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Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism
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Unstrange Minds: Remapping the World of Autism

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  728 ratings  ·  80 reviews
Unstrange Minds documents Grinker's quest to find out why autism is so much more common today, and to uncover the implications of the increase. His search took him to Africa, India, and East Asia, to the National Institutes of Mental Health, and to the mountains of Appalachia. What he discovered is both surprising and controversial: There is no true increase in autism. Gri ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published January 22nd 2007 by Basic Books (first published 2007)
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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Jan 02, 2008 added it
Recommends it for: Parents, auties, aspies, people with autism, anthropologists, educators
My aspie-self has chosen not to rate this with stars, as I have entered into paradox with my reactions to this book:

I deeply appreciate:
*The deconstruction of the "epidemic" model
*The historical views of psych and autism, in critical dialog
*The cross-cultural research of how societies' treat people labeled (and not labeled) on the autistic spectrum, including frequent reminders that Westernization doesn't equal integration and "less development" doesn't equal not.
*The deep respect and learning
Lars Guthrie
Oct 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A subtitle on the cover of Richard Grinker’s ‘Unstrange Minds,’ ‘A Father, a Daughter, and a Search for New Answers’ might give you the idea that his book is a memoir. And in part, it is. The struggles and rewards Grinker and his family go through as they raise, and grow with, their autistic member, the unforgettable Isabel, are touchingly told.

‘Unstrange Minds’ is much more than that, though. Grinker is an anthropologist, and he knowledgeably writes about how the definition and treatment of au
Dec 28, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Being a Special Education teacher, I read a lot of books about disability and particularly about autism. This is probably the best book about autism that I have read to date.

Roy Richard Grinker's book looks at autism from a variety of angles: historical, international, and personal. This is probably the only book on autism I have read so far that truly discusses how our culture came to know autism as it is today. A truly fascinating read that look at the past, present, and future of autism in ou
May 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone
Recommended to Mark by: Laura Loy
Shelves: nonfiction
This review is going to be a little different from my regular review. Normally, the books I review are all fiction. I should also explain that I have a personal bias towards the subject of autism as my own son has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. (There is a spectrum of autism. On the lower end, you have people who sit in the corner, rocking back and forth, with a vacant stare...never talking, never looking you in the eye. On the higher end, you have relatively normal people who jus ...more
Dec 07, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone interested in autism
This book has something for almost everyone interested in some aspect of autism: there's a history of the discovery and evolving definition of autism, there's a description of how autism is understood, and what it's like to have a child with autism (i.e., what kind of services are there, is there much social or cultural support for parents, is there much of a stigma, do autistic children have much of a chance at integrating into the larger community as they grow up, etc.), in South Korea, India ...more
Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: autism, parenting
This again is a book that I really wanted to like--it won awards and notice from the academic community and thought to look at autism from an anthropological point of view. The book spends a lot of time initially trying to explain why autism really isn't increasing. And though it does have some valid points, such as the fact that many older people are being diagnosed (having been misdiagnosed with other disorders in the past), there is really no believable way to explain away the fact that autis ...more
Jun 07, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: families of high-functioning spectrum kids
Recommended to Tobinsfavorite by: NPR
I heard the author of this book on the radio shortly after I had given up "autism books" as horrifyingly depressing, and I decided I would read it. I'm very glad I did. It is divided into two sections, one by Grinker the Anthropologist, and one by Grinker the Parent. Both were informative, entertaining, and enlightening. I learned a lot of details about the history of autism diagnosis around the world, a little bit about different cultural views of the same, and a few new ways of thinking. Some ...more
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
An interesting book on autism that has three threads:

1)A discussion of the changes in definition and regulations surrounding access to treatment that are fueling much of the increase in children diagnosed with autism

2)Travels around the world to see how autistic children are viewed and treated in other countries

3)A sort of memoir chronicling getting treatment and education for Grinker's autistic daughter and the life long challenges of getting the best life for an autistic child

I dithered betwe
Sep 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
The worst book on autism I have ever read. Biased, unproven "research", propoganda, and all the way through a sense of deep invalidation of those of us whose children have severe, disabling autism.. autism isn't a tragedy for HIM- HIS child is bilingual, winning awards. How can he possibly represent those of us with profoundly disabled children? How can he be arrogant enough to assume that he possibly could? ...more
Janet Leszl
Oct 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
The perfect counterpoint to the emotional hysteria propagated by conspiracy theorists that are panicking parents into fear of vaccines inducing autism.

The author is an anthropologist and father of a daughter with autism. At times it is clear he is a professor; particularly in part one. Rational explanations of how individuals in the past would either have no diagnosis or improper ones are presented through his detailed history of the progression of the field of psychiatry. The information is bo
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: theme-autism
I've been reading more about autism. This book was interesting, but like all books where the author sets out in the project because of their personal connection (his daughter has autism), it can often feel meandering and not relevant to the reader. He incorporates stories and research from other countries where he has worked (he is an anthropologist) including South Africa and South Korea and India. But those chapters feel disconnected from the rest of the book. The book has some interesting cha ...more
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
I had to read this for class. I found it to be a great guide through the history of autism and provides a good explanation for the present state of diagnosis as well as discussing the effects an autism diagnosis has on the family. It is an excellent read for any parent or family member who may have a child recently diagnosed with autism.
Mar 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Written from an anthropological viewpoint. While most books on Autism fall into either the dry textbook category of autism or the weepy emo category, this one strikes a nice balance. By far the best on the subject I've read to date (and I've read a few) ...more
Ariane Zurcher
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Loved this book, an honest look at autism from an anthropological and tempered view, away from the hysteria.
Apr 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I read this book for research purposes as an anthrpopology student and also as the sister of an autistic younger brother who I cherish dearly.

