The best books on the creative mind

Keith J. Holyoak Author Of The Spider's Thread: Metaphor in Mind, Brain, and Poetry
By Keith J. Holyoak

The Books I Picked & Why

The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain

By John Kounios, Mark Beeman

Book cover of The Eureka Factor: Aha Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain

Why this book?

Did you ever have a sudden insight, a new idea—something that made you go, “Aha!”? It’s as if your brain had been doing unconscious work, then suddenly “reported up” to your conscious mind. This book by two prominent cognitive neuroscientists gives a clear picture of what scientists have learned about how brain networks connecting the two hemispheres give rise to creative insights. Their book helped me think about how new metaphors might be discovered—just one example of what the creative mind can do.


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The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms

By Margaret A. Boden

Book cover of The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms

Why this book?

What is creativity, and what makes it possible? If a new idea came from nothing, would it be magic? If a new idea were generated by recombining old ones, would it really be “creative”? In this book, Margaret Boden, a distinguished philosopher of science, thinks through what creativity really is, whether it takes the form of a world-altering advance in science or a novel jazz improvisation. To help understand human creativity, the book compares it to the workings of computer programs—ones capable of generating art or music that at least appears creative. Readers who have followed more recent developments in artificial intelligence will be able to consider for themselves whether machine creativity is, or could be, a reality. The book helped me think about what it means to create an “authentic” poem.


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The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

By Daniel J. Levitin

Book cover of The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature

Why this book?

It’s not really six songs, but six human needs that songs fulfill: friendship, joy, comfort, knowledge, religion, love—needs that largely define “human nature.” This book combines the perspective of a neuroscientist and musician (Dan Levitin is both), describing why songs may have arisen, and how they impact emotion, memory, and the place of an individual in a society. A song combines music with lyrics—the near relative of a poem. For me (a non-musician), the book was especially useful in clarifying the ways in which song lyrics and poems are both similar and different. Songs derive their power by combining the creative potential of language and music.


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Making Comics

By Lynda Barry

Book cover of Making Comics

Why this book?

Would you like to try your hand (literally) at being creative? This book is your personal class on how to draw—and write—comics. You can be a kid again. As the author says, “Stories show up on their own when kids draw—the drawing itself propels the story, changing it in a living way.” And you don’t have to know how to draw! In fact, expertise can be the enemy of creativity. From the book: “It’s hard for something original to make it past ‘already knowing how.’ Being good at something is its own curse…” Have fun!


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This Craft of Verse

By Jorge Luis Borges

Book cover of This Craft of Verse

Why this book?

If you love Borges, and thought you’d read everything he wrote, this is the book for you—a collection of his “lost lectures,” delivered at Harvard in 1967-68 and finally published in 2000. And if you want to hear the actual voice of a creative genius, as if risen from the dead, the recordings are also available. Best known for his intricate short stories and essays, Borges was also—perhaps foremost—a poet. As he puts it in the book, “The central fact of my life has been the existence of words and the possibility of weaving those words into poetry.” Starting from the creation of poems, Borges explores the creation of metaphors, meaning, and life’s irreducible mystery.


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