Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant

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Overview

A journey into one of the most fascinating minds alive today—guided by the owner himself.

Bestselling author Daniel Tammet (Thinking in Numbers) is virtually unique among people who have severe autistic disorders in that he is capable of living a fully independent life and able to explain what is happening inside his head.

He sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and he can perform extraordinary ...

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Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant

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Overview

A journey into one of the most fascinating minds alive today—guided by the owner himself.

Bestselling author Daniel Tammet (Thinking in Numbers) is virtually unique among people who have severe autistic disorders in that he is capable of living a fully independent life and able to explain what is happening inside his head.

He sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and he can perform extraordinary calculations in his head. He can learn to speak new languages fluently, from scratch, in a week. In 2004, he memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi, setting a record. He has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition that gives him the most unimaginable mental powers, much like those portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man.

Fascinating and inspiring, Born on a Blue Day explores what it’s like to be special and gives us an insight into what makes us all human—our minds.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Daniel Tammet suffers from a rare form of Asperger's syndrome that gives him amazing mental powers but also makes it difficult for him to engage in basic social interactions. He is able to calculate enormous sums in his head with lightning speed and has mastered more than seven languages. He also experiences narrow fixations, finds human emotions hard to understand, and has an obsessive need for order and routine. As one of fewer than 50 autistic savants living in the world today, Tammet would be deemed remarkable by any standard; but what makes him truly exceptional is that he alone has overcome his crippling disabilities to live independently, form lasting relationships, and describe his world in an astonishingly articulate manner. A unique firsthand account rendered in precise -- and often lyrically poetic -- language, Born on a Blue Day reveals the inner workings of a beautiful mind in all its chaotic splendor.
From the Publisher
"Artists and poets would give their best simile to perceive things with the same kind of vividness...For anyone interested in the workings of a truly 'beautiful mind,' Born on a Blue Day is a banquet."

Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Tammet, now 28, manages the feat of introspection — and self-insight. His book brims with humanity. His approach is honest, eloquent, at times funny, and completely free of pity."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer

"With all due respect to Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, and any living Nobel laureates, the most remarkable mind on the planet just might belong to Daniel Tammet...Tammet displays a surprising level of sensitivity — and a refreshing lack of sentimentality — in an account that inspires even as it astonishes."

Entertainment Weekly

"Remarkable, revealing, and nearly flawless."

The Raleigh News & Observer

Publishers Weekly

This unique first-person account offers a window into the mind of a high-functioning, 27-year-old British autistic savant with Asperger's syndrome. Tammet's ability to think abstractly, deviate from routine, and empathize, interact and communicate with others is impaired, yet he's capable of incredible feats of memorization and mental calculation. Besides being able to effortlessly multiply and divide huge sums in his head with the speed and accuracy of a computer, Tammet, the subject of the 2005 documentary Brainman, learned Icelandic in a single week and recited the number pi up to the 22,514th digit, breaking the European record. He also experiences synesthesia, an unusual neurological syndrome that enables him to experience numbers and words as "shapes, colors, textures and motions." Tammet traces his life from a frustrating, withdrawn childhood and adolescence to his adult achievements, which include teaching in Lithuania, achieving financial independence with an educational Web site and sustaining a long-term romantic relationship. As one of only about 50 people living today with synesthesia and autism, Tammet's condition is intriguing to researchers; his ability to express himself clearly and with a surprisingly engaging tone (given his symptoms) makes for an account that will intrigue others as well. (Jan.)

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A riveting account of living with autism. Tammet, a 27-year-old Brit, is a highly functional autistic individual and something of a genius when it comes to numbers-he's a terrific chess player and knows over 22,000 digits of pi. Here, he chronicles his often confusing childhood and his successful adult life. As a schoolboy, he felt isolated: Autistic children tend toward literalism, and they have a difficult time catching unstated nuances in speech. And so, when teachers or friends spoke to Tammet but failed to ask him a direct question, he didn't realize he was supposed to respond. Although, as the author explains, autistic people tend not to catch on to emotional undercurrents, Tammet is quite attentive to the stresses and strains in his childhood home: His father had a nervous breakdown and there was never enough money (Tammet experienced his parents' fights as a color-blue). Turning to adolescence and his early 20s, Tammet recalls coming out as gay, but he doesn't allow sexuality to take over the book. Perhaps the most affecting chapters come near the end, as the author describes the quiet comfort he has achieved with his partner, Neil. In the predictable order of their shared home, Tammet feels "calm...and secure." Tammet usefully sets his own story in a wider context, with period discussions of the state of research into autism and Asperger's syndrome. At times, he is quite poetic, especially when he writes about numbers. In his mind, numbers have shape, color and texture. Describing his occasional nighttime visions of numbers, Tammet explains that "walking around my numerical landscapes...I never feel lost, because the prime number shapes act as signposts."Transcends thedisability-memoir genre. Agent: Andrew Lownie/Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416549017
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 10/16/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 92,025
  • Lexile: 1170L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.43 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Tammet is a writer, linguist, and educator. A 2007 poll of 4,000 Britons named him as one of the world's "100 living geniuses." His last book, the New York Times bestseller Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, has been translated into 18 languages. He lives in Avignon, France.

