Lindsay's Reviews > Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant

Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
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Jan 24, 09

bookshelves: autism, memoir, nonfiction, 2007, read-for-fun, read-postcollege
Recommended for: autistics, people interested in the mind
Read in January, 2009, read count: 1

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant whose special talents include lightning-fast calculation (including calendrical calculation --- telling on what day of the week any given date will fall), amazing facility with languages (he currently speaks ten, and has even made up his own language) and a near-perfect memory for facts and figures (he's the current European record-holder for reciting pi to the greatest number of digits). He's also a synesthete, which helps him considerably in performing these mathematical and mnemonic feats by giving each number its own distinctive color, shape and emotion. He describes memorizing pi as a walk through a dreamscape, with the differently colored hills and valleys corresponding to different stretches of digits.

(My favorite turn of phrase in the whole book --- which admittedly is fairly artless, but I didn't mind that --- was when he compared memorizing pi to running a marathon in his head. I liked that because, given how he'd just described the experience, it was literally true.)

The book starts out with a brief chapter describing how his synesthesia works, and then goes on to chronicle his life. Other reviewers have complained that a lot of these sections feel forced, like Tammet is himself bored by recounting the trivial details of his life, but feels like he has to in order to write this book. I agree to an extent --- it is clear that the book's heart is in the sections describing numbers, languages and his meeting with fellow savant Kim Peek --- but I also understand why he chose to include his life history. He speaks near the end of the book of wanting to work closely with neuroscientists to figure out how his mind works, and to help answer larger questions about synesthesia, savantism, learning, and the extent to which abilities like his may be latent in most people's brains. To me, his laying out every detail of his infancy and childhood looked like a necessary part of that cooperation.

(Those sections also held some special interest for me, as another autistic person, because I could compare my development and experiences with his.)

I also feel like I have to answer the reviewer below who called Tammet a sociopath. My impression as I was reading his book could not have been further from that! I got the impression that he was loving, kind, deeply humble, and authentically curious about other people and willing to let them into his life. Indeed, of all the (other) autistic people whose autobiographies I've read, Daniel Tammet is one of two I'd most like to meet (the other is Dawn Prince-Hughes), and he seems to me to have the warmest personality.
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