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Thursday, May 3, 2007

Book Eighteen

Daniel J. Boorstin wrote the eighteenth book we have read this year, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination. This is billed as a companion to his previous work The Discoverers. We chose to read the second title first, because it is creativity that interests us more than discovery. This order also allowed us to know we enjoyed Mr. Boorstin's writing enough to read another of his books.

Mr. Boorstin calls this book a kind of biography, in that it is filled with essays concerning the lives and works of many great artists and other pioneers of creativity. Through over 700 pages of text, we are taken on a roughly chronological survey of man's cultural history, beginning with the world's various stories of Creation itself, and ending with modern film. The text is grouped in Books, which are divided by Parts, which are further divided by Chapters which treat individuals or small groups of a particular type of creation. This structure gives an interesting view of the progression of culture, and especially the arts, through the ages. We always had the feeling that pioneering works happened quite randomly. In the author's personal note, Mr. Boorstin says, "We must find order in the random flexings of the imagination." And so his book strongly suggests that different types of creativity occur in clumps, or, better, in great leaps of advancement, and lead to other types.

Broadly speaking, this book covers both eastern and western cultures, treating religion, philosophy, ancient and modern architecture, all forms of images, music and dance, and a good amount of literature. There are interesting profiles on Isadora Duncan, Cervantes, Herman Melville, and Edward Gibbon. We never knew what a prolific artist Pablo Picasso was: the assessors of his estate inventoried over 50,000 works in a variety of media, and there is no telling how many works he sold, gave away, and destroyed while alive. There were chapters on things that little interested us, like the Japanese use of wood in building, or the philosophy of Boethius. In every essay Mr. Boorstin stays true to his theme and explains the background of the creative leap and its importance. Our two favorite chapters explored the genius of Proust and Goethe.

This is a long book but each chapter is easily read in short sittings. There is a wealth of information, and at times it seemed as if certain facts were repeated within the same essay, as if Mr. Boorstin ocassionally lost track of what he included and where. The book is fleshed out with many notes, and the whole is indexed. Though Mr. Boorstin doesn't seem to make any spectacular revelations or provocative assertions, the writing is simple, clear, and digestable. We enjoyed our reading, and will most likely pick up The Discoverers, too.

We give it three (out of five) pipefuls.

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