Reading List: Powers of Two

UPDATED: September 3, 2014
PUBLISHED: September 3, 2014

What attracts creative duos to each other? How do they align as well as differentiate their talents? Joshua Wolf Shenk blends psychology with neuroscience, business and leadership theory in his analysis of how famous pairs such as DNA discoverers James Watson and Francis Crick, the Beatles’ John Lennon and Paul McCartney, or South Park’s Matt Stone and Trey Parker complement and push one another to be better and more productive… even while driving each other crazy at times.

At the heights of their collaboration, pairs “operate at the nexus of competition and cooperation,” Shenk writes. Duo dynamics vary, he explains. In an asymmetrical combination—ballet dancer Suzanne Farrell and choreographer George Balanchine, for example—one partner is the “guru” who dominates the other. In a distinct dyad, each partner maintains a separate public identity. In an overt bonding, the partners—think Lennon and McCartney or illusionist duo Penn & Teller—join to “produce work with which both are publicly acclaimed and associated.”

Shenk’s analysis in Powers of Two is sometimes plodding and overly technical, but his insights into pair dynamics and the human desire to connect and partner (including married couples) are intriguing and enlightening.

by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $28

Jessica Krampe is the digital managing editor for A graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, Jessica has worked for news, entertainment, business and lifestyle publications. Outside of the daily grind, she enjoys happy hours, live music and traveling.