Joshua Wolf Shenk offers an intriguing look at the nature of creative partnerships in Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. His subjects range from the musical (Lennon and McCartney) to the scientific (Watson and Crick), from the literary (Melville and Hawthorne) to the technical (Jobs and Wozniak). From these dozens of case studies, Shenk synthesizes the patterns. What happens when creative pairs meet? (Hint: It’s often like falling in love.) When does the really good work get going? Why do such partnerships often end?

There’s a certain gossipy pleasure in learning the backstory of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album or details about the sex life of Marie and Paul Curie. But the book distinguishes itself by explaining how the beguiling quirks of a few famous people reveal larger patterns in how innovation happens. Creative advancement is always tied up in the social. Everyone—from ballet dancers to physicists—finds critical peers whose presence makes their work stronger, better and more complete. (J.R.R. Tolkien said that he never would have finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy without C.S. Lewis’ constant prodding.)

Shenk further enriches his narrative by introducing academic research so interesting you will want to bring it up at the dinner table. (Did you know that we match our voices to each other in conversation—and the more passive partner will match the dominant partner’s pitch?) Powers of Two is a book that will capture readers’ imaginations from the opening pages and help us to see our world—and the most important people in our lives—differently

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