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Read an Excerpt

1Blue Nines and Red Words I was born on January 31, 1979 -- a Wednesday. I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number 9 or the sound of loud voices arguing. I like my birth date, because of the way I'm able to visualize most of the numbers in it as smooth and round shapes, similar to pebbles on a beach. That's because they are prime numbers: 31, 19, 197, 97, 79 and 1979 are all divisible only by themselves and 1. I can recognize every prime up to 9,973 by their "pebble-like" quality. It's just the way my brain works. I have a rare condition known as savant syndrome, little known before its portrayal by actor Dustin Hoffman in the Oscar-winning 1988 film Rain Man. Like Hoffman's character, Raymond Babbitt, I have an almost obsessive need for order and routine which affects virtually every aspect of my life. For example, I eat exactly 45 grams of porridge for breakfast each morning; I weigh the bowl with an electronic scale to make sure. Then I count the number of items of clothing I'm wearing before I leave my house. I get anxious if I can't drink my cups of tea at the same time each day. Whenever I become too stressed and I can't breathe properly, I close my eyes and count. Thinking of numbers helps me to become calm again. Numbers are my friends, and they are always around me. Each one is unique and has its own personality. The number 11 is friendly and 5 is loud, whereas 4 is both shy and quiet -- it's my favorite number, perhaps because it reminds me of myself. Some are big -- 23, 667, 1,179 -- while others are small: 6, 13, 581. Some are beautiful, like 333, and some are ugly, like 289. To me, every number is special. No matter where I go or what I'm doing, numbers are never far from my thoughts. In an interview with talk show host David Letterman in New York, I told David he looked like the number 117 -- tall and lanky. Later outside, in the appropriately numerically named Times Square, I gazed up at the towering skyscrapers and felt surrounded by 9s -- the number I most associate with feelings of immensity. Scientists call my visual, emotional experience of numbers synesthesia, a rare neurological mixing of the senses, which most commonly results in the ability to see alphabetical letters and/or numbers in color. Mine is an unusual and complex type, through which I see numbers as shapes, colors, textures and motions. The number 1, for example, is a brilliant and bright white, like someone shining a flashlight into my eyes. Five is a clap of thunder or the sound of waves crashing against rocks. Thirty-seven is lumpy like porridge, while 89 reminds me of falling snow. Probably the most famous case of synesthesia was the one written up over a period of thirty years from the 1920s by the Russian psychologist A. R. Luria of a journalist called Shereshevsky with a prodigious memory. "S," as Luria called him in his notes for the book The Mind of a Mnemonist, had a highly visual memory which allowed him to "see" words and numbers as different shapes and colors. "S" was able to remember a matrix of 50 digits after studying it for three minutes, both immediately afterwards and many years later. Luria credited Shereshevsky's synesthetic experiences as the basis for his remarkable short- and long-term memory. Using my own synesthetic experiences since early childhood, I have grown up with the ability to handle and calculate huge numbers in my head without any conscious effort, just like the Raymond Babbitt character. In fact, this is a talent common to several other real-life savants (sometimes referred to as "lightning calculators"). Dr. Darold Treffert, a Wisconsin physician and the leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome, gives one example, of a blind man with "a faculty of calculating to a degree little short of marvelous" in his book Extraordinary People:
When he was asked how many grains of corn there would be in any one of 64 boxes, with 1 in the first, 2 in the second, 4 in the third, 8 in the fourth, and so on, he gave answers for the fourteenth (8,192), for the eighteenth (131,072) and the twenty-fourth (8,388,608) instantaneously, and he gave the figures for the forty-eighth box (140,737,488,355,328) in six seconds. He also gave the total in all 64 boxes correctly (18,446,744,073,709,551, 616) in forty-five seconds.
My favorite kind of calculation is power multiplication, which means multiplying a number by itself a specified number of times. Multiplying a number by itself is called squaring; for example, the square of 72 is 72 x 72 = 5,184. Squares are always symmetrical shapes in my mind, which makes them especially beautiful to me. Multiplying the same number three times over is called cubing or "raising" to the third power. The cube, or third power, of 51 is equivalent to 51 x 51 x 51 = 132,651. I see each result of a power multiplication as a distinctive visual pattern in my head. As the sums and their results grow, so the mental shapes and colors I experience become increasingly more complex. I see 37's fifth power -- 37 x 37 x 37 x 37 x 37 = 69,343,957 -- as a large circle composed of smaller circles running clockwise from the top around. When I divide one number by another, in my head I see a spiral rotating downwards in larger and larger loops, which seem to warp and curve. Different divisions produce different sizes of spirals with varying curves. From my mental imagery I'm able to calculate a sum like 13 ÷ 97 (0.1340206...) to almost a hundred decimal places. I never write anything down when I'm calculating, because I've always been able to do the sums in my head, and it's much easier for me to visualize the answer using my synesthetic shapes than to try to follow the "carry the one" techniques taught in the textbooks we are given at school. When multiplying, I see the two numbers as distinct shapes. The image changes and a third shape emerges -- the correct answer. The process takes a matter of seconds and happens spontaneously. It's like doing math without having to think. Different tasks involve different shapes, and I also have various sensations or emotions for certain numbers. Whenever I multiply with 11 I always experience a feeling of the digits tumbling downwards in my head. I find 6s hardest to remember of all the numbers, because I experience them as tiny black dots, without any distinctive shape or texture. I would describe them as like little gaps or holes. I have visual and sometimes emotional responses to every number up to 10,000, like having my own visual, numerical vocabulary. And just like a poet's choice of words, I find some combinations of numbers more beautiful than others: ones go well with darker numbers like 8s and 9s, but not so well with 6s. A telephone number with the sequence 189 is much more beautiful to me than one with a sequence like 116. This aesthetic dimension to my synesthesia is something that has its ups and downs. If I see a number I experience as particularly beautiful on a shop sign or a car license plate, there's a shiver of excitement and pleasure. On the other hand, if the numbers don't match my experience of them -- if, for example, a shop sign's price has "99 pence" in red or green (instead of blue) -- then I find that uncomfortable and irritating. It is not known how many savants have synesthetic experiences to help them in the areas they excel in. One reason for this is that, like Raymond Babbitt, many suffer profound disability, preventing them from explaining to others how they do the things that they do. I am fortunate not to suffer from any of the most severe impairments that often come with abilities such as mine. Like most individuals with savant syndrome, I am also on the autistic spectrum. I have Asperger's syndrome, a relatively mild and high-functioning form of autism that affects around 1 in every 300 people in the United Kingdom. According to a 2001 study by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society, nearly half of all adults with Asperger's syndrome are not diagnosed until after the age of sixteen. I was finally diagnosed at age twenty-five following tests and an interview at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge. Autism, including Asperger's syndrome, is defined by the presence of impairments affecting social interaction, communication, and imagination (problems with abstract or flexible thought and empathy, for example). Diagnosis is not easy and cannot be made by a blood test or brain scan; doctors have to observe behavior and study the individual's developmental history from infancy. People with Asperger's often have good language skills and are able to lead relatively normal lives. Many have above-average IQs and excel in areas that involve logical or visual thinking. Like other forms of autism, Asperger's is a condition affecting many more men than women (around 80 percent of autistics and 90 percent of those diagnosed with Asperger's are men). Single-mindedness is a defining characteristic, as is a strong drive to analyze detail and identify rules and patterns in systems. Specialized skills involving memory, numbers, and mathematics are common. It is not known for certain what causes someone to have Asperger's, though it is something you are born with.



