Reading THE CREATORS is a little like playing Trivial Pursuit using only the Arts and Entertainment questions. The real joy of reading Daniel Boorstin’s compact history of art from the beginning of time is the undignified self-satisfaction one gets from finding out how much one already knows. There is, however, much to be gleaned from Boorstin’s well-researched biography of genius. It cannot be called exhaustive, but it is concise in most of its brief portraits and vast in its breadth.
Considering the mercurial nature of his subject — heroes of the imagination — Boorstin’s presentation is relatively dry and conspicuously unphilosophical. A passionate approach would certainly have resulted in a more provocative book. Boorstin’s strength, however, is in allowing his subjects to be interesting in their own right, aided only by the author’s elegant style and guided by his economical purpose. THE CREATORS does not give any overriding theory of creative power. Each of its heroes defiantly declares the true inspiration and purpose of art, each contradicting all the others, and each — for himself — correct.
THE CREATORS is an ambitious history in a single, albeit huge, volume. In seventy chapters it offers thumbnail histories of Buddhism and Confucianism, of homeric Greece and Nero’s Rome; of the Church; of Leonardo and Michelangelo; of Dante and Dickens; of the skyscraper and the camera. There are hits, such as the chapters on ancient Egypt and Miguel de Cervantes, and misses, such as the strangely unmusical depiction of Mozart. Nevertheless, for a quick spin through the world of creative men (with Virginia Woolf thrown in for a balanced presentation), THE CREATORS is an engaging read.