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Creators: From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney

3.61  ·  Rating Details ·  309 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews

Twenty years ago Paul Johnson published Intellectuals, biographical essays forming what Kingsley Amis described as "a valuable and entertaining Rogues Gallery of Adventures of the Mind." It was a bestseller in many of the score of languages into which it was translated, but also criticized for describing clever people "so as to bring out their bad behavior" (Bernard Willia

ebook, 336 pages
Published October 13th 2009 by HarperCollins e-books (first published 2006)
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Rick Davis
A few years ago, I read the book Intellectuals by Paul Johnson. There really aren’t enough words to describe what that book did to my thinking about modern history. It was scandalous, salacious, shocking, sensational, and, most importantly, sentiment-shifting. The fact that people regularly put themselves at the mercy of intellectuals who, though possessing a clearly high level of intelligence, are really quite nasty, immoral, and dislikeable people says a lot about the modern world. I think the ...more
Jul 06, 2010 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010-reads, history
This book was full of great information! I especially enjoyed the chapters on Chaucer, Austen, Bach, Picasso, and Disney.

This books gives you a glimpse of what it takes to be an innovator and creative leader. Through the lives of some of the greatest creators of our time, Johnson explores what makes someone great in the creative world. The dedication and determination exemplified throughout the pages of this book is truly inspiring. I think anyone who has aspirations to be a crator, whether a w
The American Conservative
'They say that The Economist is an excellent magazine for keeping informed about subjects you don’t know anything about, but its deficiencies begin to appear as soon as it addresses one you do. The same could be said about Creators by the British polymath Paul Johnson, whose previous books, including Modern Times and The Birth of the Modern, have also tended to take on the kind of very large subjects of which one man could hardly be expected to have deep as well as extensive knowledge. But those ...more
A fascinating exploration of creativity via sketches of the greatest creative personalities of history. More positive & constructive -- and enjoyable -- than Intellectuals was. Has inspired me in wanting to read more Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austin, Victor Hugo, Mark Twain and Dickens. Loved the chapters on areas I knew little about -- Bach and pipe organs, Durer and printing, Pugin and architecture. Yet I remain uninspired regarding poetry and painting! Johnson is a chronic name dropper, ...more
Mar 05, 2013 Arline rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't even bother finishing this book. I read the first three chapters and felt immediately that:
a) at some level the author was comparing himself and his talents to those of some of the greatest artistic geniuses in western history and

b) that each of his chapters could essentially be compared to high school book reports about said geniuses.

c) The quality of the writing itself left much to be desired.
Nancy (NE)
May 19, 2016 Nancy (NE) rated it really liked it
Shelves: bio-memoir
A fascinating collection of mini biographies of reknown 'creators' in their respective fields. Johnson goes on to analyze what may have been the factors, internal and external, that contributed to their genius. Chapters were diverse in subject, including Chaucer, Durer, Bach,Tiffany, Twain, Dior, Shakespeare, Picasso and Disney among others. Johnson has written other such studies.
Dec 03, 2008 Wm rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, literature, art
I greatly enjoyed this survey of creative individuals by Paul Johnson. The chapters on Durer, Balanciago, and Tiffany were particularly good.
I love this guy and want to own a complete set of his works. If you think history and biography are boring then I suggest you give him a try.
Barbara Duvoisin
Oct 07, 2009 Barbara Duvoisin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm jumping around in this book, reading various chapters. So far, Chaucer was my fav chapter and i'm now reading Balenciaga.
Mark Casey
Jan 13, 2016 Mark Casey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed reading this and can wholeheartedly recommend it for people interested in learning about the subjects of the book. That said, it's not nearly as interesting as Intellectuals, which coheres wonderfully around the theme of seeing how well major advocates of certain points of view lived up to them in their own lives.

Among those analyzed, a few I would like to study more deeply are Durer, Chaucer, Turner, Austen, Pugin, and Balenciaga.The subjects who lost the most reputation in my mind:
Feb 10, 2013 Joshua rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I believe that everyone should read this.
John Pendergraft
Jun 30, 2009 John Pendergraft rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Inspiring and well written
Jun 30, 2015 joel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"All the same, creation is a marvelous business, and people who create at the highest level lead a privileged life, however arduous and difficult it may be. An interesting life, too, full of peculiar aspects and strange satisfactions. That is the message of this book."

The abbreviated biographical stories in Johnson's Creators are brush strokes in a much larger painting, individual pieces of a mosaic (pun absolutely intended). Opening the book with the notion that creativity is inherent in all hu
Jul 01, 2015 Cris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy, art
While I enjoyed Intellectuals, this book is less successful IMHOP because Johnson lacks the critical basis to make any meaningful comments about the artists portrayed. Intellectuals worked because Johnson did a great job examining each thinker from his or her own philosophical point of view, thus pointing out the fallacies and hypocrisies of would be moral thinkers with authority, demonstrating the sloppy, illogical thought process that undergirds many modern canons. Creators on the other hand i ...more
May 12, 2012 A. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arte
"La Creatividad es inherente a todos nosotros", puntualiza Paul Johnson, "sin embargo hay grados en la creatividad hasta la verdadera sublimación, que conduce a los artistas a intentar trabajos enormes y delicados nunca antes concebidos, menos aún realizados ¿Cómo definir este nivel de la creatividad? ¿Cómo explicarlo? No podemos definirlo más de lo que podemos definir la genialidad. Pero podemos ilustrarlo. Eso es lo que intenta este libro"

Un libro interesante para reflexionar acerca de los div
May 28, 2013 Carl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
At the beginning of "Creators," Paul Johnson asserts that God is the source of all human creativity. This claim, which of course can neither be proved nor disproved, means that the book's chapters merely tell how the author thinks creativity works, not why. Yes, an occasional insight appears like a comet in heavens. For example, Johnson argues that Picasso's "genius" arose from a twisted megalomania, that only his vision mattered. From that, Picasso changed art in the 20th century. I can ponder ...more
Steve Stegman
This is my second Paul Johnson book. My first was Modern Times. Creators is vastly different. It could be subtitled "The Musings of Paul Johnson".

