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Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant [Paperback]

Daniel Tammet
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 16 2007
A journey into one of the most fascinating minds alive today—guided by the owner himself.


Bestselling author Daniel Tammet (Thinking in Numbers) is virtually unique among people who have severe autistic disorders in that he is capable of living a fully independent life and able to explain what is happening inside his head.

He sees numbers as shapes, colors, and textures, and he can perform extraordinary calculations in his head. He can learn to speak new languages fluently, from scratch, in a week. In 2004, he memorized and recited more than 22,000 digits of pi, setting a record. He has savant syndrome, an extremely rare condition that gives him the most unimaginable mental powers, much like those portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man.

Fascinating and inspiring, Born on a Blue Day explores what it’s like to be special and gives us an insight into what makes us all human—our minds.

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Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant + Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind + Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math
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From Publishers Weekly

This unique first-person account offers a window into the mind of a high-functioning, 27-year-old British autistic savant with Asperger's syndrome. Tammet's ability to think abstractly, deviate from routine, and empathize, interact and communicate with others is impaired, yet he's capable of incredible feats of memorization and mental calculation. Besides being able to effortlessly multiply and divide huge sums in his head with the speed and accuracy of a computer, Tammet, the subject of the 2005 documentary Brainman, learned Icelandic in a single week and recited the number pi up to the 22,514th digit, breaking the European record. He also experiences synesthesia, an unusual neurological syndrome that enables him to experience numbers and words as "shapes, colors, textures and motions." Tammet traces his life from a frustrating, withdrawn childhood and adolescence to his adult achievements, which include teaching in Lithuania, achieving financial independence with an educational Web site and sustaining a long-term romantic relationship. As one of only about 50 people living today with synesthesia and autism, Tammet's condition is intriguing to researchers; his ability to express himself clearly and with a surprisingly engaging tone (given his symptoms) makes for an account that will intrigue others as well. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Although Tammet is only 27, his autobiography is as fascinating as Benjamin Franklin's and John Stuart Mill's, both of which are, like his, about the growth of a mind. Not that Tammet is a scientist-statesman or philosopher. He is an autistic savant who can perform hefty arithmetical calculations at lightning speed and acquire speaking competency in a previously unknown language in mere days (the latter capability he used to create the Web-based language-learning systems with which he supports himself). More socially competent and independent than the autistic savant famously played by Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, Tammet shares his peers' strong preferences for routine, peace and quiet, private space, and literalness, as well as aversion to chance occurrences, aural and informational noise, and figurative language (despite his arithmetical gift, he can't do algebra; he reads a lot but never fiction). He learned fellowship very gradually and says he couldn't really acknowledge his eight siblings until he grew up. He also writes some of the clearest prose this side of Hemingway; he tells his story with such concentration, precision, and simplicity that his familial poverty, schooling as a "mainstreamed" student, self-realization as gay, and embracing of Christianity prove as enthralling as they are, ultimately, normal. Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
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"I have a rare condition known as savant syndrome...Like most individuals with savant syndrome, I am also on the autistic spectrum...By writing about my own experiences of growing up on the autistic spectrum, it is my hope that I can help other...people living with high-functioning autism...to feel less isolated and to have confidence in the knowledge that it is ultimately possible to lead a happy and productive life."

The above is found at the beginning of this unique book by Daniel Tammet who is a British high-functioning autistic savant.

Savant syndrome or savantism is a rare condition in which persons with developmental disorders (including autism spectrum disorders, ASD) have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that contrasts with the person's overall limitations. It can be either genetic or acquired. (ASD are widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, as well as restricted interests and repetitive, orderly behaviour.)

This book is a memoir or essentially an autobiography. Tammet talks about how Asperger's syndrome (a high-functioning form of autism), epilepsy (neurological condition characterized by recurrent, unprovoked seizures), & synaesthesia (he sees numbers & letters in colour and associates numbers with emotions, shapes, and textures) deeply affected his childhood and, despite having these problems, how he was eventually able to lead a happy and productive life.

