Wilbur and Orville Wright test fly a 1901 glider.
Joshua Wolf Shenk’s new book, completely fascinating and a safe indoor sport for any number of parlor players, is called Powers of Two. The core idea is that the creative spark that rules our lives — in music, comedy, sports, even scientific discovery — is not a single flame, it’s almost always a pair of creators sparking off each other. Whether you’re talking about Watson and Crick, Gilbert and a Sullivan, Bird and Magic, or the Wright Brothers—it takes two.
These pairs fall into several archetypes, Shenk says, including “the dreamer and the doer.” Such a pair might be the ideal-driven tech entrepreneur Steve Jobs and the practical-minded engineer Steve Wozniak. Or there’s “the liquid and the container,” typified by John Lennon and Paul McCartney—a boundlessly energetic, Dionysian creator brought down to earth by a more ordered character.
Writers are no exception to the model. Even Emily Dickinson, famously secluded in her later life, found in her sister-in-law a creative influence second only to Shakespeare, she wrote, and named Thomas Wentworth Higginson as her preceptor. Creative pairs are everywhere.