If you've ever wanted to understand what makes great people, particularly colossal talents like Williman Shakespeare, great, read this book. You won't be disappointed.
Stephen Greenblatt, who is the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard, writes in superbly smooth and elegant prose of the life - remarkably little is known - and times of William Shakespeare. His knowledge as a Renaissance scholar of the social norms (very little movement between the gentle/noble class and the rest of society), religious strife (paranoia and upheaval prevail) and politics (often violent and grisly) are plain. Yet Greenblatt is always more interested in understanding how the culture emerged in Shakespeare's art. For that reason, the book reads almost like a novel - it has pace and plot - not an academic work. It's subtext: what made this enigmatic man who said next nothing about himself the greatest author ever to work in the English language?
I was also reminded at several points of the brief work Who Designed Brunelleschi's Dome?, which argues that the times inhabited by great artists also matter a great deal in the art and science produced.
This New Yorker review of the book, however, describes what Greenblatt accomplishes much, much better. The last quoted sentence is absolutely true.
Whatever our official pieties, deep down we all believe in lives....
Greenblatt’s book is startlingly good—the most complexly intelligent and sophisticated, and yet the most keenly enthusiastic, study of the life and work taken together that I have ever read. Greenblatt knows the life and the period deeply, has no hobbyhorses to ride, and makes, one after another, exquisitely sensitive and persuasive connections between what the eloquent poetry says and what the fragmentary life suggests.
What makes a creative genius? Read this book for one unique and compelling answer.