The last few chapters of the book chronicle what Tammet's mental abilities have enabled him to do. For example, he recited Pi (3.14...) to over 22,500 digits (setting a British record) and was able to learn Icelandic (a very difficult language) in one week.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is notable not for what is says but how it is said. Tammet lives a very simple, highly regimented life and the writing style seems to reflect this. He is unable to differentiate between what others would find intriguing about his life and what is simple mundane, which makes for some dull reading sometimes until you realize that you are seeing into a very unusual mind. Very detailed accounts of his personal hygiene routine are given equal weight with his recitation of pi to 22,000 decimals. He also provides alot of trivia about topics only tangientially related to his story but again this is probably typical of someone with his traits. Overall, it is not really a "page turner" but does have some very interesting content.
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5.0 out of 5 stars `It's just the way my brain works.' Jan. 31 2011
By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
In this memoir, Daniel Tammet recounts his early life, of growing up as part of a large and loving family, and of becoming aware that he is different from those around him. Daniel has been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome or high-functioning autism, and has had epilepsy.

What is particularly wonderful about this book is that Daniel is able to write so clearly of the way in which he experiences the world. He may have some of the isolating features of autism, but he is able to write about his perceptions of the world in a way which those of us who are not autistic can understand.

Daniel's particular form of autism is combined with synaesthesia, an unusual ability to see numbers, words and letters as shapes and colours, sometimes involving motion and texture. This enhances Daniel's capacity for recognising particular patterns and has enabled his ability to learn languages as well as to memorise pi to 22,514 decimal places.

Speaking of this achievement, Daniel writes:
`Why learn a number like pi to so many decimal places? The answer I gave then as I do now is that pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing. Like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.'

Daniel is an autistic savant, and displays extraordinary capabilities in relation to memory, calculation and language. He can undertake very large calculations in his head, and is also able to learn to fluently speak a language (even one as challenging as Icelandic) in a week.

`The relationship I have with a language is quite an aesthetic one, with certain words and combinations of words being particularly beautiful and stimulating to me.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Born on a Blue Day Jan. 12 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I just finished reading this book and I really enjoyed. My son has recently been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome and it really provided insight for me. I saw a lot of similarities in the personally. I would recommend this book to everyone who is interested in gaining insight into this condition. You will really appreciate it and gain an understanding to what individuals living with Aspergers go though and the their fabulous minds. They really are quite brilliant.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  268 reviews
259 of 270 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An astonishing book that will touch and warm your heart Jan. 17 2007
By Yesh Prabhu, author of The Beech Tree - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is an astonishing book, written in first person. It is a memoir of the author's life with the "synaesthesia and savant syndrome", a rare form of Asperger's syndrome.

People with synaethesia see numbers as forms with color and texture, and days as vivid colors, and so Daniel Tammet has the ability to see in his mind numbers and days as colors, each number and day having its own distinct color as an attribute. A day with a color, like a flower with a scent! The blue day of the title of this book refers to Wednesday, which, like the number nine, he sees in his mind as blue. "I know it was a Wednesday," narrates Tammet, "because the date is blue in my mind and Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing."

Daniel is also a savant, with a remarkable ability to multiply and divide given numbers with astonishing speed. He can recite from memory the number pi, 22 divided by 7, or 3.1428571 to 22,514 decimal places, a feat which will take him a little over five hours! He says numbers are beautiful things, and that pi is as beautiful as Mona Lisa.

Like Christopher John Francis Boone, the fifteen year old hero of Mark Haddon's novel, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time", Daniel, too, is very fond of prime numbers. "Prime numbers feel smooth, like pebbles," he says. He can recognize every prime number up to 9,973. He can speak in ten languages, including Icelandic, Lithuanian and Welsh, and he has the ability to learn a new language within a few days. He learnt Icelandic, for example, within a week; a most remarkable feat for any human being. He doesn't understand jokes easily, and the expressions on human faces he finds baffling. And like Christopher, he doesn't like to be touched.

