Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening” as Want to Read:
Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  1,193 ratings  ·  197 reviews
An extraordinary memoir about the cutting-edge brain therapy that dramatically changed the life and mind of John Elder Robison, the New York Times bestselling author of Look Me in the Eye

Imagine spending the first forty years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on.

It has
Audio CD, 321 pages
Published March 22nd 2016 by Random House Audio
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Switched On, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Paul Well, it's something I'm planning to use in a novel I'm writing (but for the opposite reason- someone needs to have their empathy/emotions temporarily…moreWell, it's something I'm planning to use in a novel I'm writing (but for the opposite reason- someone needs to have their empathy/emotions temporarily turned off).(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.89  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,193 ratings  ·  197 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening
J.L.   Sutton
Dec 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I wanted to like John Elder Robison's Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awakening more than I actually did. The beginning was slow going. To me, it sometimes felt like I was reading a grocery list rather than a story (and maybe that was part of the point). It was more interesting when the author discusses being 'switched on.' Even 50 years after Daniel Keyes' Flowers for Algnernon, this being switched on or waking up is a scary concept when it comes with the possibility of this ...more
Clif Hostetler
Feb 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir
I first learned about this book from a radio interview with the author which I think was this 2016 interview from WBUR's "Hear and Now" show. It was explained that the author had been previously diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, and that researchers had placed probes next to his head and exposed him to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) which caused him to experience the feelings of a typical non-autistic person. I could hardly believe my ears that such a fundamental part of a person's pers ...more
I picked this book up after reading the review by my GR Friend Clif Hostetler (to whom, many thanks). This is an unusual memoir in which the author, who is on the autistic spectrum, tells of his involvement in a research project into a technique called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), a non-invasive procedure designed to stimulate certain areas of the brain. The experiments had a significant effect on the author’s personality.

This book was a bit of a mixed bag for me. I found the first q
Karen R
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
“All we had were a TMS machine, some ideas, a few volunteers, and a lot of hope.”

Author John Elder Robison has Asberger’s, a form of autism. He and his brother (Augustin Burrows, author of Running with Scissors) were raised by a mother with mental illness and by a father who drank and became violent. John is a master in engineering technologies, his past jobs included creating electronic toys/games, some of the first video games and talking toys for Milton Bradley, and creating spectacular spec
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
The book is an anecdotal account of the author's experience of taking TMS (transcranal magnetic stimulation), as an experimental treatment for autism (he'll often use the word Asperger instead of 'autism'). The author is a good narrator, and tells his personnel experiences in a very likable manner.

Overall, I think I could have gotten what I wanted out of the book by reading a magazine length article on the merits and wizardry on TMS instead. I had wondered about the efficacy of the procedure be
Another interesting and atypical memoir.

The author documents his participation in a series of brain stimulation experiments and the short and the long terms effects. The technique, known as trans-cranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), uses an electromagnetic field to target and stimulate specific areas of the brain in the hope that this can jump start brain plasticity in that area, thereby altering some cognitive deficit of the participant. The author uses the analogy of giving your car an oil chan
Camelia Rose
A man with high-functioning Asperger syndrome signed on for a TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Simulation) study lead by a Harvard scientist and this book is the memoir of his life and changes (the emotional awakenings) afterwards. The author himself and a lot readers compared him to the protagonist in Flowers for Algernon, except the author's story has a kind of happy ending. The book is repetitive at times, but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

What strikes me most is how intelligent, persistent and self-m
Angie Reisetter
Robison's story is intriguing. It has often been the subject of my thoughts since I finished the book. It's deeply troubling and incredibly hopeful. If I could change the way my brain works, if I could choose to be more "normal", would I? Robison answered yes, yes to change his brain, and yes to fit in better with others, yes to gain emotional insight he didn't otherwise have. The consequences are beautiful and more than a little scary.

