Bibliography: Genius

This post is written by Laura C. Ball, York University and is part of a special series of bibliographies on topics in the history of psychology.

This list represents, to me, some of the most integral works on the study of genius in psychology. Based on my readings for my MA thesis (and now my PhD dissertation), this collection characterizes the themes apparent in the research on genius, and its connection to the study of giftedness. I have also tried to present several different types of scholarship: historical, theoretical, empirical, case studies, and inter-disciplinary works. These works have had an impact on our understanding of intelligence, creativity, and to a lesser extent, madness. These works also feature some of the earliest attempts at historiometry. However, this list is by no means comprehensive, nor does it aim to be: the literature that could be included from historical and contemporary perspectives (within psychology and from without) is simply to vast. To get a better idea of this literature, I would refer the reader to Dean K. Simonton’s Genius 101 (see below).

Derrida, J. (2007). Geneses, genealogies, genres, and genius: The secrets of the archive (B. B. Brahic, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

  • In this work, Derrida provides a linguistic deconstruction of the term genius. He relates the word to the work of his long-time friend, Hélène Cixous. While not a psychological piece, it is of extreme import to anyone wishing to study the topic from a critical perspective.

Eysenck, H. J. (1995). Genius: The natural history of creativity. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

  • Eysenck reviews the past work on genius, especially that with a quantitative focus. He also presents an empirically-driven theory of genius. This book has been extremely important for experimental psychologists studying this topic.

Galton, F. (1869/2006). Hereditary genius: An inquiry into its laws and consequences. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.

  • The work that started it all in (experimental) psychology. He was the first in the psychometric tradition to link genius with intelligence and eminence. See also: Galton, F. (1865). Hereditary talent and character. Macmillan’s Magazine, 12, 157-166, 318-327.

Hegarty, P. (2007). From genius inverts to gendered intelligence: Lewis Terman and the power of the norm. History of Psychology, 10, 132-155. doi:10.1037/1093-4510.10.2.132

  • An historical piece on genius that has a decidedly critical perspective. See also: 1) Battersby, C. (1989). Gender and genius: Towards a feminist aesthetics. London, UK: The Women’s Press.; 2) Elfenbein, A. (1999). The prehistory of a homosexual role. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Jensen, A.R. (1996). Giftedness and genius: Crucial differences. In C. P. Benbow & D. Lubinski (Eds.), Intellectual talent: Psychometric and social issues (pp. 393-411). Baltimore, MA: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Jensen discusses what he feels are the differences between genius and giftedness. For a more case study-driven approach to this debate, see: Albert, R. S. (1998). Mathematical giftedness and mathematical genius: A comparison of G.H. Hardy and Srinivasa Ramanujan. In A. Steptoe (Ed.), Genius and the mind: Studies of creativity and temperament (pp. 111-140). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  • Simonton also has many publications on this topic. See, for example: Simonton, D. K. (2002). When does giftedness become genius? And when not? In N. Colangelo & G. A. Davis (Eds.), Handbook of gifted education (3rd ed., pp. 358-370). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Kaufman, S. B., Christopher, E. M., & Kaufman, J. C. (2008). The genius portfolio: How do poets earn their creative reputations from multiple products? Empirical Studies of the Arts, 26, 181-196. doi:10.2190/EM.26.2.c

  • James Kaufman and Scott Kaufman typically study creativity. However, their work occasionally brings them into the empirical study of genius, as they are exemplars of high creativity. James Kaufman’s work in particular has examined the relationship between genius, creativity and madness: a recurrent theme in the literature.

Murray, P. (Ed). (1989). Genius: The history of an idea. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, Ltd.

  • A comprehensive, interdisciplinary history of genius. The book includes the classical origins of the word, how certain authors have used it (e.g., Nietzsche), and the different ways genius can be exhibited (e.g., musical genius).

Shenk, D. (2010). The genius in all of us: Why everything you’ve been told about genetics, talent, and IQ is wrong. New York, NY: Doubleday.

  • Shenk’s book is a woderful example of the popular press literature on the topic. He masterfully weaves together research on genius, giftedness, intelligence, creativity and genetics to form a powerful narrative for an academic and lay audience alike. See also: 1) Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York, NY: Hachette; and 2) Plotz, D. (2005). The genius factory: The curious history of the Nobel Prize sperm bank. New York, NY: Random House.

Simonton, D. K. (1984). Genius, creativity and leadership: Historiometric inquiries. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  • While any of Simonton’s works could appear on this list, this is one of his earliest, comprehensive studies. Simonton takes a historiometric approach: using statistics on historical data to determine trends, etc. For a more theoretical approach, see: Simonton, D. K. (1999). Origins of genius: Darwinian perspectives on creativity. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Simonton, D. K. (2009). Genius 101. New York, NY: Springer.

  • This book is exactly what the title suggests – a short introductory (101) course on genius in psychology. This work is highly recommended for anyone wanting a quick review on the theories, methods, and issues surrounding genius as a topic of psychological research.

Terman, L. M. (Ed.) (1925, 1926, 1930, 1947, 1959). Genetic studies of genius (Vol. 1-5). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

  • Terman’s longitudinal study of genius, more properly giftedness, is important in several respects: 1) it is one of the first large-scale longitudinal studies of intelligence ever undertaken; 2) it features both historical (historiometric), and experimental approaches; 3) it began the tradition of confusing giftedness with genius. This work is a classic for anyone interested in the history of psychology, the history of developmental/educational psychology, the history of intelligence testing, or the history of genius.
  • The historiometric work in the Genetic Studies of Genius series is Catharine Cox’s dissertation, which was published as volume 2. She is the sole author, and it is the only one in the series which does not feature Terman as an author. Cox published her later work under her married name, Catharine Cox Miles.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.