He is perhaps the only person in this world with the "synaesthesia and savant syndrome" who has written a book in his own words, without using a ghost writer. What causes this syndrome is a mystery to neurologists; they have been trying to unravel the mystery, so far without much success. They speculate that a series of seizures Daniel suffered in his childhood might have caused the savant syndrome. But this is just their speculation; no one knows the real cause.

For a man who sees numbers and days as colors, this book is written in a simple, bland, colorless prose. Nevertheless, reading this book is a marvelous and rewarding experience. This book will touch and warm your heart.
116 of 124 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Breathtaking! Jan. 25 2007
By Janeane R. Henderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
A must read for parents and family of autistic children and adults. To finally discover an explanation for the little habits...obsession with spinning, walking in circles, plugging/covering of the ears, rocking... It's all here in one place. While I have become very accustomed to my son's habits, I have never understood what exactly was causing the behavior. After reading Tammet's book, I feel I can better help my son enjoy his environment.
61 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly Unique Perspective on Autism from the Subject Himself Jan. 30 2007
By Ed Uyeshima - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If a picture is truly worth a thousand words, then the savant gifts of Daniel Tammet are all the more startling because he has an ability to meld his senses together seamlessly to see things nobody else can. It's an impressive, even daunting prowess that comes at a high price since he has Asperger's syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes him to be limited in his ability to fit in with the larger culture, as well as synaesthesia, a condition where sounds, words or numbers can translate into colors, shapes or textures. In fact, the latter condition is reflected in the book's title as he associates the color blue with Wednesdays. What makes this book so thoroughly unique is that the book is not a treatise of a subject by a medical professional but a memoir by the subject himself.

As such, there are no grand conclusions drawn about either medical condition, or scientific assumptions of how Tammet came to his gifts. What the author does quite plainly is share how he approaches such astonishing feats as reciting pi to over 22,000 decimal points over the course of five hours. We get a palpable sense of how he perceives theorems and automatically develops strategies based on his innate sense with numbers and images. But before you can say Rain Man, you also see a young man who is actually functioning in the world on his own, which illustrates perfectly the spectrum of severity with autism. Tammet's affliction has mild enough for him to be relatively self-sufficient, even though his struggles to gain societal acceptance have been a traumatizing road.

Raised by loving parents, he spent most of his childhood alone and could only relate to fellow outsiders like immigrants and exchange students, people who heightened his facility for foreign languages. There were signs - a hyper-sensitivity to noise; almost complete literal-mindedness; a narrow but intense interests in a few, eccentric subjects at the exclusion of others; displays of socially inappropriate behavior (which he has since been able to manage); and peculiarities in speech and thought patterns. It all comes together as a fascinating portrait with no pretense toward a false sense of triumph over extreme adversity. Such clichés are better left to Lifetime TV-movies since Tammet lives a good, simple life in London with his life partner Neil Mitchell and is busy creating a new language and conquering other mathematical frontiers. One cannot help but root for him thanks to his wonderfully personal, unaffected memoir.
31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unique insight Feb. 23 2007
By Konrad Baumeister - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Over the last couple of years there has been an explosion of new and valuable material written on the experience of autism, much of it written from the points of view of either how to deal with an autistic child or a more medical explanation of symptoms. Reading about what it actually feels like to live with autism is very rare. Daniel's ability to so carefully describe to us how he experiences life is highly unusual and must be incredibly valuable to researchers.

Daniel Tammet is still a very young man, and his autobiography is necessarily not going to be very long. Moreover, due to the nature of his condition it was not until very recently that he has had much by way of dealings with the outside world. Much of the book takes place in his own mind, his relationships with numbers, logic, mathematics, chess and puzzles, essentially how his mind organizes its thought. One also finds how the tiniest irregularities in his routines - a dropped spoon, perhaps, or the ring of a cell phone - can not only disrupt his thought but can set him off on a 'meltdown' psychologically and physically, from which recovery may take minutes or hours. Order, quiet, routine, predictability and an internal logic assume incredible importance.

