The Current

Genius linked to geography more than genes, says author Eric Weiner

Noted travel writer Eric Weiner says, if you really want to predict genius it might be best to stop looking at the stars and find a map because genius is more about place than parentage. He takes us through "The Geography of Genius" to explain.
'Certain places at certain times produce a mother lode of brilliant minds and good ideas,' says Eric Weiner. He explores why in his book, The Geography of Genius. (Justin Tsucalas)

Read story transcript

It's been said that genius is one per cent inspiration, and 99 per cent perspiration. But what if it's really about location, location, location? 

Author Eric Weiner says one of the things Mozart loved about Vienna was his audience. They pushed him and in a way, Weiner says, the audience was a co-genius. (Ștefan Jurcă/Flickr cc)

Take the unmistakable musical genius Mozart in Vienna. He wasn't alone in what is called the city's golden age. Beethoven, Haydn and Schubert were all fruits of the same time and place as Mozart.   

To author Eric Weiner, a former international correspondent for NPR, geography may be even more important than genes when it comes to producing works of genius.

The genius is not a know-it-all, they are a see-it-all.- Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Genius

Weiner's new book is called The Geography of Genius.

Read an Excerpt: The Geography of Genius

Creative genius is always a response to a challenge. The society of Athens challenged people and they responded in creative ways. (Juan Verni/Flickr cc)

One of the common threads for geography and genius in Weiner's findings is walking. Charles Dickens walked through London at night working on plots, Mark Twain was known as a constant pacer. Research out of Standford University found people on treadmills produced more creative ideas. Many walked to the Agora, into life and chaos, which fed the imagination. 

Weiner also points to the outward orientation of Athenians. He says they didn't invent a lot, but they certainly perfected. 

Filippo Brunelleschi travelled to Rome to study ancient structures, like the Pantheon, after losing the commission to build the Gates of Paradise in Florence. He then brought home what he learned and built the city’s iconic landmark, the Duomo. (McPig/Flickr cc)

Renaissance Florence was rife with rivalries and feuds. Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo despised each other. But Florence residents appreciated competitiveness and recognized that everyone could benefit from "winning" and even "losing." That benefit included creativity.

Calcutta had a sewage system and gas lamps before Manchester. It was also the first city to use fingerprints in criminal investigations. (Abhijit Kar Gupta/Flickr cc)

More books were published in Calcutta, now called Kolkata, during the Bengal Renaissance than any city in the world, except London. The clash between British and Bengali culture sparked imagination in new directions. From chaos and collision comes creativity.

This segment was produced by The Current's Liz Hoath.