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Book and Media Reviews
June 20, 2007

Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven

Author Affiliations

Book and Media Reviews Section Editor: John L. Zeller, MD, PhD, Fishbein Fellow.

JAMA. 2007;297(23):2641-2645. doi:10.1001/jama.297.23.2643

Genius. How can we explain it? How do we define it? How does illness impact it? Maybe a genius is that rare someone smarter than you. Or an individual with raw intellectual power—say, an IQ greater than 160. Perhaps a genius is a person with a single extraordinary talent whose “product” is novel, useful, and enduring. Even if we cannot agree on the exact definition of a genius, most of us would still recognize one. Diagnosing Genius: The Life and Death of Beethoven is an intriguing biography of a remarkably gifted and troubled man whose deafness and depression did not prevent his ascent to the stature of musical genius and icon. Written by a professor of psychiatry who happens to be a pianist, Diagnosing Genius addresses 3 main topics: Beethoven's personal life, the uncertainty surrounding his declining health and death, and the link between creativity and illness.