Above: Tulane President Michael A. Fitts presides at a special Homecoming installment of the Presidential Speaker Series in McAlister Auditorium on Oct. 21, 2022. (Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano)
The event, held in McAlister Auditorium on Oct. 21, 2022, attracted more than a thousand alumni, students and parents. Isaacson, prompted by questions from Fitts, related fascinating, little-known anecdotes from the lives he has chronicled through his books.
Fitts asked Isaacson to expand on the personal qualities of the innovators who fill the pages of his popular biographies, including Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs and Jennifer Doudna, who helped cracked the genetic code, leading the world in a life sciences revolution.
These people “in a sense break out of the box and make a difference in the world,” said Fitts. “You describe them as connecting beauty with science, that they cross boundaries, but is there anything about their psychology and character that you found that is a common theme in all these people?”
“Unbounded curiosity” is a quality that stands out in his subjects, according to Isaacson, and inspires groundbreaking individuals to think more, question more and ponder the world around them more deeply.
“Every century, you can find a place that becomes a cradle of creativity like Florence in the 1570s was for da Vinci, Philadelphia for Ben Franklin in the 1770s, and the Silicon Valley for Steve Jobs in the 1970s,” Isaacson said, drawing a parallel between those places and the Crescent City as a birthplace of new ideas, creativity and innovation.
“New Orleans has a diversity that would have almost put Florence to shame,” he said.
“There’s no question. It’s what draws our students. It’s this creativity, this energy that emanates in New Orleans,” Fitts said, adding that the city consistently ranks as one of the top college towns in the nation.
“It’s about connecting your passion to something larger than yourself,” Isaacson observed, a trait he’s witnessed in Tulane students.
Or contemplating something smaller, like the tongue of a woodpecker, may lead to unexpected revelations, something Isaacson discovered while writing da Vinci’s biography and coming across several references to the tongue of a woodpecker.
What is special about a woodpecker’s tongue and why be curious about it, Isaacson wondered?