For as long as I can remember, I have experienced numbers in the visual, synesthetic way that I do. Numbers are my first language, one I often think and feel in. Emotions can be hard for me to understand or know how to react to, so I often use numbers to help me. If a friend says they feel sad or depressed, I picture myself sitting in the dark hollowness of number 6 to help me experience the same sort of feeling and understand it. If I read in an article that a person felt intimidated by something, I imagine myself standing next to the number 9. Whenever someone describes visiting a beautiful place, I recall my numerical landscapes and how happy they make me feel inside. By doing this, numbers actually help me get closer to understanding other people.

Sometimes people I meet for the first time remind me of a particular number and this helps me to be comfortable around them. They might be very tall and remind me of the number 9, or round and remind me of the number 3. If I feel unhappy or anxious or in a situation I have no previous experience of (when I'm much more likely to feel stressed and uncomfortable), I count to myself. When I count, the numbers form pictures and patterns in my mind that are consistent and reassuring to me. Then I can relax and interact with whatever situation I'm in. Thinking of calendars always makes me feel good, all those numbers and patterns in one place. Different days of the week elicit different colors and emotions in my head: Tuesdays are a warm color while Thursdays are fuzzy. Calendrical calculation -- the ability to tell what day of the week a particular date fell or will fall on -- is common to many savants. I think this is probably due to the fact that the numbers in calendars are predictable and form patterns between the different days and months. For example, the thirteenth day in a month is always two days before whatever day the first falls on, excepting leap years, while several of the months mimic the behavior of others, like January and October, September and December, and February and March (the first day of February is the same as the first day of March). So if the first of February is a fuzzy texture in my mind (Thursday) for a given year, the thirteenth of March will be a warm color (Tuesday). In his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks mentions the case of severely autistic twins John and Michael as an example of how far some savants are able to take calendrical calculations. Though unable to care for themselves (they had been in various institutions since the age of seven), the twins were capable of calculating the day of the week for any date over a 40,000-year span. Sacks also describes John and Michael as playing a game that involved swapping prime numbers with each other for hours at a time. Like the twins, I have always been fascinated by prime numbers. I see each prime as a smooth-textured shape, distinct from composite numbers (non-primes) that are grittier and less distinctive. Whenever I identify a number as prime, I get a rush of feeling in my head (in the front center) which is hard to put into words. It's a special feeling, like the sudden sensation of pins and needles. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine the first thirty, fifty, hundred numbers as I experience them spatially, synesthetically. Then I can see in my mind's eye just how beautiful and special the primes are by the way they stand out so sharply from the other number shapes. It's exactly for this reason that I look and look and look at them; each one is so different from the one before and the one after. Their loneliness among the other numbers makes them so conspicuous and interesting to me. There are moments, as I'm falling into sleep at night, that my mind fills suddenly with bright light and all I can see are numbers -- hundreds, thousands of them -- swimming rapidly over my eyes. The experience is beautiful and soothing to me. Some nights, when I'm having difficulty falling asleep, I imagine myself walking around my numerical landscapes. Then I feel safe and happy. I never feel lost, because the prime number shapes act as signposts. Mathematicians, too, spend a lot of time thinking about prime numbers, in part because there is no quick or simple method for testing a number to see whether or not it is prime. The best known is called "the Sieve of Eratosthenes" after an ancient Greek scholar, Eratosthenes of Cyrene. The sieve method works in this way: Write out the numbers you want to test, for example 1 to 100. Starting with 2 (1 is neither prime nor composite), cross out every second number: 4, 6, 8...up to 100. Then move to 3 and cross out every third number: 6, 9, 12...then move to four and cross out every fourth number: 8, 12, 16...and so on, until you are left with only a few numbers that do not ever get crossed out: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31...These are the prime numbers; the building blocks of my numerical world. My synesthesia also affects how I perceive words and language. The word ladder, for example, is blue and shiny, while hoop is a soft, white word. The same thing happens when I read words in other languages: jardin, the French word for "garden," is a blurred yellow, while hnugginn -- Icelandic for "sad" -- is white with lots of blue specks. Synesthesia researchers have reported that colored words tend to obtain their colors from the initial letter of the word, and this is generally true for me: yogurt is a yellow word, video is purple (perhaps linked with violet) and gate is green. I can even make the color of a word change by mentally adding initial letters to turn the word into another: at is a red word, but add the letter H to get hat and it becomes a white word. If I then add a letter T to make that, the word's color is now orange. Not all words fit the initial-letter pattern: words beginning with the letter A, for example, are always red and those beginning with W are always dark blue. Some words are perfect fits for the things they describe. A raspberry is both a red word and a red fruit, while grass and glass are both green words that describe green things. Words beginning with the letter T are always orange like a tulip or a tiger or a tree in autumn, when the leaves turn to orange. Conversely, some words do not seem to me to fit the things they describe: geese is a green word but describes white birds (heese would seem a better choice to me), the word white is blue while orange is clear and shiny like ice. Four is a blue word but a pointy number, at least to me. The color of wine (a blue word) is better described by the French word vin, which is purple. Seeing words in different colors and textures aids my memory for facts and names. For example, I remember that the winning cyclist of each stage of the Tour de France wins a yellow jersey (not green or red or blue), because the word jersey is yellow to me. Similarly, I can remember that Finland's national flag has a blue cross (on a white background) because the word Finland is blue (as are all words beginning with the letter F). When I meet someone for the first time I often remember their name by the color of the word: Richards are red, Johns are yellow, and Henrys are white. It also helps me to learn other languages quickly and easily. I currently know ten languages: English (my native language), Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic and Welsh. Associating the different colors and emotions I experience for each word with its meaning helps bring the words to life. For example, the Finnish word tuli is orange to me and means "fire." When I read or think about the word I immediately see the color in my head, which evokes the meaning. Another example is the Welsh word gweilgi, which is a green and dark blue color and means "sea." I think it is an extremely good word for describing the sea's colors. Then there is the Icelandic word rökkur, which means "twilight" or "dusk." It is a crimson word and when I see it, it makes me think of a blood red sunset.



