The Atlantic's Annual Ideas Issue: How Genius Happens

The theme of The Atlantic's annual Ideas issue this year (July/August 2014) is creativity, under the banner "How Genius Happens." In this, one of our largest issues of the year, writers explore the secrets of extraordinarily creative brains; debunk the myth of the lone genius in favor of the creative duo; and reveal the surprising origin stories behind everything from Google Glass and a Beyoncé music video to The Sun Also Rises and Taco Bell's Doritos Locos Taco. The issue features three commissioned covers, each depicting a different aspect of creativity, and illustrated by the incredible talents of Shepard Fairey—who renders the Beatles' John Lennon and Paul McCartney—Geoff McFetridge, and Eddie Opara. The issue is now available online.

The July/August double issue is released during the 10th annual Aspen Ideas Festival, a partnership between The Atlantic and the Aspen Institute spotlighting today's leading thinkers across a series of interviews, panels, and presentations in Aspen, Colorado. The Atlantic will continue its annual multimedia dispatch from the festival, covering sessions and related news in an Ideas Report, available now. More than a dozen Atlantic editors are speaking or moderating conversations during this year's event. Live streams of select sessions are available at and Follow the conversation via @AspenIdeas, @TheAtlantic, and @Atlantic_LIVE, and with #AspenIdeas. For more, visit

Cover Story: Secrets of the Creative Brain
If high IQ does not indicate creative genius, then where does the trait come from, and why is it so often accompanied by mental illness? The latest research by the neuroscientist and literary scholar Nancy C. Andreasen comes closer to answering this question than has any other work to date. Over decades at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Andreasen has worked with many gifted subjects, including Kurt Vonnegut, John Irving, and John Cheever, from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her career has focused on the neuroscience of mental illness and, in recent decades, on what she calls "the science of genius, trying to discern what combination of elements tend to produce particularly creative brains." Andreasen is now halfway through a second creativity study, working with artists and scientists including George Lucas, the mathematician William Thurston, the novelist Jane Smiley, and six Nobel laureates. As she relates, her findings reveal much about how these brilliant minds work. Read more.

Cover Story: The Power of Two
Though we fetishize the lone genius, many great achievements hinge on creative partnerships—as the unforgettable case of John Lennon and Paul McCartney makes clear. In an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Joshua Wolf Shenk uses the famed Lennon-McCartney songwriting team to debunk this myth. Tense and competitive? Fiery and sometimes dysfunctional? Sure. But it was this tension, this periodic unpleasantness, that produced some of the most tremendous music of all time. Read more.

Cover Story: The Creative Process
"How do you make a computer that people will want to wear on their face?" / "Linklater wanted the movie to 'unfold like a memory,' in a series of small, almost banal moments." / "In one early attempt, they reportedly used a paint gun from Home Depot to blast plain tortilla shells with cheesy dust."

Google Glass. Boyhood, the film-festival favorite directed by Richard Linklater, shot over 12 years using the same actors. The Doritos Locos Taco. All have origin stories. To understand the creative process, our editors—led by Associate Editor Sarah Yager—asked people in diverse fields about the inspiration for and evolution of their work. The collection also examines the "illustrated documentaries" of the artist Wendy MacNaughton; the making of the music video for Beyoncé's single "Flawless," as described by her creative director; and Singapore's fusion of art, ecology, and engineering to create "supertrees." Read more.


  • After Karzai: Some 12 years after taking office, Afghanistan's outgoing president, Hamid Karzai, will leave his successor a legacy of genuine progress—but little power to maintain it. Mujib Mashal, writing from Kabul, details what, aside from survival, has motivated Karzai, and what has constrained him. Mashal interviews Karzai about leadership and legacy, and describes a man relaxed and confident of a smooth transition of power, while seething with anger at American officials for what he describes as their betrayal. The West, Karzai tells Mashal, "wanted me weak, and in conflict with the rest of the leadership of the country." Western leaders, he says, "wanted an isolated president, a president they could use." Read more.
  • Why Are All the Cartoon Mothers Dead?: "Bambi's mother, shot. Nemo's mother, eaten by a barracuda. Lilo's mother, killed in a car crash ... Human baby's mother in Ice Age, chased by a saber-toothed tiger over a waterfall." The dead-mother plot is a classic of children's fiction, but contributor Sarah Boxer ponders the new twist in animated movies: the fun father has taken mom's place. Animated fathers have it all! They are the perfect parent, a lovely catch, a "protector and playmate, comforter and buddy, mother and father." Boxer explains why this trend persists, and asks whether it matters. Read more.

From Dispatches:

  • Why Marijuana Should Be Legal, and Expensive: This month's Chartist makes the case for the legalization of pot, at a cost. As the drug becomes more mainstream, Associate Editor Olga Khazan questions whether there is a way to simultaneously raise its price, "to let adults toke while keeping marijuana out of the hands of high-schoolers." Read more.
  • How You'll Get Organized: National Correspondent James Fallows asks five tech entrepreneurs and experts to speculate about the future of personal-info technology, "especially whether the race for mastery of one's own data might someday seem winnable." Their collective refrain: We've been through the worst. The future puts people back in control. Read more.
  • The Most Modern Curator: Staff writer Megan Garber spends time with Paola Antonelli, a prominent and provocative curator at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Antonelli has put a mine detonator, a vial of sweat, and Pac-Man in MoMA. Some in the art world aren't pleased. Read more.
  • The Great Secession: Faced with sweeping social change, conservative Christians are walling themselves off from secular society—business owners have declined to provide services to those who don't share their beliefs, and insurance with contraception options to their employees. But when religion isolates itself, both sides lose, writes Jonathan Rauch. Read more.
  • The End of the Internet?: "If the Internet were a country, its economy would be among the five largest in the world," writes Gordon M. Goldstein. But rising geopolitical conflict over control of this global network threatens to splinter the system. Read more.

The Culture File and Essay:

  • Out and About in Israel: In Travel, entertainment editor, Spencer Kornhaber, embarks on a LGBTQ tour of Israel, part of the Taglit-Birthright program established by philanthropists and the Israeli government to bring Jews to the Holy Land. He finds "the straightness of Jerusalem" visible and hard to ignore: few gay bars, a park where closeted Hasidic men cruise, and blatant stares when two female tourists hold hands. Does this nation have identity issues? Read more.
  • The Twee Revolution: Wes Anderson. Zooey Deschanel. Belle and Sebastian. Depending on your taste, the aforementioned may be endearing and adorable in their quirkiness, or maddeningly irritating. Cultural critic James Parker charts the rise of Twee, which he calls "a terrifying aesthetic overtaking America." Reviewing a new book on Tweedom by the Spin writer Marc Spitz, Parker remarks: "Spitz describes Twee as a 'revolution.' A gentle one, to be sure, but revolution is revolution ... Have we lit the fuse of a transformative explosion on the twinkling tips of Brooklyn mustaches?" Read more.

Finally, the back-page Big Question asks: "Which animal has most changed the course of history?" Vying to be top dog: Colo, the first gorilla born into human care; mockingbirds from the Galapagos; Martha, the last known passenger pigeon; and earthworms.

These articles and more are featured in the July/August 2014 issue of The Atlantic, available today, June 26, 2014, on and The Atlantic's mobile apps, and on newsstands next week.

Media Relations Contact:
Anna Bross
The Atlantic
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