by Samuel W. Franklin
University of Chicago Press, 2023
Cloth: 978-0-226-65785-1 | Paper: 978-0-226-83670-6 | eISBN: 978-0-226-65799-8
Library of Congress Classification BF408.F68 2023
Dewey Decimal Classification 153.35

A history of how, in the mid-twentieth century, we came to believe in the concept of creativity. Named a best book of 2023 by the New Yorker and a notable book of 2023 by Behavioral Scientist.  

Creativity is one of American society’s signature values, but the idea that there is such a thing as “creativity”—and that it can be cultivated—is surprisingly recent, entering our everyday speech in the 1950s. As Samuel W. Franklin reveals, postwar Americans created creativity, through campaigns to define and harness the power of the individual to meet the demands of American capitalism and life under the Cold War. Creativity was championed by a cluster of professionals—psychologists, engineers, and advertising people—as a cure for the conformity and alienation they feared was stifling American ingenuity. It was touted as a force of individualism and the human spirit, a new middle-class aspiration that suited the needs of corporate America and the spirit of anticommunism.
Amid increasingly rigid systems, creativity took on an air of romance; it was a more democratic quality than genius, but more rarified than mere intelligence. The term eluded clear definition, allowing all sorts of people and institutions to claim it as a solution to their problems, from corporate dullness to urban decline. Today, when creativity is constantly sought after, quantified, and maximized, Franklin’s eye-opening history of the concept helps us to see what it really is, and whom it really serves.