Monday, July 30, 2012

Should I Read Imagine By Jonah Lehrer?

In spite of the controversy surrounding Mr. Lehrer's latest publishing faux pos, I will be reviewing his book. Although exploration of blurring genre lines and it's impact on writing and publishing is an important topic, I won't be exploring that here. Nor will I be addressing Lehrer's recent admission to misquoting Bob Dylan. 

Instead I'm reviewing a book so interesting and thought provoking, it will stay with me for a long time. The value of which lies in the dialogue about our current education and it's ability to engender inovation, a skill vital to the future of the world.
About The Book: Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?
From the New York Times best-selling author of How We Decide comes a sparkling and revelatory look at the new science of creativity. Shattering the myth of muses, higher powers, even creative “types,” Jonah Lehrer demonstrates that creativity is not a single gift possessed by the lucky few. It’s a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively.

Lehrer reveals the importance of embracing the rut, thinking like a child, daydreaming productively, and adopting an outsider’s perspective (travel helps). He unveils the optimal mix of old and new partners in any creative collaboration, and explains why criticism is essential to the process. Then he zooms out to show how we can make our neighborhoods more vibrant, our companies more productive, and our schools more effective.

You’ll learn about Bob Dylan’s writing habits and the drug addictions of poets. You’ll meet a Manhattan bartender who thinks like a chemist, and an autistic surfer who invented an entirely new surfing move. You’ll see why Elizabethan England experienced a creative explosion, and how Pixar’s office space is designed to spark the next big leap in animation. Collapsing the layers separating the neuron from the finished symphony,Imagine reveals the deep inventiveness of the human mind, and its essential role in our increasingly complex world.

First Line: Bob Dylan looked bored.
Great Quote: "The most creative ideas, it turns out, don’t occur when we’re alone. Rather, they emerge from our social circles, from collections of acquaintances who inspire novel thoughts. Sometimes the most important people in our lives are the people we barely know" (204).
What Others Are Saying: "It's rare that you read a book where every page has at least one "Aha!" moment, one moment per page that grabs your perspective and gives it a good shake. In other words, while reading this book, I kept experiencing the very phenomenon Jonah is investigating--the sensation of insight. That pleasant brain fever that overtakes you when you suddenly, in a flash, see the world in a new way." -Jad Abumrad is host and creator of the public radio hit Radiolab.
"The best way to think about “Imagine” is as a collection of interesting stories and studies to ponder and research further. Use it as a source of inspiration, but make your own careful choices about whether to believe what it says about the science of creativity."-NY Times

What I Thought: The ideas in Jonah Lehrer's Imagination aren't earth shattering, but they definitely open a dialogue about how our current education and corporate world are failing to inspire innovation. The bottom line, one that writers have known for a long time, is that creativity and original ideas don't occur in a vacuum. To have an original idea requires the ability to make unique connections between existing ideas or thought. Lehrer does an excellent job of outlining how the brain works and how ideas are born. Teaching in order to pass a test, currently used in schools, encourages rote learning and memorization instead of complex thinking. Innovation is stifled. I found Lehrer's presentation to have adequate tension and narrative that I didn't feel like I was reading a professional journal. Regardless of the correlations presented as conclusions or the misquoting of Bob Dylan, as a writer, I'm inspired to read and interact with people and the world more often. 

About The Author: Jonah Lehrer

Who: Jonah Lehrer is a Contributing Editor at Wired and a frequent contributor to The New Yorker. He writes the Head Case column for The Wall Street Journal and regularly appears on WNYC’s Radiolab. His writing has also appeared in Nature, The New York Times Magazine, Scientific American and Outside. He’s the author of two previous books, Proust Was A Neuroscientist and How We Decide. He graduated from Columbia University and attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

Conclusions: Should you read Imagination? Yes! If you are looking for an inspirational look at our amazing abilities to innovate and create than this is perfect. If you are looking for scientific accuracy and definitive studies than you will come away lacking. Lehrer is a good writer and I believe he will prevail through this current controversy and go on to add more to our literature cannon of the 21st Century.


  1. This sounds fascinating. It's too bad about the author's misstatements, but I'd still like to read it.

  2. This is so amazing I've tweeted it. At least I'm doing one thing right - I travel every chance I get. Currently in Fiji for 6 weeks! It has been great for my writing output.

  3. This sounds like an interesting book- and I am curious about it. I like that it inspired you to interact with the world more often. Great review!

  4. I read it and thought it makes some great points, but I agree with you: I would have thought a book like this couldn't get published without more hard science.

  5. I always know when I've read something really good. It sticks with me and I find myself thinking about it or making correlations to what's happening in my life.

  6. 50?? Oh, that makes me feel young – a young 49! What will you call your blog when, well, you know you turn 51? Seriously though, very nice site. Saw you on linkedin. I'm a writer as well.


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