I remember as a young child, during one of my frequent trips to the local library, spending hours looking at book after book trying in vain to find one that had my name on it. Because there were so many books in the library, with so many different names on them, I'd assumed that one of them -- somewhere -- had to be mine. I didn't understand at the time that a person's name appears on a book because he or she wrote it. Now that I'm twenty-six I know better. If I were ever going to find my book one day, I was going to have to write it first.

Writing about my life has given me the opportunity to get some perspective on just how far I've come, and to trace the arc of my journey up to the present. If someone had told my parents ten years ago that I would be living completely independently, with a loving relationship and a career, I don't think they would have believed it and I'm not sure I would have either. This book will tell you how I got there. My younger brother Steven has recently been diagnosed with the same form of high-functioning autism that I have. At nineteen, he is going through a lot of the challenges that I too faced while growing up, from problems with anxiety and loneliness to uncertainty about the future. When I was a child, doctors did not know about Asperger's syndrome (it was not recognized as a unique disorder until 1994) and so for many years I grew up with no understanding of why I felt so different from my peers and apart from the world around me. By writing about my own experiences of growing up on the autistic spectrum, it is my hope that I can help other young people living with high-functioning autism, like my brother Steven, to feel less isolated and to have confidence in the knowledge that it is ultimately possible to lead a happy and productive life. I'm living proof of that. Copyright © 2006 by Daniel Tammet
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Table of Contents


Blue Nines and Red Words     1
Early Years     13
Struck by Lightning: Epilepsy     29
School Days     47
Odd One Out     73
Adolescence     91
Ticket to Kaunas     113
Falling in Love     139
The Gift of Tongues     159
A Very Large Slice of Pi     173
Meeting Kim Peek     187
Reykjavik, New York, Home     205
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Introduction

Reading Group Discussion Guide for Born On A Blue Day

1. How does Daniel Tammet's experience of numbers and language differ from that of most people? What explains his intense attraction to prime numbers? How does Daniel characterize his relationships with numbers, and how does it compare to his relationships with people?

2. How are Daniel's savant syndrome and his epilepsy connected? Why might epilepsy allow some regions of Daniel's brain to perform with remarkable efficiency? Of Daniel's many remarkable abilities as a savant, which did you find most fascinating or extraordinary, and why?

3. "Predictability was important to me, a way of feeling in control in a given situation, a way of keeping feelings of anxiety at bay, at least temporarily." To what extent is Daniel's need for regularity and predictability a kind of compulsion? Why might similar behavior in someone without savant syndrome be perceived as neurosis? How does the unexpected affect Daniel?

4. How can Daniel's professional success be understood in light of his having grown up in a large family that required a great deal of him socially, despite his autism? What roles might his family's uncertain finances and his father's illness have played in Daniel's development? How would you characterize Daniel's connection to his family as an adult?

5. Why was Daniel unable to reveal the fact of his homosexuality to his parents prior to his time volunteering in Lithuania? How did his experiences living abroad affect Daniel's sense of self? To what extent were you surprised at Daniel's ability to adapt to life in another country?

6. How would you describe Daniel's relationship with his partner,Neil? In light of Daniel's unique neurological concerns, why was their decision to move in together especially complicated? How do they accommodate Daniel's autistic spectrum disorder in their day-to-day life as a couple? Given that Daniel has difficulty feeling and identifying emotions, why do you think he is able to experience romantic love?

7. "The relationship I have with language is quite an aesthetic one, with certain words and combinations of words being particularly beautiful and stimulating to me." How does Daniel use his knowledge of different languages to help him understand and learn new languages? What does Daniel's invention of a language of his own, Mänti, reveal about his desire to communicate his appreciation of language to the world?

8. How does Daniel describe his experience of the number pi? Why are scientists particularly interested in his ability to see numbers as landscapes with color and texture? How did Daniel's memorization and recitation of thousands of digits of pi affect him and how did it impact his visibility in the world of savant study?

9. Why might Daniel have felt a special kinship with Kim Peek, the person whose life as a savant inspired the film, Rain Man? How does Daniel's experience of autism differ from Kim's, and what neurological abilities do they share? Why do you think Daniel describes meeting Kim Peek as "one of the happiest moments" of his life?