The part of his personality dealing with events outside his own mind is very fragile and stunted. Although Daniel comes across in his writing as a giving, kind and basically generous person, there is a lack of understanding, of feeling, what love, empathy, and interpersonal relations are all about. His discovery of another kind man in Neil, his partner, must have been an inestimable blessing, but no doubt a very rare one for a person with autism, and it has helped him slowly grow. Nonetheless, after all of the sacrifices his family has made - and they are clearly a very loving and supportive family who must have endured much (Daniel is not even their only autistic child), one reads of Daniel's fathers breakdowns and decline into poor health and senses no special bond or understanding, only a clinical detachment. I do not write this to accuse Daniel of not caring; it is part of the condition and Daniel's honesty in writing how he feels (or not) is important.

There are chapters about his setting the records for recitation of pi, of meeting Kim Peel (the real-life subject of the movie Rain Man), of his travels to Iceland and his making of the Brainman movie, interviews of him on Letterman, etc, which are less interesting than the opening discussion of just how he perceives his mind to work. But the last chapter is also fascinating: he reveals his Christianity, somewhat of a surprise, he discusses the impact his reading of G K Chesterton (very well known in Britain but much less so in the States) has had on his life, and ponders the future.

The book is validation for all those who feel alienated, different, and unusual, and show how all can still make their own unique contribution. That Daniel was able to find himself and some satisfaction and happiness will hopefully inspire many others.
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical Number's Man Feb. 17 2007
By James Hiller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Numbers have a special shape and color, according to autistic savant Daniel Tammet. Put together, they form beautiful and stunning shapes that his mind can see. Much like the wonderful book, Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin, Daniel's book allows us to see something that we use and think about everyday in such an interesting and unique light.

The awareness of autism is spreading across the country and our world like wildfire. Some statistic recently released said that one of our every 150 births results in an autistic child. The murky origins of this baffling condition are under study. It's people like Temple Grandin and Daniel Tammet that are finally allowing us to see, however brief and unique, a glimpse into the inner workings of an autistic mind. And what a fascinating journey it is.

Daniel Tammet recounts his early life, when a particularly jolting seizure at the age of four gripped him, possibly forever changing his mind and his thinking. Perhaps as a result of this seizure, Daniel begins to see numbers in their essence, shapes and colors in his mind, helping him perform amazing and miraculous math feats in seconds. Think Rain Man, and now, his moniker, Brain Man. Daniel knows math and the calendar, and worked to memorize pi so detailed that he could recite the string of numbers for five hours without a mistake. Daniel can also master a language after studying it for around a week, as he tells about in his quick study of one of the world's most challenging languages: Icelandic.

Such gifts comes with limitations, the limitations often found in the lives of autistic kids. Certain forms of touch drive him crazy, drastic changes in his routine are difficult to adjust to, morning porridge that must be 45 g (weighed everyday!). Idioms challenge him, as he prefers the literal to the implied. Yet, Daniel manages to cope with such details, with the love and support of his family and his partner Neil, and puts himself out here in the world to raise awareness of autism and help people understand it more.

Because of Daniel's detachment, the book may read to be a mere recounting of events. Daniels father becomes sick in the book, and Daniel recounts the event literally. Also his account of discovering his sexuality and falling in love also reads matter of fact. Yet, when Daniel expresses his emotions, it is both delightful and touching; he is befuddled about his tears, as if he's discovering them for the first time.

"Born on a Blue Day" is a wonderful journey with Daniel. I hope he knows what positive impact he can have on our lives by sharing a little bit of his. It's a wonderful way to walk in the shoes of an autistic savant, and experience, if only for a little bit, the life of Daniel. Thanks for sharing that, Daniel.
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