Walter Isaacson on What Makes a Genius



I want to give a H/T to member @Joseph_Koster of for alerting me to this great video of Neil deGrasse Tyson interviewing Walter Isaacson.

Walter Isaacson, University Professor of History at Tulane, has been CEO of the Aspen Institute, chairman of CNN, and editor of Time magazine. He is the author of Leonardo da Vinci; Steve Jobs; Einstein: His Life and Universe; Benjamin Franklin: An American Life; and Kissinger: A Biography.

From the interview below:

“One of the important things is you meet a lot of smart people. What you realize quickly is smart people are a dime a dozen and most don’t usually amount to much. It’s the creative people that change the world. What is creativity and how do you achieve it? I look at the people that stand at the intersection of science and art. This is where creativity occurs.”

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One of the best biographies I have ever read was the self-titled Steve Jobs by Walter. The shear amount of information he collected from folks that circled Steve over the years was astounding. I learned what a brash, and somewhat volatile personality Steve was, but I also saw the curious side, the side that just wanted to make great stuff. He had little patience for B team players.


Isaacson views Leonardo da Vinci as the pinnacle of genius.

Does your latest project on Leonardo Da Vinci mark the pinnacle for you in what has been an almost existential search for what makes a genius?
Yes, it is the pinnacle, and that’s why I waited to do it. He is the ultimate example of somebody who tried to know everything there was to know about everything that could possibly be known at the time.

A true polymath.
Yes, the true polymath, the person with the widest and most exuberant curiosity of any other creative genius in history. And so I’ve been interested all my life in Leonardo, but I waited to do him as a culmination of all the books I’ve written about people who stood at the intersection of the arts and sciences and other disciplines.



Below is one of my favorite reactions to what Leonardo da Vinci actually was like. He distilled principles to the simplest terms, the pinnacle of genius: