Book Review - Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
I heard of Daniel Tammet after watching a documentary on his incredible mental skills. His book Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant is a fascinating look into the life of someone who doesn't see the world like others do. It's even more remarkable in that he's able to tell the story himself.
Tammet is a autistic savant with Asperger's Syndrome, a combination that usually leaves a person with little to no social skills to survive in the normal world. As he grew up, he was definitely "different", but his parents tried to make sure he participated in his world as much as possible. So instead of descending into isolation, he was forced to find ways to adapt and fit in. This socialization has allowed him to do things far beyond what would be expected, such as serving as a volunteer in a foreign country on his own. It's amazing to see how he's struggled to find his place, as well as how he's used his phenomenal mental abilities. For instance, he can learn a language fluently in just a few weeks. He memorized the value of pi out to over 25000 digits. For him, numbers are art, and have shapes and colors. These mental images allow him to view words and values in ways that we can't even imagine. He can do mental calculations with nearly instantaneous results, and it all appears to be a flowing image. It's hard not to think about the original "Rainman", Kim Peek, when you read this story. In fact, one of the moving parts of the story is when he actually meets Peek during a visit to America. Watching two people relate to each other when no one else can see the world as they do is touching.
Because this is his own story, it's not an exhaustive explanation of autism or Asperger's. The chapters are much more personal, and have a bit of a random nature in their layout. But as a way to experience what it's like to live with these conditions, it's hard to beat.