The best books on creativity in science and art

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

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The books I picked & why

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

Tom McLeish Why did I love 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.

By Howard E. Gardner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Creating Minds as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Since it was first published in 1993, Creating Minds has served as a peerless guide to the creative self. Now available as a paperback reissue with a new introduction by the author, the book uses portraits of seven extraordinary individuals to reveal the patterns that drive the creative process,and to demonstrate how circumstance also plays an indispensable role in creative success.


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

Tom McLeish Why did I love 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. 

By Agustín Fuentes,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Creative Spark as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bold new synthesis of paleontology, archaeology, genetics, and anthropology that overturns misconceptions about race, war and peace, and human nature itself, answering an age-old question: What made humans so exceptional among all the species on Earth?
 
Creativity. It is the secret of what makes humans special, hiding in plain sight. Agustín Fuentes argues that your child's finger painting comes essentially from the same place as creativity in hunting and gathering millions of years ago, and throughout history in making war and peace, in intimate relationships, in shaping the planet, in our communities, and in all of art, religion, and…


Book cover of Art and Science (Art and Series)

Tom McLeish Why did I love 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.

By Siân Ede,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art and Science (Art and Series) as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Is science the new art? Scientists weave incredible stories, invent wild hypotheses and ask difficult questions about the meaning of life. They have insights into the workings of our bodies and minds which challenge the myths we make about our identities and selves. They create visual images, models and scenarios that are gruesome, baffling or beguiling. They say and do things that are ethically and politically shocking. Contemporary scientists frequently talk about 'beauty' and 'elegance'; artists hardly ever do. While demonstrating how science is affecting the creation and interpretation of contemporary art, this book proposes that artistic insights are as…


Book cover of On Creativity

Tom McLeish Why did I love 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.

By David Bohm,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Creativity as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Creativity is fundamental to human experience. In On Creativity David Bohm, the world-renowned scientist, investigates the phenomenon from all sides: not only the creativity of invention and of imagination but also that of perception and of discovery. This is a remarkable and life-affirming book by one of the most far-sighted thinkers of modern times.


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

Tom McLeish Why did I love 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.

By Arthur I. Miller,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Insights of Genius as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Here, distinguished science historian Arthur I. Miller delves into the connections between modern art and modern physics. He takes us on a wide-ranging study to demonstrate that scientists and artists have a common aim: a visual interpretation of both the visible and invisible aspects of nature. Along the way, we encounter the philosophy of mind and language, cognitive science and neurophysiology in our search for the origins and meaning of visual imagery.
At a time when the media are overeager to portray science as a godless, dehumanising exercise undermining the very fabric of society, this sixth book by Professor Miller…


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By Brett Dakin,

Book cover of American Daredevil: Comics, Communism, and the Battles of Lev Gleason

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

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By Brett Dakin,

What is this book about?

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Brett Dakin, Gleason's great-nephew, opens up the family archives-and the files of the FBI-to take you on a journey through the publisher's life and career. In American Daredevil, you'll learn the truth about Gleason's rapid rise to the top of comics,…


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