Jee’s book review: Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers by @claudiakalbwriter #SparkGenius #bookreview #nonfiction @tlcbooktours #tlcbooktours

Title: Spark: How Genius Ignites, From Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers by Claudia Kalb

Publisher: National Geographic (April 27, 2021)

Hardcover: 368 pages

In a nutshell (Publisher): Yo-Yo Ma’s ear for music emerged not long after he learned to walk. By the age of seven, he was performing for President Kennedy; by fifteen he debuted at Carnegie Hall. Maya Angelou, by contrast, didn’t write her iconic memoir, I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings, until she was 40. What propels some individuals to reach extraordinary creative heights in the earliest years of life while others discover their passions decades later? Are prodigies imbued with innate talent? How often are midlife inspirations triggered by propitious events, like Julia Child’s first French meal at the age of 36? Do late bloomers reveal their talents because their skills require life experience and contemplation?

My thoughts:

What’s a genius? What makes a genius? Kalb studies the lives of 13 well-known ‘star achievers’, ‘cross centuries and subject areas’, and ages ‘at which their genius ignites’, therefore suggested that this book is best read sequentially.

The book started with the artist Pablo Picasso, the child star Shirley Temple and the world-renown cellist Yo-Yo Ma, all of whom discovered their talent at a very young age. Picasso’s earliest surviving works like ‘Le Picador’ was painted when he was only 9; Shirley got her big break in the entertainment world when she was only 3 (at that age, I was probably still trying to learn to bounce a ball) and Yo-Yo Ma who began playing cello at the age of four and gave his first public performance in Paris at 5 (when I had only begun to read).

The second part of the book, Kalb brought in Bill Gates, Isaac Newton, Sara Blakely, who discovered their calling in their teenage years and/or later, and the third part are the late bloomersJulia Child, Maya Angelou, Alexander Fleming, Eleanor Roosevelt, Peter Mark Roget, Grandma Moses and in the Epilogue, Leonardo da Vinci titled as ‘Eternal Genius’.

In each chapter, with research and interviews, Kalb tries to discover what makes some individuals realize their ‘spark’ earlier in life and some decades later?

I loved how the author brought to live the story of each individual; it was as engaging as it was educational. Kalb doesn’t just throw out information (which I find can be very exhausting and dry in some non-fiction I had read, like they were ‘cut and paste’ paragraphs), but she invites the reader into the discovery and offers food for thought.

So what makes a genius? Many, many factors, including preparation, luck and timing. For Shirley Temple, timing played an important role. Her talent coincided with the development of talking motion pictures, which debuted in the late 1920s, her vibrant personality a much needed antidote ‘at a time when the country needed an emotional boost’. Some of them, like like Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx and Picasso the artist, knew what they wanted to do with their lives at a very young age and luckily, they were supported and encouraged by their loved ones.

Some, by stroke of luck and sheer hard work, like Maya Angelou who rented a hotel room near her home, worked from 6.30am to 1 or 2pm with no distractions, not even pictures on the wall. She ‘labored tirelessly’, and she said about her writing, ‘it takes me forever to get it to sing. I worked at that language‘, prepared her for what the universe already had in store for her.

And some, were late bloomers who discovered or rediscovered their passion, like Eleanor Roosevelt, who only ‘experience an epiphany or change of purpose after forging a fulfilling life in another domain and Peter Mark Roget, who, at 70 years old retired after 44 years of practicing medicine, revived his passion for words and wrote, what is widely known as Roget’s Thesaurus.

Genius, as defined by the dictionary, is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Yes, many factors other play a role too, but, as per the definition, what I noticed the most consistent factors are hard work and perseverance, and with a little bit of luck and good timing, who knows, you might be next to make it to the list of geniuses! Just don’t give up. Keep doing you (like Isaac Newton who despite what others said about him, kept on doing what he believed in), keep doing what makes you tick, and ignore the naysayers (you go, Sara Blakely! Thank you for not giving up your dreams!).

I used to think geniuses have a lot to do with age, genes and luck, but not anymore after reading reading about Julia Child (at 50 made an appearance on a book review show which shot her to stardom), Maya Angelou (had her first autobiography published at the age of 41) and Grandma Moses (who began painting at the age of 78!)

I really enjoyed reading this book and I loved the illustrations that accompanied each chapter. I do wish though, that it had more representation of people of color, for example, in my mind, Gitanjali Rao (Scientist and Inventor at 15), Amanda Gorman (only 23 and first person to be named National Youth Poet Laureate, and Christine Huyen Tran Ha (the first blind chef in Master Chef and winner of third season), Jimmy Choo (Malaysian shoe designer and co-founder of Jimmy Choo) and Wang Deshun (the 80-year-old Chinese runway model).

If you love reading about geniuses in bite-sized chapters, or if you’re feeling stuck, losing faith in your passion and hard work, pick this one up! It’s inspiring, engaging, enjoyable and uplifting! This book would make a great gift too!

Many thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and National Geographic for bringing this amazing book to my attention and for the invitation to be part of this tour!

Do drop by other blogs which were on this book tour too!

Tour schedule:
Tuesday, April 27th: Lit and Life
Wednesday, April 28th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, April 29th: Instagram: @booksloveandunderstanding
Friday, April 30th: Laura’s Reviews
Monday, May 3rd: Instagram: @thriftybookworm
Tuesday, May 4th: Run Wright
Wednesday, May 5th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie
Monday, May 10th: Instagram: @whatalyssareads
Wednesday, May 12th: Art, Books, & Coffee
Thursday, May 13th: Instagram: @neverthless_she_reads
Tuesday, May 18th: What Is That Book About

Have you read this book? What did you think? If not, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!

18 Comments Add yours

  1. stargazer says:

    Great review, it sounds like a fascinating book. It’s so interesting to read about, what makes people successful. I think it’s important not to confuse talent and success. You can obviously be very talented, but not achieve any success (and sometimes the other way around as well). Whereas talents to a certain degree do have something to do with genetics, I am sure success is more related to determinism, hard work and also a bit of luck and good timing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Yup I always believe good luck happens when opportunity comes and you’re ready for it. And those who are ‘successful’ with no talent, I guess that also depends on what one sees as ‘talent’ too 😀 And yes, as mentioned, good timing and everything else play a role as well 🙂 and maybe fate too? 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stargazer says:

        That is a fair comment. I guess it might be a talent in itself to be successful. Perhaps a strong sense of the underlying trends in society? Or great skills at marketing and self promotion. Disregarding luck, I guess there is always some talent involved.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Jee Wan says:

        Yes some sort or degree of talent for sure.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Sara Strand says:

    Sounds like an intriguing read! Thank you for being on this tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Sara! And thanks to TLC for inviting me to be on this tour! 🙂

      Like

  3. Rosie Amber says:

    This sounds interesting, thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      You’re welcome, Rosie! I think you’ll enjoy this book too 🙂

      Like

  4. I love National Geographic books, Jee, and this one sounds fascinating. Terrific review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Jennifer! This is my first and I love it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This looks like an interesting read. Would want to read it. Lovely review, Jee!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Shaina! I think you’ll enjoy this book too 🙂

      Like

  6. Sounds like a fun read, Jee! I can’t imagine what they had to say about some genius too. 😮 Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      You’re welcome, my friend! This was indeed a fun read! So glad I got to read it 🙂

      Like

  7. nsfordwriter says:

    What a fascinating topic! I guess that there are many undiscovered geniuses in the world who may not have had the opportunities, support or luck to make a career of their talents. It’s really interesting to think about! Thanks for the review Jee 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      I agree with you, NS! Thank you for reading, NS 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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