10. What impact did Daniel's conversion to Christianity in 2002 have on his life? What role does his religious belief play in his engagement and interaction with others? To what extent are you surprised that someone with Daniel's gifts and abilities is able to put his faith in God?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. If you are craving more information about the incredibly fascinating life and mind of Daniel Tammet, visit his official website: http://www.optimnem.co.uk/, where you can see some of his artwork, read his blog, and practice some common tongue twisters in Spanish and French that he has included for the entertainment of his visitors.

2. Daniel Tammet sees numbers and words in terms of their color and texture as a feature of his synesthetic perception. Do certain words or numbers lend themselves to colors or textures in your imagination? Draw up a list of random words and then share them with members of your book group to see if the words call up colors or textures in common for fellow readers.

3. To watch scenes from the documentary, Brainman, that features Daniel Tammet and Kim Peek, visit http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant/tammet.cfm, which also includes links to footage and profiles of other amazing savants, and a wealth of information about savant syndrome and how it manifests itself in the human brain.

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Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Discussion Guide for Born On A Blue Day

1. How does Daniel Tammet's experience of numbers and language differ from that of most people? What explains his intense attraction to prime numbers? How does Daniel characterize his relationships with numbers, and how does it compare to his relationships with people?

2. How are Daniel's savant syndrome and his epilepsy connected? Why might epilepsy allow some regions of Daniel's brain to perform with remarkable efficiency? Of Daniel's many remarkable abilities as a savant, which did you find most fascinating or extraordinary, and why?

3. "Predictability was important to me, a way of feeling in control in a given situation, a way of keeping feelings of anxiety at bay, at least temporarily." To what extent is Daniel's need for regularity and predictability a kind of compulsion? Why might similar behavior in someone without savant syndrome be perceived as neurosis? How does the unexpected affect Daniel?

4. How can Daniel's professional success be understood in light of his having grown up in a large family that required a great deal of him socially, despite his autism? What roles might his family's uncertain finances and his father's illness have played in Daniel's development? How would you characterize Daniel's connection to his family as an adult?

5. Why was Daniel unable to reveal the fact of his homosexuality to his parents prior to his time volunteering in Lithuania? How did his experiences living abroad affect Daniel's sense of self? To what extent were you surprised at Daniel's ability to adapt to life in another country?

6. How would you describe Daniel's relationship with his partner, Neil? In light of Daniel's unique neurological concerns, why was their decision to move in together especially complicated? How do they accommodate Daniel's autistic spectrum disorder in their day-to-day life as a couple? Given that Daniel has difficulty feeling and identifying emotions, why do you think he is able to experience romantic love?

7. "The relationship I have with language is quite an aesthetic one, with certain words and combinations of words being particularly beautiful and stimulating to me." How does Daniel use his knowledge of different languages to help him understand and learn new languages? What does Daniel's invention of a language of his own, Mänti, reveal about his desire to communicate his appreciation of language to the world?

8. How does Daniel describe his experience of the number pi? Why are scientists particularly interested in his ability to see numbers as landscapes with color and texture? How did Daniel's memorization and recitation of thousands of digits of pi affect him and how did it impact his visibility in the world of savant study?

9. Why might Daniel have felt a special kinship with Kim Peek, the person whose life as a savant inspired the film, Rain Man? How does Daniel's experience of autism differ from Kim's, and what neurological abilities do they share? Why do you think Daniel describes meeting Kim Peek as "one of the happiest moments" of his life?

10. What impact did Daniel's conversion to Christianity in 2002 have on his life? What role does his religious belief play in his engagement and interaction with others? To what extent are you surprised that someone with Daniel's gifts and abilities is able to put his faith in God?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. If you are craving more information about the incredibly fascinating life and mind of Daniel Tammet, visit his official website: http://www.optimnem.co.uk/, where you can see some of his artwork, read his blog, and practice some common tongue twisters in Spanish and French that he has included for the entertainment of his visitors.

2. Daniel Tammet sees numbers and words in terms of their color and texture as a feature of his synesthetic perception. Do certain words or numbers lend themselves to colors or textures in your imagination? Draw up a list of random words and then share them with members of your book group to see if the words call up colors or textures in common for fellow readers.

3. To watch scenes from the documentary, Brainman, that features Daniel Tammet and Kim Peek, visit http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant/tammet.cfm, which also includes links to footage and profiles of other amazing savants, and a wealth of information about savant syndrome and how it manifests itself in the human brain.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 85 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 85 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 29, 2012

    Great Book-definitely worth the read!

    January 29, 2012

    The Obstacle of Life
    By Daniel Clemens

    Born on a Blue Day
    By Daniel Tammet



    An autistic boy who has to learn life the hard way. This statement best describes Daniel from his own book, Born on a Blue Day. This disease lays barriers to him in everyday occurrences, like walking across the street. As Tammet matures, he tears down these obstacles bit by bit until they are almost completely gone. He wrote this story to show how this can be done and to prove how people with not only autism, but many diseases, can be just as normal as everyone else.
    Diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism, at such a young age changed Tammet’s future forever. Tammet sets up situations where his siblings check out books from his homemade library with fake library cards. He gathers the most random things from the most random of places like chestnuts or ladybugs. At school, Tammet has trouble making friends but he excels in all of his subjects. He sees numbers as symbols and figures and has a hard time communicating with people.
    As Tammet enters puberty he learns to talk with others better and he even makes a few friends. After graduating high school, he faces a tough decision: to go to college or not. He decides that it would be better not to. Instead he signs up for an opportunity to teach English in an eastern European country called Lithuania. When Tammet returns home he finally leaves home to fend for himself. He meets a man named Neil. He moves in with Neil and Tammet even starts his own business. Daniel recites over twenty-thousand decimal points of pi. Because of this, Tammet is asked to appear in a documentary about his autism in America.
    Tammet spent his life beating his autism and that got in the way of him having friends, learning in school, and even falling in love. He is completely right, however, that autistic people can be just as normal as you or me. Over and over, Tammet talks about the hardships he faces and how tough they are to overcome.
    The book skips around quite a bit at points and during those times it is kind of hard to follow. Eventually, though, it all ties back together and makes sense. Another area that lacks is organization. It is choppy and does not flow. Despite these drawbacks, I would recommend this to anyone looking for an inspiring read that also has an interesting story line and writing style I, as a reader, thoroughly enjoyed this book and I loved the way Daniel portrayed his illness and how well I could understand it.
    Born on a Blue Day provides a unique insight into the life of an autistic person. It is unparalleled in its class and should be considered an extremely good story. As soon as you flip the final page you will be a different person, I guarantee it. Definitely worth the read.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 26, 2012

