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4.19  ·  Rating details ·  1,121 ratings  ·  73 reviews
Leon is a former coma victim, who has gone experimental medical treatment to repair the massive trauma his brain received after he was trapped under ice for more than an hour. He’s regained consciousness, found he has all of his faculties back and a whole lot more. Originally published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in 1991.

Approx. 2 Hours
Audiobook, 46 pages
Published 2006 by BBC Radio 7
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Average rating 4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,121 ratings  ·  73 reviews

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Dec 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reminded me of an updated version of Flowers for Algernon in many ways, the original short story or novella. It's free here:

Highly recommended.
Paul Ataua
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Totally engaging as all Ted Chiang’s stories are, and well worth the read, but it never reaches the level of the work we find in ‘Stories of Your Lives”. I actually felt a little disappointed with the ending, and that is a first with his work. A must read if you are following Ted Chiang’s work, as I am, but one that might be better engaged in later rather than sooner.
Frank Maccormack
Apr 16, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is included in the so-far-fantastic "Stories of Your Life and Others," which I picked up to quell a recently thirst for good speculative or science fiction. This is the second story of the book (behind the simple but enjoyable Tower of Babel) and is a great hook to get into Chiang's approach. The story does an incredible job of exploring what it would be like for a human to rather suddenly become aware of patterns, or gestalts, everywhere around them. We often think of mentally ill individu ...more
Jacques Bezuidenhout
Read as part of Stories of Your Life and Others.

Interesting idea. Seems like the movie Limitless took some ideas from this book.

(view spoiler)
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Short story in Stories of your life and others

This story revolves around a person who receives an experimental drug to regenerate his brain function while in a coma. However, instead of just fixing his brain damage, the drug increases his mental capabilities to extraordinary levels.

I enjoyed this little story. The concept isn't especially new, but the extreme, sci-fi levels the author took the idea to were interesting. While believability flys out the window in the second half of the story, the
Rakesh M
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Ted Chiang at his best again, here he plays around the human mind. This short story is brilliant and quickpaced to read. Elements from his other stories such as The Arrival(Story of your life), Exhalation, ... can be seen. Although this is one of his first works it is quite mature and well thought out.
Jan 20, 2017 rated it liked it
I loved the evolution of the language as the story and his abilities progressed. Thus it's only natural that his thoughts get a bit too convoluted in the end but still, could've had a better ending. Still really good though. ...more
Aug 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Read immediately after "Godel,Escher,Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid" to see what a genius can do with the concepts expounded in that book. Mindblowing. ...more
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is another amazing sci fi short story by Chiang. However, after reading the reviews here I realised that I understood the story in a different way than most (actually, all) of the reviews I read. The rest of my review will explain how I understood the story, so if you still haven't read it I highly suggest you do it before you read my review.
As I understand it, the story shouldn't be taken literally. It's more of a metaphor. The protagonist is an AI, he is either represented metaphorically
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I´ve been reading “Stories of your life and others” and I feel the need to review this story independently as to present my opinion clearly.

(view spoiler)
Aug 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ballooning arrogance and self absorption follows closely in the footsteps of a fastracked superintelligence triggered by treatment for brain damage. Interesting what directions this gift would take people of differing ideologies. Eventually all other humans are referred to as ‘normals’, barely comprehending ‘marionettes’. The second guessing the shady govt. type pursuers every move is amusing, their predictability garnered from computer-like observation of human behaviour.
I laughed at the idea
Joseph Knecht
May 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very engaging short story. It shows the power of intelligence, the power to understand our reality. The intelligence of the patient supersedes the collective intelligence of all people (including CIA). He can understand all actions, all the causes of all actions, he can create a new language which can better represent his higher intellectual abstractions. But even such intelligence is not sufficient when someone is 15 days more intelligent than you.
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
A decent 'holiday read'. A few of these reviews suggest it's an original idea, but anyone who has read Daniel Keyes' 1958 classic, 'Flowers For Algernon' will know it's been done before, and done better. Sorry to be a killjoy to those who enjoyed 'Understand', but I found I couldn't make myself care about the somewhat cold protagonist, and the story didn't really go anywhere. ...more
Rami Hamze
Aug 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Story of Leon who gets smarter after being subjected to hormone K experiments. his intelligence gets out of dr. hands and develops into complete body and senses self control. what will the agenda for a smart evolved human be?

