Praise for The Insanity Hoax

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.

“In this original and passionate work, Judith Schlesinger takes on one of the great Western myths—the mad, tortured genius—and serves up her painstaking research on the subject with equal portions of wit, wisdom, and criticism. The myth, she shows, is encrusted in our ways of viewing creativity, fed to us by an unthinking media, and fueled by the self-serving ‘analyses’ of so-called experts. 
     Her book is chock-full of facts that set the record straight and insights that challenge us to think for ourselves. This is an emancipatory book—and a good read.”
— David Cohen, Professor and Marjorie Crump Chair in Social Welfare, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs

“Do you have to be crazy to be creative?  Nowadays, most people seem to think so, but the evidence points in the other direction.  How, then, did this mistaken notion worm its way into our collective consciousness, and how much damage has it done to our understanding of art and artists?  In The Insanity Hoax, Judith Schlesinger exposes the exaggerations and falsehoods of the ever-seductive myth of the mad genius - and explains why so many people prefer it to the truth. 
     Anyone who believes that madness is the flip side of the coin of creativity needs to read this book.
Terry Teachout, author of Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong, playwright of Satchmo at the Waldorf and drama critic of the Wall Street Journal

“Judith Schlesinger has hit the bull's-eye with The Insanity Hoax.  She passionately and completely debunks the biased, pervasive notion that artists are 'crazier' than the rest of humankind, showing us in highly engaging prose how they stare human frailties squarely in the face for the benefit of all.  Thank you, Judith.”
Shelton G. Berg, Dean and Patricia L. Frost Professor of Music, Frost School of Music, University of Miami

“Decades of scientific study have shown that there is no connection between creativity and mental illness. In fact, there is substantial evidence that creative people are more healthy than average. Schlesinger’s book does an excellent job of summarizing the history of the mad genius myth, and of debunking the few published studies that are often cited as evidence for a link.
     If you are tempted to believe in a link between insanity and creativity, you absolutely must read this book first.
Keith Sawyer, PhD, Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration and Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

“Judith Schlesinger makes her case with wry wit, wisdom and passion that the symptoms of madness and just plain old creativity have long been joined in an inappropriate dance. There are many jazz musicians referred to in the book that have skirted both of these labels. She provides true insight into their inner creative lives.”
Fred Hersch, award-winning jazz pianist and composer

“A rare combination of trenchant observations, penetrating insight, vivid writing, and great humor, Judith Schlesinger rips to shreds the ‘common wisdom’ that creative people and people of genius are more likely than others to be ‘mentally ill’ (however one defines that term) or even that their mental illness is responsible for their brilliance. A must-read for everyone who cares or thinks about a life of creativity, about emotional pain, or both.
Paula J. Caplan, PhD, clinical and research psychologist, author of They Say You're Crazy: How the World’s Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who’s Normal and editor of Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis

“Judith Schlesinger lets all the hot air out of the over-inflated psychobabble-for-profit balloon, wielding a deft, sometimes deadly scalpel fueled by acute insight, humor, and a delightfully readable prose style. As a bonus for this reader, she does justice to jazz and its makers.”
Dan Morgenstern, Director, Institute of Jazz Studies, author of Living with Jazz, and winner of eight Grammy awards

“This work is a corrective to unwarranted folk beliefs and misleading and erroneous research regarding a connection between creativity and mental illness.”
Albert Rothenberg, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, and author of Creativity and Madness: New Findings and Old Stereotypes

“Judith Schlesinger’s wonderful new book does a superb job of debunking popular myths about ‘crazy artists’ and redressing the mental health industry’s practice of pathologizing creative people. This book should be required reading for creative and performing artists, their teachers, their therapists, and anyone who loves them. Not to be missed!
Eric Maisel, PhD, author of Rethinking Depression and The Van Gogh Blues


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
Barnes & Noble

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.

Personalized inscription

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

Shrinktunes     © 2016 Shrinktunes Media, 1340 Route 292, Holmes, New York 12531   |    |  web design Linda Kalin