Claudia Kalb Spark: How Genius Ignites, from Child Prodigies to Late Bloomers




Claudia Kalb
National Geographic Books; April 27, 2021; $27.00
ISBN-10: 1426220936, ISBN-13: 9781426220937

Kalb reports:

My book explores moments of inspiration in the lives of 13 great achievers in a variety of fields, from Yo-Yo Ma and Isaac Newton to Julia Child, Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Alexander Fleming. Through a mix of biography, brain science, and psychology, I explore several overarching questions: What are the origins of genius? How do luck, failure, personality, and serendipity play into the arc of discovery? And why do some people reach extraordinary heights early in life while others achieve greatness decades later?

Claudia Kalb

Claudia Kalb

I’m lucky to have a wonderful partnership with my editor, Hilary Black, at National Geographic Books. After my first book, Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, came out in 2016, Hilary and I began brainstorming ideas for a second. I loved the format of Andy Warhol—a series of biographies seen through the lens of human behavior—and wanted to delve deeper into subjects I had started writing about for National Geographic: creativity, inspiration, and moments of discovery.

I have long been fascinated by when and how people discover the thing they love best. I spent months researching prospective profiles, trimming my list into a proposal, and planning reporting trips that would be funded by my advance. Thankfully, my research and travel took place pre-pandemic, allowing me to visit the places that have sparked great ideas. Among them: Picasso’s childhood town of Málaga, Spain; Newton’s bedroom at Woolsthorpe Manor near Grantham, England; Fleming’s lab in London, where he discovered penicillin; and Roosevelt’s Val-Kill cottage in Hyde Park, NY.

My advice for aspiring writers is to have faith in your ideas and make time to walk or run or swim. Don’t rush to write; let your brain do its work of filtering and digesting ideas. If you have a family and your topic allows, consider combining reporting trips with vacation. This gives everyone the chance to learn and makes book-writing a far less solitary pursuit. Take advantage of opportunities to attend talks and events that have nothing to do with your subject—your mind will stretch. And always, always, make one more phone call.

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Apr. 28, 2021

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

NASW members: Will your book be published soon? Visit to submit your report.

Publication of NASW members' reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

Drexel online MS in Strategic & Digital Communication

NIH Genomics and the Media Seminar Series