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The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer's

The Last of His Mind: A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer's

by John Thorndike

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ForeWord Book of the Year Award winner
A Publishers Weekly “Indie Top 20”
The Washington Post: A Best Book of 2009
2010 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

Joe Thorndike was managing editor of Life at the height of its popularity immediately following World War II. He was the founder of American Heritage and Horizon


ForeWord Book of the Year Award winner
A Publishers Weekly “Indie Top 20”
The Washington Post: A Best Book of 2009
2010 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

Joe Thorndike was managing editor of Life at the height of its popularity immediately following World War II. He was the founder of American Heritage and Horizon magazines, the author of three books, and the editor of a dozen more. But at age 92, in the space of six months he stopped reading or writing or carrying on detailed conversations. could no longer tell time or make a phone call. was convinced that the governor of Massachusetts had come to visit and was in the refrigerator.

Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and like many of them, Joe Thorndike’s one great desire was to remain in his own house. To honor this wish, his son John left his own home and moved into his father’s upstairs bedroom on Cape Cod. For a year, in a house filled with file cabinets, photos, and letters, John explored his father’s mind, his parents’ divorce, and his mother’s secrets. The Last of His Mind is the bittersweet account of a son’s final year with his father, and a candid portrait of an implacable disease.

It is the ordeal of Alzheimer’s that draws father and son close, closer than they have been since John was a boy. At the end, when Joe’s heart stops beating, John’s hand is on his chest, and a story of painful decline has become a portrait of deep family ties, caregiving, and love.

Editorial Reviews

Carolyn See
At length, Joseph dies at home, with his son as witness. This memoir is far too elegantly written to ever state it directly, but the reader is made aware of the high honor involved: The author honors his father in the most profound way and is blessed, in turn, by participating in the most taxing event in his father's life.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Starred Review.

In this engrossing memoir, author Thorndike (Anna DeLaney's Child, Another Way Home: A Single Father's Story) tells a touching story of family, death, discovery and devotion, in which Thorndike probes his journalist father's accomplishments and losses, his relationships and his wife's tragic suicide. When his father Joe Thorndike, suffering at age 92 from congestive heart failure and the onset of Alzheimer's disease, can no longer take care of himself, Thorndike offers to live with him. Over the following year, Thorndike chronicles his father's growing incapacity, and seeks to learn more about him despite the dying man's lifelong all-but-impenetrable reserve. While much of the book details Thorndike's difficulties caretaking for his father, he heightens the proceedings with family tales, including some from his father's editorial work at the heyday of Life, working with bold named figures like the Luces, Whittaker Chambers, James Thurber and Winston Churchill. A beautiful book, this memoir reveals the painful chaos of Alzheimer's, as well as the strength, faith and unexpected joys that come with caring for a loved one in his last days.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Kirkus Reviews
A brave, moving story of a son's devotion to his dying father. Novelist and memoirist Thorndike (Another Way Home: A Family's Journey Through Mental Illness, 1997, etc.) decided that when his father, a once indomitable editor at Life magazine and a reserved figure of authority, began to falter physically and mentally at the age of 92, the author was the one sibling who could put his life aside and take care of him. The decision to move from his farm in Ohio into his father's home in Cape Cod was not altogether altruistic, he admits, since he had agreed with his brother that he would get paid for taking care of his increasingly forgetful father. When the author's mother died more than 30 years before, "awash in depression, drugs and alcohol," Thorndike had not been present, and he felt "negligent," vowing "that when the time came I was going to look after my father." The author is remarkably candid about his complex and changing feelings for his parents, who divorced ten years before his mother's emotional slide. Neither of them was affectionate with each other or with their sons, a deep hurt that Thorndike rectified by his closeness with his own son. By caring for his confused, language-challenged father daily-feeding him, bathing him and thinking up ways to keep him stimulated-he attained enormous tenderness for and understanding of his father. Sadly, Thorndike's father refused to talk openly about his mother, who had left her husband for other men who were more emotionally giving. The author makes the startling realization that he, by his sensuality and openness, had "become the man my mother wouldn't leave." Though some readers may criticize the author for being self-serving-herecognized that he had a better story in his father's decline than the novel he was currently writing-Thorndike's prose is serenely beautiful and his patience in caring for an Alzheimer's patient is extremely admirable. An affecting work of emotional honesty and forgiveness.
From the Publisher

“This book tells a hard story, the relentless decline of a father’s memory and self-awareness. John Thorndike writes a beautiful sentence, a beautiful page, and describes his father’s last year with piercing clarity, but also great warmth. He opens a world we will all have to face.”
— Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

"In The Last of his Mind, John Thorndike has given us far more than a book on dealing with Alzheimer’s. This taut, clear-eyed memoir of a son caring for his father in his final days is an act of consummate literary bravery, allowing us to witness the final dance between two flawed and admirable men."
— Rob Wilder, author of Daddy Needs a Drink and Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge

"Here in detail is a story we fear for our loved ones, a story we fear for ourselves. Yet Thorndike also conveys the humor and joy, the contemplation and compassion, and the reconciliation and healing that were part of this journey. The result: The Last of His Mind is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming."
— Lady Borton, author of After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese

"The frankness of this haunting memoir is totally disarming. Thorndike addresses the banalities and small tragedies that attend the great event of a lifetime with an unblinking eye. Told in his luminously clear prose, the plain story of the unraveling of a mind and a life find its way into the heart like our own blood. An important, beautiful book."
— Henry Shukman, author of The Lost City

Product Details

Ohio University Press
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Meet the Author

John Thorndike is the author of two novels, Anna Delaney’s Child and The Potato Baron, and a previous memoir, Another Way Home. He lives in Athens, Ohio.

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