In the early 1960s, the Soviet Union tried to make a version of Silicon Valley from scratch. A city called Zelenograd came to life on the outskirts of Moscow and was populated with all manner of brainy Soviet engineers.
The hope — naturally — was that a concentration of clever minds coupled with ample funding would result in a wellspring of innovation and help Russia keep pace with California’s electronics boom. The experiment worked as well as one might expect. Few people will read this on a Mayakovsky-branded tablet or smartphone.
Many similar attempts have been made in the subsequent decades to replicate Silicon Valley and its abundance of creativity and ingenuity. Such efforts have largely failed. It seems near impossible to will an exceptional place into being or to manufacture the conditions that lead to an outpouring of genius.
Undeterred by such realities, Eric Weiner has embarked on a hunt for the underlying recipe behind some of the world’s most productive and influential cities.
In “The Geography of Genius: A Search for the World’s Most Creative Places From Ancient Athens to Silicon Valley,” he takes the reader on a historical travelogue, examining Athens and Silicon Valley along with Hangzhou, Florence, Edinburgh, Calcutta and Vienna. In each case, Weiner attempts to explain the unique circumstances that led to one spot’s rise as a superpower of ideas and then to find the common ground linking them together.
Weiner, a former international correspondent for National Public Radio, has once again turned to the mix of humor, on-the-ground reporting and sociological study that served him well previously in “The Geography of Bliss.” He travels to the cities and conducts his analysis of genius by spending a few weeks chatting up locals, while also turning to historical texts and psychological research.
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