Last time I checked Amazon, there were 13K hits on “Creativity” and none of us is going to live long enough to read them all. I’ve taken a pretty good run at it, though, and I may be able to save the rest of you some time. Here’s some of the best and most useful writing about creative practice.
These books aren’t all trying to do the same things, and they’re not written for the same audiences. However, they all pass my three strict tests:
- Good value. These books are worth your time. They are packed with useful insights and exercises, or explain things in fresh ways.
- Good science. Most of these are popular mainstream publications you might find in an airport bookshop, but their insights are consistent with scholarly research into the psychology of creativity.
- Good creativity. Even the most dense academic works resonate with real-world creative experience in the arts and the sciences, in studios and garages, amongst elite veterans and emerging practitioners.
If you only have time for one book on creativity, I say it’s one of these:
- Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation
- Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life (see also, The Collaborative Habit)
- David Bayles’ and Ted Orland’s Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
- Joshua Wolf Shenks’ Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs
- Austin Kleon’s Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
- Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way
- Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die
- Keith Sawyer’s Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity
- Roger von Oech’s A Whack on the Side of the Head: How You Can Be More Creative
- Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques
- Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention
- Shelley Carson’s Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life (no relation)
- Tina Seelig’s inGenius: Unleash Your Creativity to Transform Obstacles into Opportunities
- James C. Kaufman’s and Robert J. Sternberg’s The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity
My recommended reading list changes as I discover new titles or find that an old favourite doesn’t hold up well any more, but if I’ve suggested something to you in a recent chat or class, it’s probably linked here.