    Bored on a Blue Day

    In Born On a Blue Day, Daniel Tammet tells the story of his life with Autism and Asperger’s and how it affects his life. As a child, Tammet does not play with the other children. He chooses instead to make his own imaginary friends and talk with them. This, of course, leads to some bullying but he does not mind at all. He enjoys the time to himself. After finishing high school, Tammet volunteers in Lithuania as a teacher. There he makes friends and overcomes a little bit of his apprehension with other people. Eventually, Tammet astounds the world by doing the amazing task of reading off 22,514 digits of Pi. Along this journey, Tammet discovers things about himself regarding sexuality, his calling in life, and relationships. This memoir deals very well with the overcoming of Tammet’s mental disorders. Unfortunately, some of the traits of Autism still shine through in his writing.
    Daniel Tammet is very clear when stating his ideas and memories throughout this book. He provides a lot of information to provide background on the various topics he covers in the memoir of his life. However, this plethora of information sometimes takes away from the story. Often, the informative part of a story takes up about half of the chapter. The material given is no doubt interesting, but there is a point where you begin to think the memoir has turned into a non-fiction essay about Pi or complicated card games. By the time you are done reading this information, you forget why Tammet is telling you about it in the first place. This shows Tammet’s attention to detail and information, however, allowing the flaws to be part of the view inside the mind of a high functioning Autistic person. This time, I guess, Tammet gets lucky.
    Another flaw I notice in Born On a Blue Day is the lack of a personal connection between the author and the reader. This may be a side-effect of the abundant information mentioned above, but is serious problem none the less. This is supposed to be a story of enduring hardship, yet all we get was a story. Tammet rarely lets us see into the emotional side of his mind throughout this memoir. More often he is ranting about the way numbers feel. This creates a major barrier to the average human as to seeing how Tammet overcomes any hardship. In fact, it sounds to me as if Tammet enjoys most of his life. He is bullied, but doesn’t care. Once again, this lack of connection could be due to his disorders but it still created a large obstacle in the story.
    Overall, Born On a Blue Day is an interesting account of a Savant Autistic person with Asperger’s, but fails as a tale of overcoming hardship. I would recommend this book to a friend only if they wish to be informed, not so much inspired. Tammet is no doubt a great and courageous person for what he has done but maybe he should try and incorporate more emotions next time. I give this book a C.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 2, 2013

    Born On A Blue Day by Daniel Tammet takes you inside

    Born On A Blue Day by Daniel Tammet takes you inside the personal journey of a man overcoming his dissabilities to live a spectactular life. The author himself writes of his life story on dealing with Autism. He has a form of high performing Aspberger's syndrome. He sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and he can perform extraordinary calculations in his head. He also can learn to speak new languages fluently, from scratch, in a week. In 2004, he memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi, setting a record. He has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition that gives him almost unimaginable mental powers.
    Unlike many people who suffer from the same disorders Daniel Tammet has suffered from, he has been able to live an independent and normal life. He has emerged from autism with the ability to function successfully. He learned to use his strengths to overcome and outshine some of his weaknesses. He grew into his own skin after realizing he was a unique individual with things to offer just like everyone else. He gives an amazing reflection and look inside of his world.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2012

    A MUST READ for Teachers

    Born on a Blue Day is a rare, first person account of living with autism. Daniel Tammet tells his story with candor and provides remarkable insight into his everyday life. I am grateful to Daniel, because he has helped gain a greater appreciation of my students who have autism. Born on a Blue Day should be required reading for every teacher and especially for all college students majoring in education.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 23, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    This is a coming-of-age memoir about a high-functioning autistic

    This is a coming-of-age memoir about a high-functioning autistic savant who also has synesthesia. It is rare for a savant to be as high-functioning as Tammet, therefore this memoir provides a unique and fascinating look into Asperger's, savantism, and synesthesia. It was endearing to watch Tammet metamorphose from an awkward child into a much more secure adult. The story is insightful and inspiring...I imagine it would be especially so for teens with Asperger's who are concerned that they will never be able to function in the "real world."

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Didn't want it to end!!

    A splendidly, delightful and insightful look at an autistic savant, through his own eyes. Very enlightening. With a nephew and niece who have recently been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, I found this book to be most interesting. I highly recommend it!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 19, 2012

    Enjoyable story

    I enjoyed Daniel's story very much. He is extremely eloquent. It is fascinating to get a first hand account of how his mind works. I'm so glad he has found happiness in his life and followed his heart to do what he loves. Kudos to his family for being so supportive.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    The Must Read Novel