As an anthropology student, the book had something to offer in its different cultural examples in part 2 and its discussions on the limitations of labeling. But there wasn't much ethnographic work to digest and I felt the lack of autistic voices was limiting how useful the book was to me. I understand that this book was an interesting delve into adult's pe
Mary Turner
Aug 20, 2020 rated it liked it
There was a lot about this book that rubbed me the wrong way. However, I'm trying to be understanding because it is written by a non-autistic man from an older generation. I also thought it was strange that he weighted a couple countries in the book so heavily, without it being referenced in the synopsis. I would have expected more references from a wider variety of places, or the primary emphasis to be about the country he lives in. I find it interesting to hear about other cultural experiences ...more
Kayla Shields
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
What I learned:
And epidemic is not what we know it to be used in modern day language. It is supposed to represent an increase in rate of a diagnosis at a particular time. In Africa diagnosis of Autism is thought to be an evil spirit inhabiting the child because of a wrong doing by ancestors. In India there is a close nit relationship between mother-child and there are sparse professionals who will actually diagnose autism. In Korea there is a huge stigma with autism so much that the extended fam
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Dr. Roy Grinker, himself the father of an autistic daughter, makes a logical and convincing case that we do not have an autism epidemic. The population percentages of autistic people have remained the same, but they are now diagnosed correctly, as our knowledge and recognition of autism has greatly increased in the last 25 years.
june rivinius
Dec 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book dragged a bit at times and I had to encourage myself to keep reading. However it was a comprehensive book on autism. His perception that the so called epidemic is really a result of better diagnosis and awareness is thought prevolking to me. I especially enjoyed his discriptions of experiences with his daughter and others with autism.
Brenda Stahl
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
An anthropological look at autism, through the eyes and words of a psychotherapist, a father of autism and a man in this current world of dictating political agendas, popular views and science (or lack thereof) to back up propoganda or even grease the wheel of why? For those of us who deal with this everyday.
Mar 14, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
*I only read about half this book as part of a graduate class*

The parts I read were pretty informative but the writing style was a bit dry. It had useful information included with Grinker's personal experience with his daughter who has ASD. At times, he rambled a bit about side stories.
Jan 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An excellent overview of the history of our understanding of autism as well as a personal look inside the author's experience with his daughter. Highly recommend! ...more
Jun 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
A study of world reactions to autism and a father's struggles and successes with his daughter. ...more
Sep 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Interesting personal anecdotes
Autism research has progressed so much since the book was published that much of the book is dated.
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Loved it. Best explanation of the increase in ASD diagnoses I've ever read.
Jan 18, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: teachers, school administrators, anyone who has enountered someone w/ autism
As a sophomore in college, I never thought I would read a nonfiction book about autism let alone love it. However, I really enjoyed reading Unstrange Minds, and I'm glad it was able to fall into my hands.

I liked how this book utilized a variety of disciplines to create a well-rounded view of autism. I appreciated its inclusion on the history of Leo Kanner and the creation of the term autism, and I found that the inclusion of the history of the DSM was informative and interesting as well. Additi
Apr 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
The author presents a good case for thinking of autism not as an 'epidemic' as evidence of increased knowledge about neurodiversity in the medical realm.

The first part of the book is a brief history of autism, which used to be blamed on mothers. You can thank Bruno Bettelheim for that, who by coincidence, I can't help reading about due to my interest in children's literature. I will never again be able to read a kidlit academic book without wanting to scratch out his name, because he is the one
Aug 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
This is really two books. Part one methodically examines the current "autism epidemic." First, the author explains what an epidemic is, then he makes a very compelling argument that what is currently going on is not truly an epidemic, for several reasons. Basically, what's going on doesn't truly fit the definition of epidemic. At least not in the case of the increase in the incidence of autism. What's increased is our awareness of it, our more inclusive definition of it, and our ability to docum ...more
Jul 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
Took some time to get through this book, but well worth it. I hesitated in Part I in regard to how timely this book may be since I, at least, already had an understanding that Autism is not an 'epedemic' but always has been. The author was thorough in explaining how the recognition of Autism has emerged from these children just being lumped under schizophrenia or mental retardation and how those classifications are all distinct. And, by comparing how other cultures arround the world handle Autis ...more
Jan 11, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2010, autism
This is the best book on autism that I have read as it is obviously written by someone who has a good understanding of what autism is, as well as what it isn't. He puts to rest the idea that there is an 'epidemic' of autism and gives carefully researched answers to why this not occurring, as well as why is is believed in the general public to be such. His book is also a history of autism, as well as a history of the psychological theory and diagnosis of autism. We also meet autistic people all o ...more
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B. 1961

Professor of Anthropology, International Affairs, and Human Sciences at The George Washington University.

Grinker is an authority on North and South Korean relations. As part of his PhD research, he spent two years living with the Lese farmers and the Efé pygmies in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo as a Fulbright scholar. He has also conducted epidemiological research on aut

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