The individual stories of specific creators, at times, are quite interesting. But in some chapters he wanders, leaving the reader wondering what the point of the chapter really is. He sometimes focuses on the strange or vulgar, while leaving out or marginalizing the master works of specific artists (e.g. Hugo's Les Mes gets less coverage than his filan
Jul 17, 2011 William rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011
A look at some 17 "creators" including writers, artists, musicians, etc. This book is certainly a discussion-starter mainly because Johnson does not hesitate to touch upon sensitive issues of creators generally held in high regard. But Johnson throws around admiring superlatives as well as damning condemnations with little or no justification. He has his strong likes and dislikes (idolizes Shakespeare, abhors Hugo), and he can't seem to keep his personal prejudices and politics to himself. Slant ...more
Interesting book that tries to find out what separates creators across the centuries from the layman and portray their personal lives with all the vices and virtues as well as their careers.
Mar 08, 2014 Charles rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Paul Johnson is a consummate historian and one who can capture the essence of historical creators. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.
Skylar Burris
Mar 13, 2015 Skylar Burris marked it as unfinished  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I enjoyed Johnson’s Intellectuals, which offered biographies of a variety of famous people whose primary product was ideas. This time, Johnson is tackling creators, those whose primary product was poetry, music, novels, art, or movies. I look forward to reading this collection. Based on the sample I’ve read (up to half way through the second chapter), it seems that, as with Intellectuals, he will be attempting to draw some common threads through the lives of these characters while revealing thei ...more
Well, a great deal of knowledge, some I find very eye opening (e.g Wagner's creating mode, T.S. Eliot's story, or Balenciaga's high fashion, Mark Twain's story telling, Victor Hugo's intellectuals and Picasso's morals - I've never come across these lives or these aspects of their lives before)

But, tsk, I feel like sometimes there's too much praising in grand words without pointing out really anything - kind of showing off... or sometimes quite strong bias which is not concealed with enough humor
May 14, 2007 Caroline rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Paul Johnson is definitely Old School. He takes the kind of Eurocentric position in praising his chosen list of the greatest creative geniuses of all time (n.b. Jane Austen is the only woman to make the list and all are European or American) that academics of the current generation chomp at the bit to pick apart and ridicule. That said, it was nice reading little snippets about such diverse "creators," from Chaucer to Walt Disney.
Jul 29, 2008 Allison rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Only 50 pages into it... but already have amassed a ridiculous stockpile of dinner-party-trivia. His writing style is a bit disappointing, I'll be frank. Is it really so scholarly to insist that everyone/everything is 'undoubtedly the best that ever was' or 'without question the most gifted pioneer the world has ever produced?'

A bit much, sir. But well-researched.
Ezra Hood
Jun 20, 2008 Ezra Hood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm taking this one in chapters, mostly at random. I haven't gotten them all yet, but I like the essays. The Picasso one was incredibly revealing-- I don't feel bad for hating his "art" anymore! Nor do I feel sheepish about loving some of Disney's classics, especially Mary Poppins.
Jan 24, 2011 Susanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2011, history, culture
A very insightful book covering a vast range of "creators". Some chapters were very interesting and enjoyable to me, others much less. Oddly enough that is not due to my interest in the particular art form, or lack thereof. A book worth reading, or picking out the gems!
Sep 08, 2012 Andrew rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting light reading, like listening to the musings and reminiscences of an old man of culture and experience, who enjoys gossiping about interesting people and topics. I appreciated learning about a number of creative greats about whom I knew very little.
Good overview of the creators profiled. Particularly enjoyed the Balenciaga and Dior section. The "chatty" and overly personal style ("when I met [this person's friend:] I found him to be blah blah blab....") was distracting at times.
Jan 21, 2013 Josh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Good book, with some interesting observations. By necessity the bios are short, but informative. Would have liked more of Johnson's own analysis of his characters. In the places in which he did speak, he was very thought-provoking.
Jul 02, 2011 Brandt rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Profiles of interesting people and interesting info about each delivered in a very uninteresting manner. Johnson is a bit too infatuated with the White Male Prerogative and his own wordy prose to find this book enjoyable.
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Paul Johnson works as a historian, journalist and author. He was educated at Stonyhurst School in Clitheroe, Lancashire and Magdalen College, Oxford, and first came to prominence in the 1950s as a journalist writing for, and later editing, the New Statesman magazine. He has also written for leading newspapers and magazines in Britain, the US and Europe.

Paul Johnson has published over 40 books incl
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“When he realized that his sexual potency had gone, he said bitterly to his son Claude: “I am old and you are young. I wish you were dead.” His last years were punctuated by family quarrels over his money. His demise was followed by many years of ferocious litigation. Marie-Thérèse hanged herself. His widow shot herself. His eldest child died of alcoholism. Some of his mistresses died in want. Picasso, an atheist transfixed by primitive superstitions, who had his own barber so that no one could collect clippings of his hair and so “get control” of him by magic,” 0 likes
“Chaucer saw French and Italian poetry not so much as models to imitate but as verbal shop windows from which he could steal words that as yet had no English equivalents. He thus added over 1,000 words to our language—that is, these words cannot be found in earlier writers.21 They included these: jubilee, administration, secret, voluptuousness, novelty, digestion, persuasion, erect, moisture, galaxy, philosophical, policy, tranquillity. These are mostly polysyllabic, weighty words, used by scholars and professional men.” 0 likes
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