Books About Creativity

Playing and Reality — Donald Winnicott
Winnicott is a deep and original thinker about creativity. He is famous for his description of the "transitional object" and its place in child development; out of that insight, and his rich understanding of object relations, he develops his ideas about creativity and creative living. Fascinating reading, though sometimes difficult. Winnicott's approach is rooted in Freud and important work by Melanie Klein on object relations which is also very interesting and powerful.

The Artist's Way — Julia Cameron
Julia talks about the obstacles to creativity and especially ways to surmount them. She is especially known for her approach of writing morning pages every day. Her approach is spiritual and practical, a step-by-step guide that takes you through a program of recovering and unleashing your creative potential. She includes many fascinating quotes that liven the book up.

Darwin on Man — Howard Gruber
Gruber is important in creativity studies for emphasizing that creativity develops out of long processes of development and activity: creativity cannot be described simply as a sudden illumination, like a light bulb turning on - this is a crucial part of the process to be sure, but there is a tremendous amount of development surrounding those moments. That is consistent with my own view and what I have found studying creative development. The first few pages of the book especially are worth reading for the general approach to creativity they outline. Gruber's approach has come to be called "the evolving systems" approach to creativity. See also Creative People at Work, edited by Dorothy Wallace and Gruber -- I especially like the chapter by Margery Franklin on the artist Melissa Zink.

The Road to Xanadu — John Livingston Lowes
This is a classic work, originally published in 1927, that presents a fascinating description of the creative process in Coleridge's composition of "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Kubla Khan." Lowes shows, through a detailed examination of a Note Book Coleridge kept (Coleridge had a series of notebooks, which make fascinating reading), how Coleridge drew upon his extensive knowledge of the occult, exploration, and other fields in forming his poetry - showing this at a level of remarkable detail -- how specific passages Coleridge read entered into his creative process, reemerging transformed in his poetry.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions — Thomas Kuhn
A justly famous book, written with an elegance and simplicity to be envied. Kuhn describes scientific revolutions as paradigm shifts. The book is not strictly speaking about creativity - indeed the creative processes of individuals who produce or whose work leads to paradigm shifts is essentially left out of the account, leaving me to have a fundamental philosophical disagreement with it. Nonetheless the book is a joy to read and the ideas in it have become common currency.

The Evolution of Culture, and Other Essays — Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt-Rivers
A classic work published in 1906. Pitt-Rivers describes the evolution of cultural forms, including weapons, tools, and coinage, among the Australian Aboriginal peoples and other peoples whose cultures were pre-modern at the time he lived. Pioneering in its approach to describing and thinking about cultural development. See also The Evolution of Technology by George Basalla, which has some nice examples of technologic creativity; I especially remember the story of the development of barbed wire, which grew out of earlier barbed hedges. Another fascinating book in this line is Payton Usher, A History of Mechanical Inventions, which provides synopses of the developments of several dozen important inventions.

Creativity and Personal Freedom — Frank Barron
Barron made an important contribution in thinking about the personal characteristics associated with being creative. A notable idea is that creative people have an edge of destructiveness about them, a willingness to destroy. This resonates with what I have found studying creative development: individuals (some individuals that is -- a minority, but an important one) strive to destroy what others have constructed, and even sometimes what they themselves have done in the past, for example adopting an opposing perspective or undermining an approach they have faithfully followed up to this point.

Touched With Fire — Kay Jamison
A useful, well done book about the link between madness, specifically manic-depressive illness, and creativity. Excellent review of findings and empirical discussion of madness in certain fields - I recall notably the discussion of the prevalence of the illness among poets.

The Knowledge-Creating Company — Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi
At the core of this book is an interesting idea the authors call "knowledge conversion" - moving back and forth between explicit and tacit knowlege representations. Presents an interesting way of thinking about creativity and innovation and the management of creativity and innovation. Somewhat difficult to read, especially the early parts.

The Soul of a New Machine — Tracy Kidder
An easy, fun to read, vivid account of what it's like working in a start-up environment where creativity and creative problem-solving are essential, in demand every day. Many insights about the management of individuals engaged in this kind of work, and the diffculties of this management process.

The Making of the Atomic Bomb — Richard Rhodes
Excellent discussion of the process of managing a very unusual, large-scale, demanding project, with very high level creative individuals. The core of the book is the character study and description of the management approach and techniques employed by Robert Oppenheimer.