Extraordinary Minds

Portraits Of 4 Exceptional Individuals And An Examination Of Our Own Extraordinariness

by Howard Gardner

Number of pages: 192

Publisher: Basic Books

BBB Library: Psychology and Strengths

ISBN: 978-0465021253



About the Author

Howard Gardner is the Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He received the 2011 Award for Social Sciences.

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Editorial Review

Is there a set of traits shared by all truly great achievers—those we deem extraordinary—no matter their field or the time period within which they did their important work? In an attempt to answer this question, Gardner first examines how most of us mature into more or less competent adults. He then examines closely four persons who lived unquestionably extraordinary lives—Mozart, Freud, Woolf, and Gandhi—using each as an exemplar of a different kind of extraordinariness: Mozart as the master of a discipline, Freud as the innovative founder of a new discipline, Woolf as the great introspector, and Gandhi as the influencer.

Book Reviews

“They say that it takes one to know one, and if so who could be better qualified to write about ‘Extraordinary Minds’ than Howard Gardner? In this volume he weaves together the main threads of his brilliant work of the past few decades, and anyone interested in how the minds of creative leaders work will find it entertaining as well as enlightening.”— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Finding Flow

“Howard Gardner’s analysis of ‘Extraordinariness’ is quite marvelous—it traces universals in extraordinary development without any sense of reduction, so that the uniqueness of his four subjects shines out as clearly as their similarities.”— Oliver Sacks, M.D., author of An Anthropologist on Mars

“Howard Gardner is one of the most stimulating and original psychologists now writing. His views on the varieties of intelligence, on exceptional individuals, on education, and on success and failure make enthralling reading and deserve to be widely influential.” — Anthony Storr

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Wisdom to Share

A consensual view about human intelligence is endorsed by psychologists and laypersons alike. According to this standard view, intelligence is a single entity (often dubbed "g" for general intelligence) that is of singular importance within modern society.

From biology, we learn that, when it comes to human beings, it is impossible to separate out genetic from environmental factors in any authoritative sense. We simply cannot perform the crucial experiments. In fact, the milieu affects gene expression from the moment of conception.

From psychology, we have learned that human beings possess many different intellectual faculties and that these have considerable independence from one another. Any attempt to isolate a unitary intelligence is fraught with measurement problems; and even so-called pure measures of intelligence are actually contaminated with effects of practice and context.

Some cultures (like Japan's) make strikingly different assumptions about human learning and motivation. Such cultures have achieved educational success that would be impossible if one were to adhere to the "unchangeable intellect" views of most psychometricians.

Human beings have evolved as a species to possess at least seven distinct forms of intelligence—defined as the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are valued in at least one cultural setting or community.

While we all possess to some degree the full range of intelligences, individuals differ in the particular profiles of strengths and weaknesses that they exhibit.

If we all have different kinds of minds, then it is simply inappropriate to teach us all as if our minds were simple variations along a solitary bell curve.

If we want to understand how some individuals manage to become exceptional in a positive sense by the age of five, we will need to know more about brain and biology; but we will equally need to know more about the experiences that pluck a few of us out of the crowd and give us the opportunity to become a special kind of person.

Among creators, there are two principal types: those who are constantly rejecting what they and others have done and who move almost compulsively in new directions; and those who early discover the soil they wish to toil, and do so with ever greater skill and finesse over the course of a life.

Though sympathetic to the political trends that were sweeping Europe, Mozart was hardly a revolutionary. He might well have been horrified by the French Revolution, even as Beethoven was stimulated by it. Paradoxically, however, Mozart set the stage for musical revolution.

While masters accept their domain, the maker is typically not satisfied with a life working alongside others at the forefront of the domain. Rather, for reasons as varied as the individuals in question, the maker moves regularly and repeatedly in new directions—confronting issues and challenges that are invisible to others or may even be actively resisted by them.

One needs thick skin to withstand the scrutiny that attends almost every break-through.

The aspirant for extraordinariness must prepare for a life in which the drums of criticism beat constantly.

A British newspaper once ran the headline Einstein = Genius Minus Niceness.

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The App Generation

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