Creating Minds by Howard Gardner

First published in 1993, the anatomy of creativity remains relevant today.


Creating Minds (2nd ed., 2011)

Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity seen through the lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi is a brilliant study of some of the most creative minds in the late 19th and early 20th century. Written by Howard Gardner in 1993, the second edition was published in 2011 with a new forward. Gardner is a psychologist and a prolific author, having published well over twenty books, though he claims Creating Minds is his favorite. Gardner is currently a professor at Harvard University and is a recipient of both the MacArthur and the Guggenheim Fellowships for Social Sciences.

Creating Minds follows seven incredibly talented and creative people in separate studies who have made a significant impact in their fields and forever changed them or, in Freud’s case, invented the field altogether. The essence of Gardner’s study is to compare these seven figures: Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Martha Graham, and Mahatma Gandhi to see what correlations and connections can be made to their success.

The first section of Creating Minds sets out to explain the experiment that Gardner is conducting. Of the eight chapters of the book, this section reads the slowest because it is full of academic insights which take tremendous energy to comprehend and digest. The following seven chapters focus on each individual under study by creating an interwoven biography full of delightful facts and information about the subject’s life. What Gardner does so well is to make these geniuses come alive by starting from their early childhood to the last few days of their life, making for an easy historical read. In one section he writes of Einstein as a child, “Einstein was aware of the parallels between his thought patterns and those commonly associated with children.” Gardner’s descriptions of these great minds is well researched and fascinating to follow. The final section sums up the results of his study.

Gardner comes to the conclusion that these minds all have similarities that must be noted. One of these similarities is best stated by Gardner himself: “…when creators are on the edge of a radical breakthrough, they feel the need to try out their new language on a trusted individual.” Perhaps the most important similarity is that each of the seven creators seem to have had their big breakthroughs at similar times; after a decade spent on their craft, they all have the breakthrough that helps to gain them fame, such as The Theory of Relativity in Einstein’s case.

Gardner is able to collect and communicate compelling research with the light touch of an interesting historian, allowing for a book that remains academic, while also having a prosaic flow to tell the stories of the seven great minds. His book is a pleasure: well paced, fun, and incredibly informative. While it was published a number of years ago, its topic is ever prevalent. The study of creative minds is of ongoing importance to break down how we can continue to flourish as a society, in all regards, from the birth of scientific discoveries, to how artists express themselves.

Clay WinowieckiAssistant nonfiction editor Clay Winowiecki graduated with a major in creative writing and a minor in marketing from Lake Superior State University last spring. A travel writer and Georgegeen Gaertner Award recipient, he is now earning his Master of Arts in journalism in Scotland at Edinburgh Napier University on scholarship.