Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet
I’m fascinated by the mind and how the brain works and so I really enjoyed this memoir, written by a young English man with savant syndrome. Rather like the title character in Rain Man, he is able to perform amazing mathematical calculations. (He describes how he went to Utah to meet Kim Peek, who was the inspiration for the character played by Dustin Hoffman.)
Tammet explores his own mental abilities and differences with a very self-conscious approach, aware that he is different and eager to explore the workings of his own mind. He explains how his synesthesia mean that he experiences numbers visually as colors and shapes and they create landscapes in his head. He explains the connection between how he perceives numbers and his ability to remember long streams of numbers (like memorizing pi to 22,514 digits). Words too have color and their color and shape and his visual memory give him a remarkable gift for languages. He learned Icelandic in a matter of days, speaking it well enough to be interviewed on Icelandic television.
Especially interesting to me was the final few pages, which are almost an afterthought in the text, about discovering God and becoming a Christian, primarily because of the writing of Chesterton. I wish he’d expanded on that a bit further, though perhaps there isn’t more to say. He feels a great kinship for Chesterton and speculates that Chesterton himself might have been on the higher-functioning end of the autistic spectrum, based on many details of Chesterton’s life.
One reservation about the book, very minor. Tammet is gay and in a homosexual relationship; but there is little detail about his romantic life. He mentions his partner Neil to explain how that relationship teaches him about love. Interestingly, it is his experience of falling in love that allows him to appreciate his family and to relate to them emotionally, to understand familial love.