Book Review: Divine Fury

The best part of Divine Fury is the final 30 pages, wherein McMahon reflects on the impressively diverse and thorough research that is reflected in the rest of his discussion of the nature of “genius” and how our understanding of it has changed over the course of the centuries. In his epilogue, he reflects on the irony that in a world where now almost everyone can be considered a genius at something, there are few, perhaps no, actual geniuses to be found. One of the problems I have with the book, perhaps with the topic itself, is the simple notion of why we spend any time debating the definition of genius. Is there really some value in determining whether, say, Napoleon was a genius of war or Edison was a genius of invention. I wondered often throughout the book whether the author would ever reference Edison’s famous declaration that genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 perspiration. And when he does acknowledge that description it is acutely appropriate to the conclusions one may consider about genius based on the author’s discussion and reflection on the term and the people to whom it has been, or may be, applied. There is throughout this book an aura of stark pedantry, and I often found myself thinking that it would be an A-plus graduate thesis but was a work of limited appeal to a general audience. At the risk of damning it with faint praise, I will say that “Diving Fury” is an incredibly well-researched examination of the nature and definition of the term “genius,” with ultimately a limited reflection on why it matters for us to dissect the term. I think what I’m trying to get at is that this book would great for a certain segment of readers, but may be a bit scholarly – in tone as well as content – in the way it concentrates on the term “genius.” Much of the body of the book is devoted to a rather academic discussion of the term and the historical applications for it. In that sense, it may have something of a limited audience; but the concluding discussion helps to bring it all into a more contemporary and more thoughtful context.

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