, and the history of science."

Library Journal
(starred review)

“Well read, thoughtful and above all curious, Weiner invites the reader to explore a satisfying take on a meaningful topic while also enjoying daily pleasures in cities around the world.”

"In the genial style of Bill Bryson, Weiner scouts the world looking for places that have spawned geniuses."
— *Kirkus Reviews

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Introduction: Adventures with the Galton Box

1. Genius Is Simple: Athens

2. Genius Is Nothing New: Hangzhou

3. Genius Is Expensive: Florence

4. Genius Is Practical: Edinburgh

5. Genius Is Chaotic: Calcutta

6. Genius Is Unintentional: Vienna Pitch-Perfect

7. Genius Is Contagious: Vienna on the Couch

8. Genius Is Weak: Silicon Valley

Epilogue: Baking Bread and Hanging Ten
About Eric Weiner
Select Bibliography

for Sharon

What is honored in a country will be cultivated there.



PEOPLE BEGAN TO RECOGNIZE MY specialness when I was still young. As a ten-year-old, curious about the laws of physics, I wondered what would happen if I tossed a large water balloon off the balcony of my father’s fifteenth-floor apartment. So, following in the footsteps of Newton and Darwin and great scientists everywhere, I decided to conduct an experiment.

“Way to go, Einstein,” said the clearly impressed owner of the car whose windshield had been thoroughly shattered by the surprisingly robust force of the water balloon. Who knew? Such is the cost of scientific progress, I rationalized at the time. Another incident, years later, involved a fireplace, a closed flue, and the local fire department. I can still hear the firefighter’s words: “What are you, some sort of genius?”

Alas, no, I am not. This puts me in what is fast becoming a minority. Today, we suffer from a serious case of genius inflation. The word is tossed around promiscuously. Tennis players and app designers are described as geniuses. There are “fashion geniuses” and “culinary geniuses” and, of course, “political geniuses.” Our children are all Little Einsteins
and Little Mozarts. If we’re having trouble with our latest iProduct, we belly up to Apple’s Genius Bar. An avalanche of self-help books, meanwhile, tell us we all have a little genius inside of us (in my case very deep inside), a message we happily imbibe, oblivious to the fact that if everyone is a genius, then nobody is.

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