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
Read more.


The Insanity Hoax stimulates such lively and thoughtful discussion about the mad genius that it has become required reading for “Creativity and Psychopathology” classes at Temple University. It has also been part of the Master's degree in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music in London.



Printable pdf of Judith’s groundbreaking, often-cited 2009 journal article, Creative Mythconceptions: A closer look at the evidence for the mad genius, which was the springboard for The Insanity Hoax.

buy the book

Books available from:
Amazon books
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e-books available from
Amazon ebooks


Order here for copies signed by the author. For personalized gift inscriptions, for you or a creative friend who could use some comfort and joy, use the box below.

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news and reviews


In April 2016, Judith was interviewed for Psychology Today about the mad genius myth, the self-serving distortions that pass for “fact” in this area, and the current sorry state of diagnosis and medication.

Oxford University Press has purchased the rights to include 20 pages of The Insanity Hoax in their 2016 text, Creativity: A Reader for Writers. This is the section called “Blind Men and Elephant Parts” (pages 17-37), where Judith explains why creativity is so difficult (if not impossible) to define.

Eminent social psychologist Carol Tavris devotes her March 2015 column in Skeptic Magazine to The Insanity Hoax, which she quotes generously and calls “a short, clear, witty, and empirically-grounded take down of the mad-genius assumption.”

Building on Sand: The Cautionary Chapter is Judith's invited contribution to the definitive textbook, Creativity and Mental Illness (Cambridge University Press, 2014). She gets the last word in the first section, which describes the state of the field. asked Judith to be a regular contributor. Her column, The Mad Genius and Other Follies, addresses the infinite ways that creativity enriches, delights, and complicates our lives.

After the tragic death of Robin Williams, Judith was interviewed by USA Today. This terrible loss unleashed the usual flurry of uninformed speculation about genius and mental illness. Alas, ten paragraphs of our discussion never appeared, since this reporter was not the lead writer on the story. “You had such great things to say,” she wrote, “I wish they could have used more.” Maybe next time.

Judith wrote Summer Shame in response to the media’s sudden excitement about the “secrets of the creative brain,” which are actually nothing of the sort. But shockingly, in July 2014, the usually reputable sources like The Atlantic Monthly, NPR, and even the PBS News Hour were all taken in by the typical mad genius mix of wildly inflated claims, ignorance, confusion, and outright lies.

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,” an invited article about The Insanity Hoax, is the cover story for the Sept/Oct 2013 Skeptical Inquirer: The magazine for science and reason.





about the author

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



Shrinktunes Media is the publishing company Judith formed in 2002, named for her overlapping interests in psychology and music. Its first publication was Thought Food: Readings in the Psychology of Music, a collection that nicely supplemented the new Psychology of Music course she designed and taught by showing how music is actually experienced in the real world.

In 2012, Shrinktunes Media published The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius. This was a year after its first musical project appeared: the co-executive production of the acclaimed Trust, by the wonderful Sean Smith Quartet (Smithereen Records, 2011). This CD was then followed by Beautiful Love, the stunning solo CD of Paulinho Garcia, the marvelous Brazilian guitarist/singer. This delicious assortment of fifteen love songs was released to great enthusiasm on Valentine's Day, 2014, as a co-production of Shrinktunes Media and Jazzmin Records.

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

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.


Judith was invited into the definitive textbook Creativity and Mental Illness from Cambridge University Press (2014). Her contribution, Building on Sand: The Cautionary Chapter gets the last word in the first section, where the “The State of the Field” is explained.

Judith's invited column at, The Mad Genius and Other Follies, addresses the various ways that creativity enriches, delights, and complicates our lives.

Printable pdf of Judith's groundbreaking, often-cited 2009 journal article, Creative Mythconceptions: A closer look at the evidence for the mad genius.

News about Judith's next book: Mad to Glad: A Radical New View of Genius. The sequel to The Insanity Hoax, it takes the next logical step: from misery to joy.





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

Cover of The Insanity Hoax:
High resolution
Low resolution

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