The best books on creativity in science and art

Who am I?

I have worked in scientific research and teaching for over 30 years, and maintained a love of art and music as well, but am saddened when I hear statements, especially from high-school pupils, that ‘there is no room for creativity or imagination in science.’ Like all working scientists, I know that imagination is the most important faculty for a scientist. The Poetry and Music of Science is my project to tease out the creative threads in the scientific process, and also to find the buried pathways that link science with the arts and humanities. The journey of discovery has been full of surprises and delights for me.


I wrote...

The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

By Tom McLeish,

Book cover of The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

What is my book about?

What human qualities make scientific discoveries, and which great art? Many would point to 'imagination' and 'creativity' in the second case but not the first. This book challenges the assumption that doing science is in any sense less creative than art, music, or fictional writing and poetry, and treads a historical and contemporary path to their shared creative process. Personal stories of scientists and artists reveal their common desires for a creative goal, experiences of failure, periods of incubation, moments of sudden insight, and the experience of the beautiful or sublime. Themes weaving through both science and art emerge.

A new paperback edition of The Poetry and Music of Science is being published on Feb 13th, completely revised and with a new chapter on Poetry and Theoretical Science.

The books I picked & why

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Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi

By Howard E. Gardner,

Book cover of Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi

Why this book?

Howard Gardner admitted Creative Minds was the personal favorite of all his books, and I can see why. From Albert Einstein’s transformational science to Martha Graham’s innovative dance, the book traces the personal forces at work in radical creativity of ‘the greats’ from science to arts and politics. It taught me to look at the entirety of a person’s biography to get to grips with their creativity and challenges the reader to think about a common creative scheme, but perhaps underestimates the role of conversation and community.


The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional

By Agustín Fuentes,

Book cover of The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional

Why this book?

I love the way that Fuentes digs right back into human pre-history for clues to understand our extraordinary creative capacity as a species. From stone tools to warfare, religion, and innovative sex (yes, really!) he traces the ‘creative spark’ through the uniquely social and communicative demands on homo sapiens. The way he explains the vital part played by failure in all creativity is very helpful. And, of course, it’s refreshing and encouraging to read that science is one of the creative fields in his anthropology. 


Art and Science (Art and Series)

By Siân Ede,

Book cover of Art and Science (Art and Series)

Why this book?

Siân Ede gets right behind the commonplace clichés of the art/science divide, from the over-negative polarisation of ‘The Two Cultures’ to the naïveté of ‘sci-art.’ Featuring the work of both artists on their own terms, and a collection of art-science collaborations, she celebrates the differences and pushes against false ‘syntheses’ of art and science. The problematic nature of ‘beauty’ appears in the striking examples she chooses, and creativity threads its way in the background throughout the book.


On Creativity

By David Bohm,

Book cover of On Creativity

Why this book?

David Bohm is celebrated for creating a completely different theory of quantum mechanics, equally adept and accounting for experiments but conceptually irreconcilable from those of Schrödinger and Heisenberg. Put that together with his broad and deep understanding of culture, and you have a uniquely sensitive and original take on creativity. I particularly like his sharp critique of superficial ‘creativity’ which he claims is mostly reflex. Bohm helps his readers to see that ‘discovery’ and ‘creation’ cannot easily be disentangled.


Insights of Genius: Imagery and Creativity in Science and Art

By Arthur I. Miller,

Book cover of Insights of Genius: Imagery and Creativity in Science and Art

Why this book?

Visual representations are not the only pathway to creative acts in art and science, but they are responsible for large territories of creativity – including, and surprisingly, the mathematical. Arthur Miller shows how ‘seeing the unseen’ becomes possible from atoms to the conservation of energy in science, and from modernism to cubism in art. The book itself is as visually striking as its contents and helped me to think through why the visual metaphor – ‘Oh, I see!’ – becomes the standard description of the moment of insight.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in creativity, math, and the creative process?

5,888 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about creativity, math, and the creative process.

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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