    Daniel Tammet paints an interesting picture. His words are calculated and precise, but not lacking in description and interest. Though he felt lonely throughout his childhood, I feel that he could have cut down on his childhood loneliness. While this does make up a big portion of his childhood, I found this to be the most difficult portion to read. It is slightly dry, but looking back in retrospect at it, I can understand why Daniel Tammet organized the book the way he did.
    He makes the readers think in an utterly unique way. At first, I find his loneliness and longing as a sign of being in need of a friend and an utter lacking of interest to read. Then it made me think about my own experiences of being alone. It shows the longing I had myself about having friends and understood, is a universal notion for all of human kind. The pieces all came together after that point in the book. After these thoughts, it makes a portion of the book that was previously so dry, completely relatable in a way I hadn’t thought was possible originally.
    Daniel Tammet also struggles with socials skills. I know that I, myself, have never had problems with social skills. He struggled at learning and adapting to the world around him, but he does it. Daniel Tammet shows the world that he can develop skills he isn’t born with. And also that it is possible to learn how to defy odds, even when they are stacked against you. The interesting thing about Daniel Tammet’s odds is that they are not unique. There are many autistic people in the world and he gives them hope by showing them that it is possible to retain a sense of “normalcy” while still retaining themselves. He exemplifies for the socially adequate reader that you can do whatever you want to achieve, if you put your mind. Through his achievements of breaking the longest memorization of digits of Pi and going to a foreign country while hardly ever leaving the safe comforts of home Daniel Tammet shows it is possible to excel.
    Born on a Blue Day is a must read book. I give it a four for the sheer fact it is so relatable to everyone. It will force the people who believe ignorance is bliss, rethink their morals and start to wonder if their lifestyle is truly as right as they believe it to be. It also brings true hope to the hopeless, faith to the faithless, and a new way of thinking to those who didn’t know they needed it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 29, 2012

    It Just Doesn't Add Up

    Daniel Tammet wrote Born on a Blue Day to show his struggle with being an autistic savant and his sexuality. He wants people to understand that autistic people aren’t weird or inappropriate, but special. He states that what he does may be different, but that he doesn’t believe he might be wrong. His way of life seems like the correct way to live. Tammet’s lack of emotion is his strongest attribute and keeps us from knowing what he truly feels. I understand that Daniel Tammet has a hard time connecting with feelings, as do most autistic people; but emotion or connection to books is what makes them compelling. I, as a reader, want to connect to a person's life and become apart of it while I’m enthralled in a book. Born on a Blue Day does not have this quality. The book is a memoir, so it should go deep inside Tammet’s feelings. Daniel Tammet starts his novel off with his very first day of life, a Wednesday. “I know it was a Wednesday, because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing,” he writes. Tammet has been able to do large mathematical equations in his head since he was young. He gives visual attribute to numbers, and they all go together like puzzle pieces. Daniel even sees people as certain numbers based on their qualities. In his later life he recites 22,514 digits of pi, breaking a huge record. This brings him fame in the math world. Tammet was not very social, but this did not disturb him. He had no need for friends and enjoyed having time for himself. When he graduated from high school he is faced with a difficult decision: Should he go to college? He decides against it and teaches English in Lithuania. This is his beginning of a new life, a social life. Daniel makes genuine friends that he keeps in contact with for a long time. Daniel writes recalling minute details and tons of facts. All this information takes away from the story. At some points I forgot what I was reading about. This may be an expression of Daniel’s autism, but also makes the book uninteresting at times. I wish that there were more of a balance between facts and emotion. Tammet finds himself relating people and places to numbers. This is an interesting way of seeing things, but is very difficult for me to relate. He is almost disconnected from his reader. Finally, Tammet has a hard time finding his voice. What is his purpose? He never quite succeeds at letting the audience know about how he overcame his struggles. Read Born on a Blue Day to learn about a different way of existing, not to inspire you. Tammet’s reason for writing this was to introduce himself and to educate people on his disorder. This book makes me wonder if Tammet’s lack of emotion contributed to his writing, or is he simply a boring writer?

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 27, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Fascinating insights into a fascinating view of the world

    Being a mathematician gives me an automatic interest in a book that has numbers on its cover. Being a writer brings the image of a blue day vividly to life. And knowing a number of people with diagnoses on the autistic spectrum means Daniel Tammet's memoir, Born on a Blue Day, has to intrigue me. What I didn't know was just how much I would enjoy it.

    Like Temple Grandin, Daniel Tammet uses events from his life to provide insight into his way of feeling and thinking. He tells how he perceives the shape and texture of colors, and how that landscape led to his famous recitation of the first 22,514 digits of pi in five hours and nine minutes! But such savant skills, while academically exciting, don't help a child learn how to find a friend, or how to answer questions in school when the teacher looks at him.

    The author's experiences include hints of the relatable with explanations that sound almost like a sixth or seventh sense. The social difference of Asperger's syndrome combines with the wonder of synesthesia to create a world as strange as the digits of pi. When the author succeeds, the reader wants to rejoice. He makes the beauty of numbers as vivid as that of linguistics. Speaking many languages himself, he describes the joy of learning a new one, the sorting of words and derivations filled with texture and color for the reader. Speaking the digits of pi, he builds a picture of himself as clear as the landscape in his mind. As his story progresses from shy child to world-traveller, and from loner to young man delighting in his partner's presence and love, so the author seems to become the reader's friend, someone I for one am delighted to have met in the pages of a blue day.



