An Afternoon of Genius – (NYC)

Saturday, June 01, 2019 1:00 pm - 5:30 pm


4:20 pm - 5:30 pm
The Political Genius of FDR and LBJ

Michael Sparer / Columbia University


At first look, the differences between President Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) and President Lyndon Johnson (LBJ) seem to vastly exceed the similarities. FDR was the son of wealthy New York aristocrats, who went to Harvard and Columbia Law; LBJ was from a poor rural Texas family and graduated from Southwest Texas State Teacher’s College. Roosevelt was a former Governor who went on to be elected to four terms; Johnson was a former Senator who decided against running for a second full term. Finally, Roosevelt led the nation through one of its greatest military victories, while Johnson left office in disgrace in the midst of the country’s greatest military failure.

Despite these vast differences, both Roosevelt and Johnson were political geniuses, perhaps the two most effective Presidential legislators in the nation’s history. Roosevelt took office during the midst of a national crisis (the depression) and convinced the nation to support an expanded role for the federal government and a “New Deal” for all Americans. Johnson also took office during the midst of a national crisis (the Kennedy assassination) and he too calmed the nation and led the federal effort to create a “Great Society” for all. Both understood better than any of their peers how Presidents need to move quickly on their important priorities, to negotiate with and manage Congress, and to rely on federal power to improve the fortunes of the poor and less fortunate. Given their shared political genius, why did one succeed and the other largely fail? That is the question this lecture examines!

Learn more about our history by checking out other great videos at OneDayU, including ‘American Founders: What Are We Know‘, Four Films That Changed America’ & ‘Four Memorable Musicals That Changed Broadway’ all on-demand now.

Michael Sparer / Columbia University

Michael Sparer is a professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. Professor Sparer is also the Chair of Health Policy & Management. He is a two-time winner of the Mailman School’s Student Government Association Teacher of the Year Award, as well as the recipient of a 2010 Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching. He spent seven years as a litigator for the New York City Law Department.

2:40 pm - 3:55 pm
The Genius (and Rivalry) of Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla

Craig Wright / Yale University

When Thomas Edison died on October 18, 1931, the lights went out. In his honor, President Herbert Hoover asked Americans everywhere to turn off their Edison lightbulbs at 10 p.m. on the evening of his funeral. "Thomas Edison—Genius Inventor—Dies at 84" screamed the front-page headline in the New York Daily News. When Nikola Tesla died in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel on January 7, 1943, the lights went out for him alone. Tesla was surrounded, not by a family, but by his pet pigeons (among his eccentricities were Columbophilia and Triphilia—look at his room number). The obituary in The New York Times did not call Tesla a genius. Instead, its final paragraphs implied he was a crackpot: Tesla had conceived of a "death beam" powerful enough to annihilate an army of 1,000,000 soldiers; and he was certain of intergalactic messaging that would allow communication with Mars. The Times obituary implicitly posed this question: Was Tesla a visionary genius or a lunatic?

Edison and Tesla (Edison's one-time employee) were arch-enemies with competing visions as to how to electrically empower America. Their hostility played out in the infamous War of the Currents, which culminated in the electrocution of Topsy the circus elephant in 1903, orchestrated and filmed by Edison, but intentionally using Tesla's controversial AC current. Radio, television, robots, electric cars, self-driving cars, solar heating, the internet, and the cellphone were on the mind of one or the other of these geniuses. Which one ultimately proved to have the more accurate and enduring vision for the world? Who is in the news today and why? Come and find out the answers.

Craig Wright / Yale University

Craig Wright holds an M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard and has taught at Yale for more than forty-five years, where he continues to offer annually “The Genius Course.” Professor Wright has published six books on music and cultural history, and his “The Hidden Habits of Genius” will appear in 2020. Yale has recognized Wright’s contribution to undergraduate teaching in the form of its two most prestigious prizes, the Sewall Prize and the DeVane Medal. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Chicago and in 2011 was elected a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

1:00 pm - 2:15 pm
The Artistic Genius of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo

Denise Budd / Columbia University

The Relationship between Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo

In 1504, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564), the two greatest artistic geniuses of the Italian Renaissance, were both working on enormous paintings of battle scenes for the Salone dei Cinquecento in the palace of the Florentine government. Though neither Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo would ever see their share of the ambitious project to its completion, the brilliant full-scale drawings they created of rearing horses and muscular soldiers were known in the 16th century as the “school of the world”. Notwithstanding the generational difference, the pairing of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo might have seemed like the ideal opportunity for intellectual collaboration: both were accomplished artists as well as so-called Universal Men, with shared interests across many disciplines, including painting, sculpture, architecture and anatomy. On the contrary, it only exacerbated what was described by their contemporaries as a mutual, fervent disdain, a relationship that was best exemplified by anecdotes of the two artists hurling insults at each other in the streets of Florence.

Leonardo da Vinci vs Michelangelo

This lecture will explore how this great rivalry between Leonardo and Michelangelo – who were dissimilar in temperament and beliefs, as well as the manner in which they worked – contributed to the creation of some of the most famous and influential artworks the world has ever seen.

Purchase The Artistic Genius of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo today! 

Denise Budd / Columbia University

Denise Budd teaches art history at Columbia University and a wide range of Renaissance art classes at Rutgers University. She has published several articles on Leonardo da Vinci based on her studies of the artist and his documentary evidence. Following this interest in archival work, her current research has extended to the history of collecting Renaissance art in Gilded Age America, with a focus on the tapestry collector and dealer Charles Mather Foulke.