The author excels in depiction of the mental process which demonstrates his profound understanding of human mind, psychology and emotions
Ravindu Gamage
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Brilliant, engaging and original. Albeit a rather anticlimactic ending, the flow of the story was impeccable. I loved how the vocabulary and the language evolved as the narrator's abilities progressed. A fast-paced short story that takes sci-fi to unexplored extremities. ...more
Anders Næss
Nov 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this story read like an amphetamine rush! I caught myself steadily escalating my reading speed, trying to coordinate with the narrators cognitive enhancements. and the climax was ingenious! rivals communicating through fragments of somatic language and projections of somatic signatures.
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sf-f
I don't remember the last time a story sucked me in so completely and had such an effect, that my heart was pounding for 10 minutes after it was over. Astounding! ...more
Sean S
Oct 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is important to remember that no matter how smart and perfect you think you are, there is someone smarter than you who has already figured you out.
Félix Jofré
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thought provoking and way ahead of its time, Understand's beautiful concept of incremental levels of complexity is uniquely enhanced by Chiang's dark tone decisions. ...more
Robert Jinga
Oct 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultură-pop
One of the best short stories i ve read
Jesse Field
Apr 15, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Read again for curriculum design work. Ted Chiang is just so much fun to read, and this is my favorite so far of his deeply crafted hard sci-fi. Greco here achieves god-like intelligence, which he uses to explore the vast margins of knowledge in mathematics and languages, all in his quest for the “gestalts.” There is epic conflict, ethical dilemmas, and cool, nerdy sci-fi action here. Kudos to whoever and however for the story ending up on as a free audio experience.
My review of "Understand" is not actually of the audio book but rather of the story as it appeared in the August, 1991 issue of Asimov's Science Fiction. This review is excerpted from my review of that issue:

Whatever else they may be, stories by Ted Chiang are smart. "Understand" is about being smart, being, in fact, one of the smartest people who ever lived.

Leon Greco, the narrator, suffered extensive brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Doctors treated him with an experimental medication, ho
Lenka Judinová
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I wouldn't really call this an original story, something that I have never ever come across before. There are several instances that immediately pop up in my mind - such as the great "Flowers For Algernon" written by Daniel Keyes or something cast from a different mould, the mould of Hollywood - flicks like Lucy, Limitless or a TV show having the same name as the latter movie given.
Nevertheless, I am a fan of such stories, thus I found it gripping and interesting to read.

This, almost 50 pages l
Dec 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
(from mid-October, 2019)

This was my second time reading this story, and it didn't quite hold up to the first reading, which I think had to do with knowing where it was headed. Still, a really fun read, if a little full of itself (the narrator at one point describes an epic poem he's writing as "Finnegans Wake multiplied by Pound's Cantos") but perhaps that's mostly meant to reflect the main character's attitudes. There are sections, especially towards the end when the narrator has gone full gala
Brennan Letkeman
Oct 02, 2018 rated it liked it
If you liked the monologue explanation scenes of Jesse Eisenberg in The Social Network, boy, here's an entire book of that.

But also... not much else.

A guy becomes super smart and describes for 80% of the book about the things he learns to do, like controlling his heart rate and seeing the patterns in every day life. He commits some minor crimes since they're so trivially easy. He makes money gambling and playing the stock market. It's all sort of faux edgy, or like that one kid in every class wh
Oct 30, 2019 rated it liked it
It was a very hard decision to give this story 3.5 stars because of the subject it revolves around. Very few writers touch it with this level of focus.

In case of "Understand", the storyline had dangerously high level of cliché moments you find in typical Hollywood movie. It was expected that a writer who can perceive such complex concepts as the ones which appear closer to the end of the book, would come up with much more original plot devices.

On the other hand, the said concepts with which huma
Roshnara Mohamed
Jun 19, 2017 rated it liked it
The main character in this short is a compelling voice, you can almost feel his excitement at gaining all this intelligence, and you follow his logic and reasoning quite well. You sympathize with his wanting to run away, his thirst for knowledge and his utter disdain for "normal" human things. But that's when the story falls short. Nothing really happens after that, and even when it almost does, enter the antagonist, and one of the most peaceful showdowns in literary history. The story almost fi ...more
Florence Pauline
Jan 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
An interesting and thrilling short read. It started out a bit dull at first and as someone who doesn't really enjoy psychology or neuroscience, I found his ideas quite fascinating and pretty logical from a scientific point of view (i.e. he makes an equation of how intelligence is increased by the drug to try to formulate the drug's mechanism of action). Also loved his use of "Gestalt", denoting how the brain and the body (and other facets e.g. consciousness, soul, etc.) works more than just the ...more
David Meditationseed
Apr 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
If we could develop our mind to superhuman levels, where would we be able to understand the recurring patterns of the external world and the formation of our emotions, reactions and thoughts, would we still be individual and unique beings? Would all people have the same goals? Would happiness and achievement be the same for all?

Is it possible to limit the evolution of the human mind? What would matter most: the individual or the collective? And does the development of the human mind happen to b
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Not sure, how scientifically plausible the story is, taking into consideration what we’ve learned about mind and intelligence since the step was published. However, I enjoyed the juxtaposition of two super humans, and radically different ways they have taken. Fundamentally, to me this is about how seemingly good intentions can lead to an authoritarian, tyrannical behaviour under the mask of altruism. Does the benefit of many really justify the killing of a single individual? That is the ultimate ...more
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Goodreads Librari...: Split Understand from Stories of Your Life and Others 1 13 Jan 01, 2021 07:49PM  

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Ted Chiang is an American speculative fiction writer. His Chinese name is Chiang Feng-nan. He graduated from Brown University with a Computer Science degree. He currently works as a technical writer in the software industry and resides in Bellevue, near Seattle, Washington. He is a graduate of the noted Clarion Writers Workshop (1989).

Although not a prolific author, having published only eleven sh

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