The Creators

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The Creators
Boorstin creators.jpg
AuthorDaniel Boorstin
Cover artistBernard Klein
CountryUnited States
PublisherRandom House
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardcover)
ISBN0-394-54395-5 (hbk)
909 20
LC ClassCB69 .B65 1992
Preceded byThe Discoverers 
Followed byThe Seekers 

The Creators is a non-fiction work of cultural history by Daniel Boorstin published in 1992 and is the second volume in what has become known as the Knowledge Trilogy. It was preceded by The Discoverers and succeeded by The Seekers.


The Creators, subtitled A History of Heroes of the Imagination, is the story of mankind's creativity. It highlights great works of art, music and literature but it is more than a recitation or list. It is a book of ideas and the people behind those ideas. It encompasses architecture, music, literature, painting, sculpture, the performing arts, theater, religious expression and philosophy. It can be viewed as a companion to The Discoverers which chronicled the history of invention, exploration and technology. The Creators traces the creative process from pre-history Egypt to modern times and like The Discoverers, follows both a topical and chronological structure. Boorstin writes in "A Personal Note to the Reader", "After The Discoverers... "I was more than ever convinced that the pursuit of knowledge is only one path to human fulfillment. This companion book, also a view from the literate West, is a saga of Heroes of the Imagination. While The Discoverers told of the conquest of illusions - the illusion of knowledge - this will be a story of vision (and illusions) newly created..." If The Discoverers is the story of the inventive human mind then The Creators is the story of the searching soul. The work is in twelve major parts that have been grouped into four books.

The Riddle of Creation: Prologue[edit]

Part I. "Worlds Without Beginning"

Part II. "A Creator God"

Book One: Creator Man[edit]

Part III. "The Power of the Stone"

Part IV. "The Magic of Images"

Part V. "The Immortal Word"

Book Two: Re-creating the World[edit]

Part VI. "Otherworldly Elements"

Part VII. "The Human Comedy: A Composite Work"

Part VIII. "From Craftsman to Artist"

Part IX. "Composing for the Community"

Part X. "Conjuring with Time and Space"

Book Three: Creating the Self[edit]

Part XI: "The Vanguard Word"

Part XII. "The Wilderness Within"

Praise and criticism[edit]

The Creators was widely praised by both professional and non-professional readers but had its share of critics. It has been criticized for factual mistakes, poor research, literary ignorance, incorrect conclusions, a bias toward Western culture to the exclusion of other cultures, a tendency to overlook the negative and lack of attribution.[1] Kenneth S. Lynn, a Harvard professor of history, accused Boorstin of philosophical bias and blatant myth-making. He has been called superficial because his works are popular with the general public.[2]

Writing style and themes[edit]

Boorstin follows the pattern he established in the previous book, The Discoverers. The book is built around the lives and contributions of individuals. These vignettes are the anchor of the work and reflects the author's belief that history is molded by men and women of daring and genius rather than ideological movements or academic theories. The subtitles in all three books of the Knowledge Trilogy pay homage to this idea. The trail of personal vignettes stretches from Confucius to Pope Gregory I to Bach to Mozart to Dostoyevsky - a panorama of creators. Boorstin also adheres to an incremental approach to history. Although genius is unpredictable, it still builds upon the accomplishments of those who came before. Repeatedly Boorstin links changes in the way we view ourselves to artistic and creative changes.

The Question of Western culture[edit]

Boorstin announces in his "Note to the Reader" (above) that he approaches the subject from a Western orientation. His concern is not strictly identifying great creators and their creations but also asking "Why?" and this question forms the basis of his Western orientation. Why were European painting styles and techniques in constant flux while China's remained relatively unchanged? Why did music acquire polyphony and instrumentation and evolve into a myriad of related "styles" while Indian music saw little evolution? Why did architecture undergo such radical transformation in the West? Why did Europe become the land of literacy and books? These question led Boorstin to certain proposals.

He suggests that "people of the Book" (Jews and Christians) came to view themselves in a different light than other cultures. Their belief in a Creator God led them to view human creation as participating in God's creation. As their God created, so did they also. They became a creative people, scrutinizing, questioning and imagining.[3] Other cultures had moments of creative impulses but the idea of creativity for its own sake was not sustained. Other cultures, for other reasons, declined the creative road. Hinduism viewed the universe and our lives as cyclic, having no beginning, ending only when we merged with the Oneness and escaped this world.[4] Buddhism did not ask "Why" but instead preached submissive acceptance of our lot in life.[5] Confucianism concerned itself not with ultimate questions about God and the universe but with rules for practical, daily life.[6] Although China had an ancient painting tradition, the intertwining of calligraphy with art as well the codification of the rules for painting resulted in an unchanging, static style.[7] Islam held that Allah alone was Creator and claiming an act of creation was considered heretical.[8] The Koran itself was not considered a document penned by Muhammed but a sacred text created at the beginning of time.[9] Islam went so far as to ban the display of the human image which had dire consequences for the development of painting, sculpture, photography and much of the performing arts in the Islamic world.