As an adult, Robison was diagnosed as being on the autism sp
May 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I remember reading Agustin Burrows book, Running With Scissors and thinking, "Wow, this family is even crazier than mine!" Being curious about the crazy, I eagerly picked up his brother, John Elder Robison's book, Switched On: A Memoir of Brain Change and Emotional Awaking.
Late in life Robinson was diagnosed with Aspergers, a syndrome on the autism spectrum, which he saw as an explanation of both his giftedness and many challenges. Switched On tells of his emotional state before, during and af
Lisa Wright
At the age of 50, John Elder Robison participates in a research study on the effects of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) on adults with autism. Hours later, he suddenly feels . . . everything! Most, but not all, of the effects fade, but his life has been permanently changed. This is a real-life Flowers for Algernon or Awakenings but with less tragic results. It blew my mind!
Jill Hanson carrell
May 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this author's first memoir, "Look me in the eye", because it gave a great insight into the world of having asperger's. Also, I adore his brother's books (Augusten Burroughs) so I figured that this was a good bet. It was fascinating! This book recounts his experiences in a trial where transcranial magnetic stimulation was used to try to improve some of the negative traits associated with aspergers. Amazing stuff. He includes lots of information/history on neurologic studies of th ...more
Jun 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Amazing memoir by a western Massachusetts author that I have heard speak three times! How do brains work and how can science change our behavior? Gives me a lot to think about!
Nov 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
Although there were some interesting insights in this book it was way too long and rambling. I had to force myself to finish the book.
Sep 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir, science, autism
This is one of those cases where I'm not sure if the fault lies in me or the book.

This isn't to say that Robinson is a bad writer. Quite to the contrary, he has a clear and vivid writing style that isn't pretentious. He is able to convey a very complicated issue with so many scientific and emotional nuances with clarity and sensitivity. Switched On made me wish that I had read his memoir, Look Me in the Eye first. (I am certainly planning on reading that one regardless.)

Here's the thing: I foun
Barbara Nutting
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
I do not comprehend the intricate working of the brain, nor do I understand electrical engineering, consequently I found this book way too technical!!

It rehashed many of the events and stories of his previous books and was repetitious in this one as well. What he didn’t cover regarding Asperger’s/Autism in his other publications he more than made up for in this one. I was bored to tears 😢

Scribe Publications
In this fascinating book John Elder Robison raises deep questions: what does TMS do to the brain? Will it permanently change his experience of music, his emotions, and his ability to read faces? And if autism involves disability as well as talent, if we alter the different wiring in an autistic brain, is this a good thing? Robison’s honest, brilliant, and very personal account helps us understand the perspective of someone living with autism.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor, Autism Research Centre,
Sep 11, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Switched On Finished this one a couple of days ago and I keep forgetting to review it--probably because I transitioned right into listening to Running With Scissors.  Augusten Burroughs is John Elder Robison's little brother.  I had no idea!
Anyway, Robison was not diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome until he was 40 years old.  He has written a few other books about his experiences growing up with undiagnosed autism, raising an autistic son, and "being different," and I am definitely curious abou
Alice Lemon
I really wasn't sure what to expect from this book when I picked it up, and I have to admit that the beginning did not immediately convince me that it would be worth finishing. However, I ended up finding the book quite worth listening to.

Reading about Robison's experiences with autism was kind of strange, because his experience was quite different from mine, but also probably more typical. I really have been incredibly lucky to have found as many close friends (many of them also autistic) as I
Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Even though I did speed reading on much of the last quarter of the book, the entire concept here begs you to pay attention. There are so many fascinating ethical questions in this book.

