The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius

Creative does not equal Crazy

The Insanity Hoax; Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius

“Fascinating, insightful, and surprisingly funny.” — Chris Brubeck, ‘fairly sane and highly functional’ jazz musician and classical composer.

There’s a long-running and cherished expectation that the more creative a person is, the more likely s/he is to suffer from a serious psychological problem, like bipolar disorder.

This notion began with a mistranslation of Plato’s “divine madness” and ultimately led to viewing artistic inspiration as a symptom of psychopathology.

In recent decades, many books and articles have claimed to “prove,” once and for all, that creativity and madness are automatically linked. In fact, all they prove is how eager people are to believe it, since the research is seriously flawed.

But the negative stereotypes persist.

The Insanity Hoax is the first book to directly challenge the mad genius myth by exposing the pseudoscientific foundation it sits on, as well as the social and psychological reasons for its widespread popularity. The myth is far from being the universal “truth” people think it is.

Based on her thirty years of research as well as creative and therapeutic experience, psychologist Judith Schlesinger tracks the stereotype through centuries of changing history and culture, explaining why it remains powerful despite its lack of empirical support. The Insanity Hoax also reveals creatives’ own perspectives about how the artistic life can make a person crazy, all by itself.

A scholarly yet entertaining read, The Insanity Hoax is a groundbreaking book that should be read by students, teachers, practitioners, admirers and critics of creativity and the arts; mental health professionals; and especially those who believe that exceptional minds should be celebrated, rather than diagnosed.


The Insanity Hoax is gaining increasing acceptance as a college and graduate school text in both psychology and music.

For professors and book clubs: a printable book description.

praise for the Insanity Hoax

“At last, there is someone to tackle the Mad Genius legend. Judith Schlesinger's The Insanity Hoax picks up the mantle for unfairly stereotyped artists - and does so with passion, wit, and incisive critique. Highly recommended.”
— James C. Kaufman
, PhD, President of the American Psychological Association Division for Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts
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news and reviews


Canadian Postmedia News interview: "The ‘mad genius’ - fact or fancy? Link between creativity, insanity not backed by science, author says." Published in the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen, and Toronto Post.

"Stardust, Smoke and Mirrors," my invited article about The Insanity Hoax, is the cover story for the Sept/Oct 2013 Skeptical Inquirer: The magazine for science and reason.

The Insanity Hoax stimulates such lively discussion and critical thinking that it has been required reading for three consecutive classes in "Creativity and Psychopathology" at Temple University. It's also part of the Master's degree in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music in London.

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about the author

Dr. Judith Schlesinger is a psychologist, author, educator, jazz critic, musician, and producer. Read more.

Publicity photos of Judith:
High resolution - smiling and serious
Low resolution - smiling and serious

Personal Appearances


  • Listen to Judith's interview on The Jordan Rich Show (WBZ Boston/CBS affiliate), the long-running talk fest about books, music, and culture.

  • Hear Judith’s invited podcast for Rationally Speaking, the science and philosophy series which "explores the borderlines between reason and nonsense."


  • Listen to Judith's NPR interview on Judy Carmichael's weekly syndicated show, Jazz Inspired.

  • Hear Judith discusss the mad genius on The New Jazz Archive, Jeff Haas's weekly, syndicated show from Interlochen Public Radio. "An hour with some of the world’s big thinkers who occupy the fascinating intersection of jazz and psychology." Time of interview 6:15 - 18:51.


  • Watch Judith in a Huffington Post Live conversation: "A Beautiful Sacrifice." Hosted by Janet Varney.


  • Do You Have to be Crazy to be Really Creative? (Hint: No!)
    A presentation by Dr. Judith Schlesinger

    LIU Hudson at SUNY Purchase campus
    Purchase, New York

  • Dr. Judith Schlesinger
    discusses her new book The Insanity Hoax

    Nyack Library
    Nyack, New York

CONTACT the author

back to the Insanity Hoax Home page

The Insanity Hoax is the first book to directly challenge the mad genius myth by exposing the pseudoscientific foundation it sits on, as well as the social and psychological reasons for its widespread popularity.
Read more.

Shrinktunes Media

Judith co-produced the marvelous Brazilian singer/guitarist Paulinho Garcia's solo CD Beautiful Love. This delicious collection of 15 love songs will be released on Valentine's Day, 2014, from Shrinktunes Media and Jazzmin Records.

Judith was co-executive producer of the Sean Smith Quartet's acclaimed CD Trust (Smithereen Records, 2011).

She was also an executive producer of Send the Moon by the amazing singer/songwriter Mary Ann Redmond (Spellbound Music, 2005).

There are other musical projects in the works, while Shrinktunes Media is expected to publish Judith's new book, Running Out of Somedays: The bliss and bafflement of getting older, in late 2014.


Judith Schlesinger is the co-producer of Trust by the Sean Smith Quartet.

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