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Genie: A Scientific Tragedy
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Genie: A Scientific Tragedy

3.95  ·  Rating Details ·  740 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
The compelling story of a young woman's emergence into the world after spending her first 13 years strapped to a chair, and her rescue and exploitation by scientists hoping to gain new insight into language acquisition.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published January 12th 1994 by Harper Perennial (first published 1993)
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Cyndy Aleo
May 20, 2011 Cyndy Aleo rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
My mother recently brought me over boxes of books I haven't seen in years, one of which was Genie: A Scientific Tragedy. When I was still in college, I had planned on doing my senior psychology thesis on "unattached" children as they were called at the time, children who never properly bonded with a caregiver, and as a result, seemed to have no conscience. I was first drawn to Genie because her story begins with such unbelievable abuse and neglect that I assumed the story was about such a child. ...more
The Idle Woman
Feb 11, 2017 The Idle Woman rated it really liked it
The facts are these. In late 1970, a woman arrived at a social services office in California with her daughter. The woman, Irene, had almost entirely lost her sight and had taken a wrong turn while looking for services for the blind. But it was her daughter who caught the receptionist’s attention. It transpired that mother and child had managed to escape their home, where they had lived under the totalitarian rule of Irene’s husband Clark. The little girl, Genie, had spent her life in confinemen ...more
Anne Hawn Smith
The story of Genie is a truly a tragedy in every way. There was no "right" way for Genie. In some respects, it would have been better for Social Services to have given her to a family who would have raised her as a beloved pet. In actuality, that was the only level at which she could have happily functioned, but who would have thought that when she was found? Because of how she was raised, she was an empty slate, a perfect subject for understanding how language was learned and emotions were form ...more
Caffee K.
Jan 23, 2015 Caffee K. rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Psychologists, language pathologists, psychology students
Recommended to K. by: my college Professor
This is not in my normal genre, however for research purposes I gladly started reading this. It was not what I expected, even with the warning I received from the lender before I got it.

Genie revolves around a young girl, "Genie", who has suffered traumatic abuse and neglect as a young child. When she is discovered because her mother took her to an appointment at a local DHS office, the scientific community over reacts to the potential information they may discover about the human psyche. This i
Feb 19, 2009 Danielle rated it liked it
This is a journalistic account of a feral child subjected to unimaginable abuse at the hands of her father. When she is finally rescued she is turned over to scientists and linguists and treated with an odd mixture of love, fascination and scientific purpose. The author does a great job at drawing out the human motives that come out in odd ways with respect to the child, and also drawing attention to the interesting linguistic theories that seem to have their play around her. It's a quick read. ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Joana rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science-health
I first heard about this story during a class on Behavior Psychology. I was so intrigued by the photograph the professor showed us of "Genie", a 13 year old girl with an appearance of a 7 year old, unable to verbally communicate yet so expressive in her body language and eyes.

This story does not have a happy ending. It is heartening and amazing see Genie's progress in learning and acquiring new skills, as an insight on the mind's ability to continuously learn and adapt despite harrowing deprivat
Maddi Taylor
Mar 12, 2017 Maddi Taylor rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This book made me interested in reading nonfiction. Russ paints beautiful pictures, and he makes it easy for the layperson to understand the science behind the linguistics. I love how he consciously chose to show the readers Genie's reflection, rather than shine the spotlight on her.
Mar 29, 2016 Brendan rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone
The reason I picked the book up is over my own random interest in linguistics but, other then reminding me of several books I need to read, it wasn't like that. I also remember the story popping up in both my Psych 101 and Soc 101 classes in college. What this is, is straight journalism (sans the afterword) reporting on the case of Genie through the eyes of the scientists and caretakers who were involved in the project. What the book is about is, however, the tragedy that befalls the girl. And i ...more
Jan 08, 2015 itzmyguys rated it it was amazing
I read a few reviews of this book just after I read it, and one reviewer described Genie and her story as "Hopeless... literally beyond hope." And this phrase really stuck out to me. Genie, her story and her life could not be summed up in any better way than this.