A man with high functioning Aspergers signs up for a study where specific parts of the brain would be stimulated by transcranial magnetic stimulation TMS. Zapped. Here's a guy who is gifted in his work with technology, electronics, and cars, but seriously different in his expression and reading of human emotions.
Mar 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thought this book was absolutely riveting. I had so many light bulb moments and so many connections--I was thinking about this book and talking about this book with people all of the time. Robison, an autistic spectrum man from Massachusetts undergoes an experimental brain therapy called TMS or Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This changes his life and takes away many of his autistic characteristics. Some temporarily, and some for good.
Coincidentally, this therapy has also been used for pati
Don Gorman
Feb 24, 2016 rated it liked it
( 2 1/2) I read this book because I was so enamored with one of Robison's earlier works, Look Me in the Eye. I picked that one up becasue I have a grandchild with Aspergers Syndrone, which Robison also suffers from. This story is fascinating, Robison's recount of his testing, then a fledgling research effort, of magnetic impulse treatments on the brain. How it affected him, how he recalls it and the fallout along the way make for a very interesting tale. It gets a little too technical and medica ...more
Sharon Paavola
Apr 15, 2016 rated it really liked it
This author amazed me by what he has accomplished in his life having Asperger's disease and autism.
He's done more than most of us. I was fascinated with his mind and his eagerness to learn and improve his mental and emotional well being. This is an account of his experience with early studies of increasing the abilities in autistic brains with electrical stimulation. He has written other books about his life with autism. I found I was compelled to read what happened to him as he participated in
I didn't know what this book was about when I started reading it. I was hooked after the first chapter. In summary, it is the story of an old autistic person that is offered the opportunity to receive an experimental treatment to treat autism. The treatment is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). TMS stimulates parts of the brain (with electromagnetism) that regularly do not work "normally" with autistic people and also with people with depression. It is interesting to see how brain r ...more
Apr 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
An incredible reminder of how much and yet how little is known about the human brain. After participating in a research study that targets and activates very small and specific parts of the brain, the author, himself on the autism spectrum, is able to read the emotions of others in ways he'd never been able to do before. It profoundly changes his life, mostly for the better but not completely. Great mix of neuroscience and personal experience; author does a great job describing and explaining bo ...more
The story itself was interesting, but for me, too much technical information that I was not interested in. I totally get that it was necessary to include this information in order to get a fully informed look at what the study entailed, but it just wasn't an area of information that interests me. I found it hard to not skip these sections and move more to the experiences and outcomes that John Robison experienced.
This is totally personal because the other members of my book discussion seemed to
Mar 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-books
John Elder Robison wrote about his life with Asperger's in LOOK ME IN THE EYE. His latest book is a fascinating account of his participation in experiments with TMS - Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. Robison has remarkable self-awareness and gives vivid descriptions of the changes in his personality that came about from the TMS sessions. He also covers the ethical and philosophical issues. If TMS gives a person better social skills but robs him of his genius-level technical abilities, is that ...more
Nov 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book offers an amazing look at the qualitative side of neuroscience research. Robison (who in his previous books gave a look at the autism spectrum from the inside) relates his experience participating in one of the early studies of TMS, a brain therapy, and autism. Not only does he bring the reader along for the journey, he reflects on what the experience meant to him even years after the study concluded, looking at both its positives and negatives with a clear eye and deep understanding.
Nov 20, 2016 rated it liked it
This fascinating and thoughtful account of the author's experience with TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) is well worth reading if you are interested in the subject of autism. Robison, an accomplished author, mechanic, photographer and sound artist with autism, describes the effect of TMS on his emotions and thinking. The author did get bogged down at times with repetitive, technical and tedious details and I found myself frequently skimming. ...more
Denise Spicer
Aug 13, 2017 rated it liked it
This almost 300 page memoir discussed the author’s experimental neurological treatment for the autism that was diagnosed when he was 40 years of age. This is a personal account of his life and relationships and how treatment affected him. There is some discussion of the science behind it but no Index or End Notes and only a brief final segment on “Findings and Further Reading”. The book was too lengthy and personal to be helpful as a general discussion of autism, causes, treatments.
May 08, 2019 rated it did not like it
I have been wanting to read this for a long time. However, it was definitely a disappointment. John describes a research program he participated in upon finding out he is Autistic as an adult. It was very boring and seems to be a long anecdote. The memior is unreliable evidence. In fact, I can't believe the researchers discussed the study and results with the participant during the experiment period. ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity
  • The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum
  • We're Better Than This
  • Understanding Autism in Adults and Aging Adults: Improving Diagnosis and Quality of Life
  • Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World
  • The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome
  • The Bible in 52 Weeks: A Yearlong Bible Study for Women
  • The Forever Bridge
  • Serpentlord (Rise To Omniscience #9)
  • Family (The Idle System #7)
  • The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery
  • Grandma in Blue with Red Hat
  • Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise and Other Bribes
  • The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband
  • Primal Fat Burner: Going Beyond the Ketogenic Diet to Live Longer, Smarter and Healthier
  • Is It Me or My Adrenals?: Your Proven 30-Day Program for Overcoming Adrenal Fatigue and Feeling Fantastic
  • Guitar Zero: The New Musician and the Science of Learning
See similar books…
I was born in rural Georgia, where my dad worked as a country preacher. I was kind of a misfit growing up. In fact, the bigger I got, the more misfit I became. At age 8, I got a little brother, and he was a misfit too. I dropped out of school in 10th grade, and never looked back. My brother dropped out a few years later, following in my footsteps.

I've had a number of careers . . . I designed sound

News & Interviews

The beauty of a paperback novel is multidimensional. Allow me to explain: The format allows you to catch up on some of 2020's biggest books...
50 likes · 3 comments
“It has always bothered me that many people, doctors included, tend to view anything that deviates from the typical as being abnormal or broken.” 4 likes
“The world is full of friendly people with no technical skills.” 3 likes
More quotes…