In his book INTELLECTUALS (1988) Paul Johnson asked whether intellectuals were morally fit to give advice to humanity (no, was the usual answer). In contrast, this book is about the creative and heroic side of outstanding individuals. There are many themes but no typical creator. Courage is always required, and self-confidence. Some never lacked recognition or sales, like Turner and Victor Hugo, Picasso and Durer. For others, like Bach or Jane Austen, the scale of their achievement was unrecognised in their lifetime. Luck can play a crucial part - as in Worsdworth's meeting with Coleridge and T.S. Eliot's with Ezra Pound (Eliot needed strong martinis too). Ruthlessness is important too - Mark Twain was not even his own pseudonym, he pinched it from another Mississippi-pilot-turned-writer who he savaged so severely he gave up writing. If there is no one typical creator, there is a common theme: putting excellence before any other consideration. Walt Disney and Christian Dior did this in their own way as surely as Chaucer or Shakespeare, William Morris or Turner.
Paul Johnson was born in 1928. He edited the New Statesman in the 1960s and has written over forty books. His Modern Times, a history of the world from the 1920s to the 1990s, has been translated into more than fifteen languages. As well as a weekly column in the Spectator, he contributes to newspapers all over the world.