Deconstructing Genius: A Conversation with Darrin McMahon

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Open Agenda Publishing, Oct 1, 2020 - History

This book is based on an in-depth filmed conversation between Howard Burton and intellectual historian Darrin McMahon, Dartmouth College. The word “genius” evokes great figures like Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci, and Mozart but what quintessential quality unites these individuals? Can we measure it? Can we create it? This thoughtful conversation explores Darrin’s research on the evolution of genius from Plato to Einstein (which led him to write the book Divine Fury: A History of Genius) in an effort to illuminate what our evolving genius mythology reveals about the rest of us. 

This carefully-edited book includes an introduction, Something to Declare, and questions for discussion at the end of each chapter:

I. Opening Up Sightlines - The genius of intellectual history

II. The Equality Paradox - Some more equal than others?

III. Towards The Dark Side - The genius as rule-breaker

IV. Romantic Genius - Reinvented, suffering and zealous

V. Nature vs. Nurture - A threat to equality?

VI. Evil Genius - The other side of the coin

VII. Geniuses Everywhere - The superhuman condition?

VIII. The Future of Genius - Next steps

IX. Gradually Expanding - Genius as cultural phenomenon

X. The Science of Genius - Brainology and other tales

About Ideas Roadshow Conversations:

This book is part of an expanding series of 100+ Ideas Roadshow conversations, each one presenting a wealth of candid insights from a leading expert through a focused yet informal setting to give non-specialists a uniquely accessible window into frontline research and scholarship that wouldn't otherwise be encountered through standard lectures and textbooks. For other books in this series visit our website (


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A Note on the Text
The Conversation
Opening Up Sightlines
The Equality Paradox
Towards The Dark Side
Romantic Genius
Nature vs Nurture
Evil Genius
Geniuses Everywhere
The Future of Genius
Gradually Expanding
The Science of Genius

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About the author (2020)

Howard Burton, the founder and creator of Ideas Roadshow and Ideas on Film, holds a PhD in theoretical physics and an MA in philosophy. He was the Founding Executive Director of Canada’s Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI) from 1999-2007. During his time at PI, he also developed an extensive outreach programme for teachers, students and the general public. His experiences at developing the research and outreach mandates of the institute were described in the book, First Principles: Building Perimeter Institute, featuring a foreword by Nobel Laureate Roger Penrose.

Ideas Roadshow is an award-winning initiative, recipient of the London Book Fair International Excellence Award in 2018. Howard has hosted and filmed in-depth conversations with more than 100 of the world’s brightest thinkers, including 3 Nobel Laureates, across the arts, sciences, sports and games. 

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