    Disclosure: A friend who also has relatives on the autism spectrum loaned me this book, knowing I would love it as much as she did.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2011

    using the bennifits of autism

    Using the Benefits of Autism
    One might argue that autism is a disease that has no benefits, well I don't agree. I now believe that autism can help you grow as a person or at least that's what I read in the novel; Born on a Blue Day. Would you believe that a man with autism holds the record for the most memorized digits of Pi? Daniel Tammet sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures which helps him to perform unbelievable calculations in his head. He can also memorize languages and speak them fluently after only one or two weeks. This is the book of his remarkable life.
    A major reoccurring theme that I felt was the idea that nothing should stop you. He didn't come out and say it, but often I forgot that he had autism. He was doing these remarkable things that no one else could do. People with perfect brains couldn't even do it.
    I really liked the whole idea of the story. I liked how I could relate to him. He had a disease that others told him should stop him. I have diabetes yet I do a lot of sports. Sometimes I feel I should stop because my body can't handle it. But I know if I just take a quick break I'll be fine and I can keep going. I didn't have a dislike.
    I would request this book to someone who was feeling low on themselves or who felt bad about where they stood. This book will give you a new opinion and new ideas about how to handle your trials.
    Overall I would give this book a solid A.
    "The number one, for example, is a brilliant and bright white, like someone shinning a flashlight into my eyes." I feel like this could be a crux because it shows how complex his mind is. There are several cruxes' that could be taken out of this book. The only way to get the full ideas is read it.
    What values from the time period are reflected in this book?
    The time period was modern day. A struggle he went through was people not accepting him because of his disease. This was probably very rough on him and very believable that it was during this time period.
    What unique trials did the protagonist face?
    The protagonist faced some trails that the readers would never want to face. Like me, I would never want to put myself in his shoes; I feel it would be way too hard to deal with.
    What literary elements, normally found in fiction writing, did you also find in this non-fiction book?
    A fiction book usually takes time creating the scenery and showing how the characters went along with the plot. In this book Daniel took imagery and made the book feel as real as if I was there.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 12, 2010

    Great story- written beautifully

    Meet Daniel Temmet. He has to count how many articles of clothing we is wearing every morning, and eats the same amount of cereal. He paces when he's nervous, and counts when he's uncomfortable. He is an autistic savant. Like most other autistic savants, he sees numbers as pictures. Complex math problems are simple for him, he set the record (over 22,000) for memorizing the digits of pi. Unlike most, he is can have a independent life. His story is inspiring, and sometimes funny. But no matter what, Daniel's story looks into the mind, something we all have in common.
    I would highly recommend this book who would like to widen their knowledge of autistic savants, or just want to read a well-written story. The writing style is elegant and refined, and the story is blunt and truthful. I didn't like however, the beginning. For the first couple of chapters, I was bored. But, keep reading! It gets really good! But they main thing I took away from this book is hope. Throughout Daniel's childhood, he was bullied, couldn't make friends, and didn't fit in anywhere. But after a couple years of practice, he is a loved celebrity all around the world.
    Daniel just released a new book called: Embracing the Wide Sky. I would definitely recommend it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 23, 2010

    An interesting read about anun common suject

    "Born on a blue day" is the story of Daniel Tammet's life as an autistic savant and the trials and tribulations he has endured in the first 30 or so years of his life. One of the major themes in this book was overcoming adversity. Daniel starts life as a shy introverted individual that eventually transforms into someone of great significance and influence. One of the more important messages conveyed, in my opinion, was that one can overcome many difficulties with the help of others. This novel was well written and very easy to read. Daniel makes it possible for others to start to understand his way of thinking. The book is filled with many medical facts and phenomenons that he has witnessed and endured. However, i felt that the book dragged on in some sections, revisiting already explained stories and experiences. Also, some stories and comments seemed irrelevant to the story, wild tangents or side notes.This book would be valuable to others because it exemplifies what its like to be different, also it is a good first hand account of a person with a rare disorder. After reading the book, i would suggest watching videos on youtube of daniel Tammet, the videos are interesting and also put a face/voice to the person being envisioned throughout the book. Overall, i would give this book 4/5 stars. -Michael

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 14, 2010

    Intersting but wanted more

    Daniel Tammet is obviously an extraordinary human being. He's an autistic savant who can remember - and recite - over 22,000 digits of pi and become fluent in a language in a week, but his autism hasn't stopped him from living on his own, teaching others, and falling in love. That said, his book reads mostly like a regular autobiography. That he wrote it at all is an amazing feat, and it's about amazing things, but since the sub-title is "Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant" I was expecting a little more about his thought processes - I wanted to go "inside the mind." I was especially interested in his description of numbers as shapes and colors, but I was left wanting more - how does that make mathematical processes and remembering large numbers easier? Do the shapes fit together? Could I remember a landscape better than a number string? Maybe it's too much to ask. I probably couldn't explain my thought process to others either, but I was disappointed that there wasn't more of that type of insight in this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    Absolutely necessary reading

    This is an extremely important book and a must read for those who have any questions about mental problems children are encountering in this day and age.

    Feel the book gives a perspective to a major problem and sheds light to those of us who really haven't had any exposure to theh situation.

    Books gives hope for those with children who have this problem.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 19, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Very Engaging

    I don't normally like biographies or memoirs but this book was pretty interesting. I listened to it on audio and the reader's voice was perfect. Listening to Daniel's story was uplifting and intriguing. Such a brilliant mind!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 17, 2009

    Outstanding book on what it means to have mind that works in a different way

    If you or any of your friends or family work with or know Autistic people I think you will find this book fantastic. Daniel tells us how he sees the world and how he works to deal with life from this prospective. It gives you cause to wonder about what is going on in the minds of other people who think differently and can not verbalize it like Daniel.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 15, 2009

    Insightful

    It was amazing to be offered even a glimpse into how this autistic author's mind works and all his courageous choices that led him to a rewarding life.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 29, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Inside The Mind Of An Autistic Savant

    Extremely readable and interesting memoir of an autistic young man who's brain functions at levels unknown to most. An informative read for those who deal with autism on a regular basis. A great read for anyone interested in science and the workings of the mind.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 6, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Positive Story About Asperger Syndrome

    I am a special education teacher and found this book so enlightening into the minds of students. If you do not know anyone with Asperger Syndrome or Autism, it probably would not have the same effect. However, if you want to hear a good outcome story of someone with Asperger Syndrome, this is the book for you. I even purchased a second copy for my sister.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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