Poor Genie wasn't given a chance. Not once in her entire sad life. She was born to parents who didn't want her and weren't mentally sufficient (downright cruel) to take care of her. Her father decided when she was only 20 months old th
Christian Cassara
I would give this book 3.5 stars if I could. I think that Rymer is a fine writer, and his style is a pleasure to read. However, I simply did not find this book to be a natural page-turner all the way through. Perhaps I have too much formal experience in science to be entertained by the normal quarrels between scientists investigating a similar subject. It's an essential part of the story, but I wasn't captivated by it.

The parts of the book that I found most interesting were those in which Rymer
Mellanie C
Feb 19, 2017 Mellanie C rated it it was amazing
I registered a book at!
Jan 06, 2017 Beckbunch rated it really liked it
To me, Genie didn't seem a "scientific" tragedy as much as a "life" tragedy. She was so completely broken when she came into the care of Children's Hospital that I don't think anyone can say with certainty that her story would have ended differently in another's care. While it was unfortunate that there was in-fighting between the doctors and therapists, I didn't sense evil in any of them. They seemed to all truly want the best for her. One of my favorite quotes of the book was from David Rigler ...more
Feb 21, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing
This is a very important book. The lessons to be learned are extreme. It is hard to review. I can't say that I enjoyed the book. Not in a sense of enjoyment to read. This book is painful. "Genie" suffered one of the most tragic childhoods a person could endure. Utter cruelty. Disgusting and enraging. Had I been the person that discovered her and the conditions under which she was existing, her "father" would have been pounded into a fine powder on the spot. And the fact that so many people dropp ...more
David Ward
Dec 21, 2011 David Ward rated it liked it
Genie: An Abused Child's Flight From Silence by Russ Rymer (Harper Collins Publishers 1993) (Biography) is the story of a child discovered in Temple City, California at the age of 13 in 1970 who had been completely deprived of stimulation or language by her parents. She spent much of her life strapped to a potty chair in a back bedroom until her almost totally blind mother left an abusive marriage to Genie's father and wandered into the local Social Services office. The "Wild Child", as Genie ca ...more
Samantha cole
Feb 25, 2008 Samantha cole rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: steppie
Recommended to Samantha by: no one, i heard about it in soc class
ooo, it's a page turner! depressing, but very interesting story about a girl who was literally chained inside a closet for the first twelve yrs of her life, barely fed, never loved, and rarely spoken to. i know, i know, who wants to read something so sad? but it's interesting to see how the human brain functions when we haven't yet learned to talk, as most people have by the time they are a degree. this book is taken from a scientific, sociological perspective and while i'm not in fav ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Fishface rated it really liked it
Wow, what a story. This is a lot more than a "scientific" tragedy. Traces the life of a child who was accidentally discovered by Social Services after being rescued from her abusive father, who kept her strapped onto a baby's potty chair for the first 13 years of her life and beat her with a board if she made any noise. She briefly became a star in the academic community as scientists, therapists and teachers from different disciplines wrangled over possession of the "feral child," and tried to ...more
May 31, 2008 Kate rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 03, 2008 Jenallen74 rated it really liked it
I don't read much nonfiction, but I'd heard of Genie's case back in college freshman psychology class, and I enjoyed this book. Genie's story, and those of the other "feral children" mentioned in the book, are fascinating. They are a tantalizing, yet necessarily rare, glimpse into what human beings could be (and perhaps once were), if our social circumstances were different, if we did not have language. And yet Genie's essential humanity shone through, and that was truly touching. It's like, in ...more
Lynzee Anderson
Jan 28, 2008 Lynzee Anderson rated it liked it
This story is so horrible, you cant help but keep reading. It is the story of the worst child abuse cases in California State History. A girl "Genie", being locked in a cage for most of her childhood, with no human contact what-so-ever. Abused of course, she never learned to speak. It is a good read, but get sad when the doctors who had grew to love her, get her taken away from her and back into the care of her crazy, blind mother. Genie is now in a adult hospital, that the wherabouts of it are ...more
Carmen Tudor
Feb 08, 2013 Carmen Tudor rated it really liked it
Russ Rymer expertly details the politics, progress, and pathos of one of the most severe cases of recent child abuse in the US, and its neurolinguistics heart. The tale is a fascinating, if terribly disturbing, insight into the scientific study of language acquisition on 13-year-old Genie -- a child who was denied any meaningful stimuli or communication during her captive years, and then subjected to further years of bitter tug-of-wars between those studying her and those who sought her welfare. ...more
K.H. Leigh
Apr 24, 2013 K.H. Leigh rated it it was amazing
I first learned about Genie's story while doing research for a college thesis. I had personal experience working with children who had been victims of severe neglect, and was writing a paper about their difficulties with language acquisition.

