Jonah Lehrer Book Scandal

I am deeply disappointed to discover that the first book I was going to recommend on my website, has just been removed by the Publishers. Apparently–in his book ‘Imagine’–Jonah Lehrer did just that and fabricated a quote by Bob Dylan. He also spliced together several other quotes to create a comment that was totally out of context.

Yes, I am frustrated that the book review I’d written a few days ago is now rather worthless. Yet more than that, I am bitterly disappointed that a book with such a wealth of insight, will never be read by an audience. I understand that this kind of book–which relies heavily on scientific research–needs  to be accurate on every level, but I wish there was a way of separating out the bad, without throwing away the good. This would of course be almost impossible to do because Lehrer’s deceit has cast every part of the book under a shadow of doubt.

Given that my website is going live tomorrow, and that I am a rather slow reader who won’t be able to pull a book review out of the proverbial hat any time soon, I’m still going to  give you snippets of my book review in which I share what I gained from reading Lehrer’s book. And although you may now never read it, on the balance of scales I’m still rather glad I did.

This is some of what I wrote before the scandal broke:

How does Creativity Work?

In “Imagine”, Jonah Lehrer sets out to discover and explain how creativity works. He approaches it from many angles: research; biographies of successful individuals; interviews with executives of innovative companies; even historical accounts of particularly creative periods such as the Elizabethan age. It is this variety that keeps the book moving at such a fast and fascinating pace. Lehrer doesn’t only focus on one type of creative person, say artists, but on a wide spectrum of people, from poets to mathematicians and from engineers to surfers. That is what makes this book so relevant to a wide range of readers.

Different Types of Creativity

What I particularly enjoyed about the book is the small insight it gave me into the incredible human brain, and I can attest that you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to understand Lehrer’s clear, down-to-earth explanations. It turns out that there is more than one type of creativity, each using different parts of the brain. An “a-ha” inspiration moment is therefore very different to the improvisation of a musician or a comedian, which is in turn different to the long-term focused concentration that can produce great works of literature. “Imagine” grants a fascinating look into a subject that has never been fully understood. Far from diminishing the mystery of the creative process, it gives one a new appreciation of the possibilities of the human mind.

Ways to Enhance Creativity

Lehrer doesn’t just stop at explaining creativity; he goes a step further and looks at ways in which we can enhance it. So, I was particularly delighted to learn that travelling is a great way to cultivate new perspectives and increase our creative output (I hope my husband is reading this). Living in cities and mingling with a broad range of people turns out to be valuable too, as does facing new, unfamiliar challenges.

 

Reading over these excerpts now, I feel somewhat betrayed–the same way I felt once on discovering I had been the overly-naive victim of a scam. As readers I believe we’re entitled to feel a little angry. We have invested money and time on this book, which turned out (at least in part) to be a lie. As a writer, who has put hundreds of hours into producing my own book, I find it incredible that Lehrer would risk so much by adding a few sentences he knew to be untrue. Yet ultimately the overwhelming feeling I’m left with, is pity for this young (thirty-one year old) man, with such a gift for words and so much promise. I hope that Jonah Lehrer will learn from this downfall and rise to be a respected author of great integrity. And for the record, I’m still convinced that travelling enhances creativity!

I’d love to hear your own  insights and opinions on this topic:

 

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2 Comments

  1. You certainly weren’t alone on this; I, too, ended up reflecting a bit on this unusual situation on my own blog (http://buildingcreativebridges.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/jonah-lehrer-when-writing-creativity-and-imagination-go-too-far/) after reviewing the book favorably and calling it to the attention of colleagues in workplace learning and performance (staff training).

    • Hi Paul. I enjoyed reading your blog entry on this same topic. It was interesting that we had some similar emotional reactions with regards to the value we still saw in the book.

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