In this book, Weiner explores what it was that made certain times and places in history home to out-pourings of genius. Starting with ancient Athens, then moving on through places including Florence in the Renaissance, Calcutta and Vienna and ending in current day Silicon Valley.
In each place and time, Weiner combines a description of its history, how the city is in modern times, and the results of more general published research on the topic of creativity and genius to explore the type of genius that was there, and what factors may have contributed to it.
His findings include the importance of constraints and disorder in producing creativity, and the role of networks and mentors in encouraging genius. He also looks at why these remarkable periods end, and often finds over-indulgence a primary cause, such as when Athens started to engage in private wealth and luxury, rather than putting the interest of the city first, and so marking the turning point in the decline of the city.
There are times in the book where Weiner is disappointing, such as leaving a concert in Vienna early because he was tired of standing, where you feel he could make more effort to experience and grow for his sake and the sake of the book. But generally he presents a well researched and entertaining history.