This book struck me to the core. Not only is the subject explored so poignant, so heart-wrenching, but it's written with an expert hand. It gives humanity and dignity to a character who was robbed of her own. It keeps you deeply engaged. The book says with y
Nov 04, 2013 Erica rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This is the story of the 12 year old girl who was found by social services after being tied up in a room her whole life. She was considered to be like a wild child or feral child and at the time there was great interest in how our brains learn language. Genie could barely communicate and there was a lot of in-fighting about what was best for her and what could be learned from her.

The story is well told and fascinating. I read this on a six hour flight and it kept me interested the whole time.
The Badger
Jul 14, 2016 The Badger rated it really liked it
From my understanding (and it's been years since I read this book), Genie was initially closed away because of what sounded like early developmental delays (possibly autism). Layer on the seclusion and trauma, and of course the outcome would be less than favorable. However, one could say that the developmental disorders Genie was born with were what "saved" her from exhibiting more behaviors consistent to children who have been horribly traumatized. It's possible that regardless of her upbringin ...more
Dec 02, 2009 Maggie rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I think that as a much younger person, I caught a part of a documentary about Genie on tv, and I remember being fascinated by her. So this book satisfied some longstanding curiosity about her. I don't think it succeeded in answering the question it posed, "what does it mean to be human," but the part it touched on did seem compelling as far as it went. I learned a little bit of neuroscience, and got a sense of how tricky science can be, especially when it has to interact with ethics.
Dec 31, 2008 Shannon rated it really liked it
It's a great read for anyone interested in language acquisition and human development. Learning of the ethically questionable behavior of the scientific community was of particularly high interest to me. Arguably, researchers focused on their experiments instead of Genie's welfare. I consider Rymer's concerns regarding scientific ethics appropriate. He outlines relative prominent theories in child development and describes other feral children. It's a fascinating but ultimately sad story.
Jessica Healy
Aug 16, 2011 Jessica Healy rated it it was amazing
This is without a doubt one of the most impressive biographies I've ever read. Rymer manages to blend science and literature and philosophy expertly, so that the book sort of defies genre. The story is heartbreaking without being overly saccharine, and the illuminating afterword highlights its impact on the writer, adding yet another level to a fantastically in-depth account of one of academia's most famous stories. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Dec 28, 2009 Nathalie rated it really liked it
For a linguistics class I took in college, I once read a study of this pitiful feral child and was intrigued by the connection to language acquisition. Anyone interested in more about Genie should read Susan Curtiss' original dissertation/book on her.

Rymer's book was a quick and interesting read, summing up the whole story - right up to Genie's current life in an unknown home for mentally challenged adults. So sad what became of her...
Aug 20, 2008 Crckt rated it liked it
Yet another book to help rid you of any faith that you had left in humanity. The feral child story turned on its ear. This poor Girl was strapped to a bed for years, denied contact during the critical periods that wwould have allowed her to acquire language, and if that wasn't enough the buracracy of various doctors and social service organizations further screwed this hapless kid.

Aug 02, 2011 Jo added it
a harrowing true story of a 13yr old who emerges from a lifetime of abusive neglect (tied to a potty-chair in a room) into a complex research circus - Genie's case raises questions about what it means to be human and how we can respond as human(e)ly as possible to horror - Rymer negotiates a thoughtful way through a difficult saga and the book is ultimately a call for ethical science
Anna Engel
Dec 08, 2014 Anna Engel rated it liked it
This is a fascinating and tragic story. I can understand the perceived need for the scientific community to study Genie's linguistic and social development. However, so many people in her life lost sight of her being a human in need -- she was essentially a child. She needed love more than scientists needed information. So many people failed her.
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Russ Rymer is the author of Genie: A Scientific Tragedy, which became a NOVA television documentary and was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and American Beach: A Saga of Race, Wealth, and Memory, which was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book of the Year Award and named a New York Times Notable Book. Rymer, currently the Joan Leiman Jacobson Non-Fiction Writer in Residence a ...more
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