Weekend Picks: Insightful Books About Tragic Geniuses

We often admire people with extraordinary gifts, those whom society often deems geniuses for their contributions to the progress of mankind. Among such path-finding minds are Nicola Tesla, Albert Einstein, and Mozart. However, there have also been geniuses who did not have the best interests of humanity in mind. In other words, they were dark personalities with tragic endings to their lives. The books which we have selected for you this week serve to remind us that great knowledge is not always put to a good use, and could be more of a curse than a blessing.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

When you read this book, one question will nag at you constantly: is this novel devoted to a genius or to a madman? Was Grenouille, the main protagonist in the novel, a psycho, a maniac, or a genius inventor? After reading this novel you might come to the conclusion that he was a great man who was born at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

Grenouille is an extraordinary perfume-maker who has an extremely sensitive sense of smell, and who is possessed by the idea of conquering the whole world with his irresistible perfumes. However, the trouble with his ambition is the fact that he was born out of a promiscuous romantic affair between two irresponsible young people; he miraculously managed to survive after being left in a pile of garbage and grew up to become a total misfit. He is alone among thousands of people, none of whom had even tried to explain the single most essential concept to him: what is good and what is evil.

A tragic concatenation of circumstances, the cruel silence of the world, and a cold indifference to those who live right by your side – all these factors facilitate the transformation of geniuses into maniacs who are willing to do unimaginably atrocious things just to get a smidgen of attention from other people. The man who had unparalleled talent and skills, the man who achieved a stunning breakthrough in the art of perfume making, the man who is capable of controlling people with the scents he has created, that man is wasting his life by engaging in a pathetic imitation – the imitation of scents which leads to his ultimate ruin as an artist and as a human being.

It would be unfair to put all the blame on Grenouille for the crimes he’s committed. One simple fact serves as proof of his innocence: one’s place in society determines consciousness and not the other way around. It remains to be speculated whether Grenouille would have become an acknowledged genius, the god of perfumery, if he had been born a couple of centuries later. Many geniuses have not received the recognition they deserved during their lifetimes, and great many were perceived as lunatics. Some readers may find this story sad, others may feel disgusted, but Perfume will leave no one feeling untouched and indifferent.

Genius by Theodore Dreiser

Genius is a semi-autobiographic novel, and like all other autobiographic novels, it is saturated with the personal feelings and emotions of the author. It describes life, with its exacerbating domestic squabbles, and delivers a completely unexpected and tragic ending. It is an usual story about an unusual young man who decides to make his way to stardom with the help of a brush. His thorny path to success is filled with the powerful emotional upheavals of a sensual and slightly fanatical soul. 

Eugene Witla is a kind-hearted admirer of women and a promising painter from the small town of Alexandria, Illinois. He never thought of himself as a man who would be able to achieve any success, because his life in such a backward town promised to be nothing more than dull and unpromising. But he finds the courage to make a life-changing step and to move to Chicago. At first, he does all kinds of jobs just to make a living, but one day destiny offers him a chance to change everything for the better. His artistic talent is noticed, and Eugene plunges into a relentless cycle of painting. However, his style is rather unusual: his paintings depict the other side of the life of the big city, a side which consists of poverty and misery. Nevertheless, Eugene manages to find beauty even in the gruesome environments that he paints. Eugene Witla gradually becomes one of the most recognized names in artistic circles in America. The young man is basking in early fame and then, after paying a visit to his hometown, decides to marry a girl named Anna. They seem happy at first, but after a period of time, Eugene notices that he is overwhelmed with feelings for other women. Loving only Anna is not enough for him. Thus starts the personal crisis of the young and immensely talented artist that leads to many love affairs and endless self-chastising. This book is not about the great achievements of an extraordinary person, it is about the inner experiences and turmoils which are intrinsic to common people and geniuses alike.

The Invisible Man by Herbert Wells

It was the dawn of the 20th century when H. G. Wells, a founding father of modern science fiction, created an immortal literary masterpiece about an extraordinary power which is acquired through a mind-blowing scientific experiment. John Griffin is a bright scientist who is, like many other geniuses, is suffering from sociophobia and psychological instability.

“Alone – it is wonderful how little a man can do alone! To rob a little, to hurt a little, and there is the end.” 

John Griffin invents a medicine that makes the human blood colorless, thus turning the person treated invisible. He is desperately short of money, but he manages to rent an apartment where he continues his experiments. Finally, John decides to inject the potion into his own body, and after having gone through a painful transformation process, he becomes totally invisible. Soon he starts to exploit his new ability to the full, but it does not bring him any happiness.

“I went over the heads of the things a man reckons desirable. No doubt invisibility made it possible to get them, but it made it impossible to enjoy them when they are got.” 

The mad scientist dreams of creating a superior race of invisible people who will rule the world. Herbert Wells created a perfect image of an evil genius, whose inflamed mind is brooding over plans about world domination and oppression. 

“I was invisible, and I was only just beginning to realize the extraordinary advantage my invisibility gave me. My head was already teeming with plans of all the wild and wonderful things I now had impunity to do.”

The Invisible Man has a deep philosophical side to it. The image of the invisible man is just a metaphor for the silent sociopaths who are living among us; it shows what could happen if a bitter person managed to obtain an extraordinary power.  

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