Moray Barclay'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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Aug 03, 2011

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The title of this autobiography is literal, as is every expression in the book; there is no figurative language. Anecdotes are used to explain things, but there is a sense that this is accidental. The timeline is completely linear. As a result, this book reads as though it was written by a clever child.

But the result is compelling because Daniel Tammet has a rare combination of Asperger’s and synaesthesia. Also known as savant syndrome, the latter condition means that he sees every number as a unique combination of colour, shape, texture and emotion. As a result, he has incredible calculating and learning powers in numerical sequences and languages. This, of itself, would be interesting enough. What is fascinating is that he has, to a large extent, been able to overcome Asperger’s by using his synaesthesia to learn how to empathise: when someone says they are upset, for example, he has taught himself to picture the number six, a number which he sees, and feels, as small, dark and lonely.

Daniel came to the public eye in 2003 when he raised money for an epilepsy charity by reciting pi to over twenty thousand places. The Chapter in which he describes this feat is as compelling as any recollections of great sporting achievements. Subsequently, he was the subject of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, part of which included a successful challenge to learn Icelandic in one week. During this chapter, we see that he has also learned to overcome many of the insecurities that Asperger’s brings. Indeed, by appearing on national television, he has gone further than many people without this condition.

The book also raises public policy issues: only 12% of those with Asperger’s, or high functioning autism, are in employment. And yet by definition they have many positive work qualities including reliability, honesty, and attention to detail.

Daniel does work: he runs his on-line business, providing language learning material. He has also volunteered himself as a guinea pig for scientists studying the human brain. Reading about his early childhood, his progress is remarkable, and towards the end it is clear that he is beginning to understand abstract concepts. His next book, I am sure, will have a title which is figurative.


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