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Geniuses of History

Looking for some inspiration during troubled times? Going a little stir crazy from isolation and social distancing? You're not alone! We're going a little batty while stuck inside so we put together this list of books about geniuses whose creativity and accomplishments might lend some inspiration.

Leonardo da Vinci

He was history's greatest genius - a painter, an architect, an anatomist - who still has plenty to teach us centuries after his death. Walter Isaacson's da Vinci biography is a crowning achievement, a book that is as instructive as it is interesting. You will be immersed in the Renaissance genius' world and feel like you're shadowing the quirky, curious da Vinci as he explores and learns about everything and everyone. A fun fact to whet your reading appetite is that da Vinci ended the Renaissance equivalent of a cover letter and resume with this line buried at the bottom: "I can also paint."

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Da Vinci's World

Leonardo da Vinci still has plenty to teach us.

Galileo

And the Science Deniers

Astrophysicist Mario Livio chronicles the life and discoveries of Galileo Galilei, whose teachings and writings throughout his career made him the target of the Inquisition. Livio depicts Galileo as a champion of science, a man of conviction who sacrificed his career and freedom to expand the public's knowledge and understanding of the universe. Galileo's story and struggle against science deniers rings eerily true centuries later.

More from Mario Livio

Michelangelo

A Life in Six Masterpieces

Michelangelo's genius and prickly personality are shown through six of his most breathtaking creations: PietaThe Last Judgment, the statue of David, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and the construction of St. Peter's. Michelangelo's creativity and skill are stunning across mediums, and perhaps unrivaled in the arts. But the Renaissance legend's careful hand and fertile mind were counterbalanced by a cantakerous spirit. Michelangelo frequently clashed with patros and contemporaries, and wasn't above the occasional tavern brawl. His famous crooked nose? Broken in a street fight after exchanging words with a fellow artist.

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Einstein

His Life and Universe

Albert Einstein is synonymous with the word "genius." His frizzy hair and bushy moustache are probably the very personfication of the word to many people. Walter Isaacson's towering biography explores the divine-like genius that led Einstein to discovery upon discovery of energy, light, sound, gravity, and matter. Apart from the science and theory, Einstein was not unlike us and that might be the genius of Isaacson's book. He makes Einstein accessible, detailing someone who, despite his many gifts, was mostly a regular guy who loved music and the outdoors.

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Einstein's Beautiful Theory

The Year of Lear

Shakespeare in 1606

Once upon a time, William Shakespeare was under quarantine. How'd he cope? By producing three plays, including two undisputable classics: Macbeth and King Lear. Columbia professor Jim Shapiro, who's also consulted on countless Shakespeare productions for screens and theaters big and small, recounts in The Year of Lear that epochal year in England's history and the Bard's own career.

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You know Shakespeare?

James Shapiro, Shakespeare scholar and author of 'The Year of Lear' recounts five things you should know about the Bard.

The Geography of Genius

Lessons from the World's Most Creative Places

Journey around the world and travel through time (figuratively!) with travel writer Eric Weiner, who explores why genius emerges at certain places at certain time. Weiner explores places like Vienna of 1900, Renaissance Florence, the Scottish Enlightenment, ancient Athens, Song Dynasty Hangzhou, and Silicon Valley to understand why creativity and industry flourished. 

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The Geography of Genius

Why does genius happen at certain places at certain times?