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Review: The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery by Sarah Lewis

Purchase on  Amazon

Purchase on Amazon

About the Book

From celebrated art historian, curator, and teacher Sarah Lewis, a fascinating examination of how our most iconic creative endeavors—from innovation to the arts—are not achievements but conversions, corrections after failed attempts.

The gift of failure is a riddle: it will always be both the void and the start of infinite possibility. The Rise—part investigation into a psychological mystery, part an argument about creativity and art, and part a soulful celebration of the determination and courage of the human spirit—makes the case that many of the world’s greatest achievements have come from understanding the central importance of failure. 

Written over the course of four years, this exquisite biography of an idea is about the improbable foundations of a creative human endeavor. Each chapter focuses on the inestimable value of often ignored ideas—the power of surrender, how play is essential for innovation, the “near win” can help propel you on the road to mastery, the importance of grit and creative practice. The Rise shares narratives about figures past and present that range from choreographers, writers, painters, inventors, and entrepreneurs; Frederick Douglass, Samuel F.B. Morse, Diane Arbus, and J.K. Rowling, for example, feature alongside choreographer Paul Taylor, Nobel Prize–winning physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, and Arctic explorer Ben Saunders. 

With valuable lessons for pedagogy and parenting, for innovation and discovery, and for self-direction and creativity, The Rise “gives the old chestnut ‘If at first you don’t succeed…’ a jolt of adrenaline” (Elle).


The Rise is a comfort in book form for anyone who struggles, tries, and has failed at reaching their goals whether they be creative or otherwise. It is a book that does not gloss over the struggle for success and the natural human propensity for failure. It is truly an honest take at what it means to try and how important just trying is to growth and possible future success.

This is a well structured book that looks at a different story of attempting greatness in each section. We get all sorts of different stories which shows how pervasive and common failure is in everyone's life. Whether you're a creative or not, you'll be able to learn a valuable lesson on the nature of human life and how incredibly important it is to fail and also how unrealistic it is to expect immediate success in your daily life.

Being that failure is a part of the human condition, it becomes clear throughout Lewis' book that we should expect it and if mature enough, we should consider it and learn from it. In a way, failure is even desirable as it reminds us that life is never perfect and that working towards goals, meeting them, and then creating new ones is the most honest way to live your life. It truly is more about the journey than the destination, really, there isn't and shouldn't be a destination. This book is an excellent reminder that all we can do is move forward, fall down, and keep moving forward again. In life, there isn't a finish line.

Reading in an attempt to learn more about the creative process always brings a new perspective that can allow for a shift in your own process, which for me is always desirable. This book is the kind of book that strengthens your resolve and gives you hope that trying, and trying again is just as valuable as experiencing some great personal triumph like getting your book published, reaching the top of Everest, or finishing a painting.

Just remember to keep moving forward, it is the best we can do.

Reviewed by Amy Richardson

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