The Genius in Chief

To read books seriously is to be staggered by the knowledge of how many more books will remain beyond your ken. It’s like looking up at the star-filled sky.

This is James Fallows, in an article on how people who really are intellectually talented have one thing in common: they are perceptive about their own limits. And therefore don’t talk about themselves, or their talent, in remotely the manner of our reigning “stable genius” Mr. Cheesepuff.

I would add only that the term genius is massively over-used in this context anyway. Jobs and Musk (and Fallows’s example, the Chinese girl who become women’s world chess champion at 16) are talented, but the word genius is best reserved for people who re-think for us the most genuinely fundamental assumptions of an entire field: Galileo in mechanics, Darwin in natural science, Descartes or Hume in philosophy, Shakespeare or Austen or maybe James Joyce in fiction. (Cicero or Lincoln in statecraft?) For reasons that remain obscure, even most people in the IQ’s high aristocracy, the 1% of 1%, never approach that level of achievement.