Deconstructing Genius
A conversation with Darrin McMahon

Genius: the word evokes great figures like Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Mozart, and Einstein. But what quintessential quality unites these individuals? Can we measure it? Can we create it?

Darrin McMahon, an intellectual historian at Florida State University, has charted the evolution of genius f...


About Darrin McMahon:

Darrin McMahon is the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State University. You can visit his new website, here. This conversation is based around Darrin’s most recent book, Divine Fury: A History of Genius. His writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The W...


Some Additional Resources:
Divine Fury: A History of Genius

By Darrin M. McMahon

Darrin's Personal Website

Happiness: A History

By Darrin M. McMahon

Enemies of the Enlightenment: The French Counter-Enlightenment and the Making of Modernity

By Darrin M. McMahon

'I Dream of Genius'

An article by Joseph Epstein for Commentary Magazine, October 2013

Something to Declare (Commentary Excerpt)

In what is unquestionably the most memorable line ever spoken to a customs official, Oscar Wilde famously claimed, upon arriving in New York in 1882, “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”

Literary scholars are quick to point out that the evidence for Wilde actually having uttered this celebrated aphorism is disappointingly thin, but there’s little doubt that it’s the sort of thing that he very well might have said. Years later, for example, we have considerably more certainty that he confided to his friend André Gide, that: “I’ve put all my genius into my life; I’ve only put my talent into my works.”

The fact that Wilde publicly proclaimed himself a genius seems fairly certain. But was he?

Well, opinions naturally differ. But perhaps a more interesting question is: what do we mean by genius, anyway?

Shedding light on that, among related issues, is the task Darrin McMahon has set himself in his latest work, Divine Fury: A History of Genius. It is hardly a straightforward mission but one which resonates well with the spirit of someone who wrote a comprehensive, critically acclaimed work on the history of happiness that threaded together an impressive combination of diverse ideas and influences from across the Western canon. Such is the lifeblood of the intellectual historian...

For the full Commentary, purchase this issue from our site, or buy the eBook from or iBookstore, or download our app off Apple Newsstand. Each issue comes with the commentary, the full conversation, a biography of our guest, as well as references for further exploration.