With the rest of the world thus discussed, Boorstin begins his journey with the first Western state, Greece. The Homeric poems of the Gods, recited so often, became theater when participants and spectators separated.[10] Greece initiated the cultural patterns that persist and define the Western world - dance, theater, poetry, sports, sculpture, literature, architecture, philosophy and democracy. At some point they began asking and attempting to answer fundamental questions about the world and themselves. When Europe rediscovered the writings of Greek philosophers, an artistic Renaissance exploded upon the scene. Along the way, the reader is introduced to a pantheon of heroes of the imagination - Moses, Plato, Aristotle, Paul of Tarsus, Dante, Michelangelo, Dostoyevsky...all of whom advocated the free pursuit of learning. Boorstin considers this pursuit fundamental to Western culture.

Although the focus is on the West, references to other cultures are included. The chapter "The Road Not Taken: The Japanese Triumph of Wood", is devoted to Japanese architecture. Chinese art and the reasons for its unchanging nature over time are discussed in "The Painted Word: The Inward Path of Tao". Islam, its art and attitudes toward art, are featured in "Satan's Handiwork".

The impact of literature[edit]

Literature and its development comprises a major portion of the book. This reflects the high regard in which Boorstin held the written word. He has stated that the book is the greatest technological invention of all time.[11] He suggests that literary evolution both changed and reflected new ways of thinking about the self. Indeed, literature was the driving force behind changes in personal perspectives starting (once again) with Greece. In another reference to incrementalism he traces the path from writing to religious poetry, the two being intertwined. Boorstin suggests that poetry in both form and substance was written to remember. Prose, a new form of literature, emerged and with it the theater. The play was transformed from a religious exercise to a creative one that saw the appearance of comedy, drama and tragedy. Because prose was not in a form that made for easy memorization, a greater imagination was required by the author. The theater served those purposes admirably and Greeks both loved and excelled at the performing arts.[12] The spectators who viewed these works began asking the same questions and changing their perspective.[13]

The introduction of prose also led to education and the areas of study became the foundation of a Classical education to this day - rhetoric, logic, grammar, astronomy, mathematics and philosophy. The latter existed because of the skeptical nature of some Greek thinkers who dared to ask why; it could only exist because of prose. Boorstin proposes that prose also encouraged the development of democracy by inviting participation from the citizenry. Other literary forms rose. The epic and its tales of gods and heroes and their great deeds continued, although somewhat abated. History as story began with Herodotus (fifth century BC) and The Histories. But it was the novel, what Boorstin calls "re-creating life out of life",[14] that democratized literature. The novel inspired new ways of thinking about ourselves and our world and the forms created were revelations to the Western mind - the essay, the biography, stories of our own feelings and views,[15] adventure tales and streams of consciousness in which time itself is manipulated. The author had finally discovered the self as a resource of art, the internal rather than the external universe serving as the source of inspiration.[16]

Other creations[edit]

Boorstin places the origins of Western music in the liturgy of the Catholic Church. The early practice of congregational singing of psalms (adopted from Judaism) ceased with the introduction of the choir. This institution gave rise to the Gregorian chant and one of the most important creations in music, polyphony, still the hallmark of Western music.[17] Over time, the emphasis within Music turned to the instruments rather than the human voice. Again, a change in attitude allowed the new event. Up to this time Church leaders had looked askance upon "wordless" music but the Reformation induced a change of assumptions. From Bach, the acceleration of instrument creation led to yet another peculian Western invention, the orchestra. Boorstin demonstrates repeatedly how one creation led to another and another. The concerto and symphony were created and opera caused a sensation. Music moved out of the palace into the concert hall for the masses.[18] Music continued to evolve and new forms like atonality were heard in the rush to be creative and innovative.[19]

As an example of megalithic architecture, Boorstin selects Stonehenge.[20] The Pyramids of ancient Egypt ("Castles of Eternity") and the famous architecture of Greece ("Temples of Community") precede the work of the Romans. Concrete, the dome, the arch, one creation after another change the physical shells that gather and protect us. The final evolution of grand architecture, the skyscraper, gives us the architect as hero.


  1. ^ Michael Dirda, Culture's Greatest Hits
  2. ^ The National Book Foundation
  3. ^ The Creators, "The Intimate God of Moses"
  4. ^ The Creators, "The Dazzled Vision of the Hindus"
  5. ^ The Creators, "The Silence of the Buddha"
  6. ^ The Creators, "The Indifference of Confucius"
  7. ^ The Creators, "The Painted Word: The Inward Path of Tao"
  8. ^ The Creators, "Satan's Handiwork"
  9. ^ The Creators, "The Uncreated Koran"
  10. ^ The Creators, "The Homeric Scriptures of the Greeks"
  11. ^ The New Atlantis - A Journal of Technology and Society
  12. ^ The Creators, "The Arts of Prose and Persuasion"
  13. ^ The Creators, "The Mirror of Comedy"
  14. ^ The Creators, "Adventures in Madness"
  15. ^ The Creators, "Songs of the Self"
  16. ^ The Creators, "Journey to the Interior"
  17. ^ The Creators, "The Music of the Word"
  18. ^ The Creators, "The Music of Instruments, From Court to Concert"
  19. ^ The Creators, "The Music of Innovation"
  20. ^ The Creators, "The Mystery of Megaliths"

External links[edit]