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207 of 213 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and well-researched
Far From the Tree is a TOME. I mean, it's a great big, heavy book in every sense of the word. To be honest, I was a little intimidated when my copy arrived! I didn't read it cover to cover, but started with the autism chapter because it was relevant to our family. I found it to be a very well-researched, sensitive look at how autism can affect a parent's life, hopes,...
Published on November 20, 2012 by Greenbyoo

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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.4 stars--lots of good information but still a mixed bag
Andrew Solomon has turned upside down the adage, "An apple doesn't fall far from the tree" in his exploration of a panoply of conditions that may sometimes distance children from their parents. The range of these situations is broad and often quite unrelated, but this theme of family dissonance and adaptation to that dissonance ties the book together in most aspects...
Published 17 months ago by H. Laack


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207 of 213 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and well-researched, November 20, 2012
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Far From the Tree is a TOME. I mean, it's a great big, heavy book in every sense of the word. To be honest, I was a little intimidated when my copy arrived! I didn't read it cover to cover, but started with the autism chapter because it was relevant to our family. I found it to be a very well-researched, sensitive look at how autism can affect a parent's life, hopes, and perceptions.

That chapter was so good, I moved to the crime chapter and stayed up way too late because I could not put it down. Thank you, Mr. Solomon for pointing out the absurdities in our justice system when it comes to dealing with juvenile crime. (And as for the reviewer who questioned including crime at all, this book focuses on any possible way that a child can turn out different than their parents expected, and being guilty of a crime definitely seems appropriate to me.) I learned a lot from this chapter, and was particularly fascinated by the Klebolds' story. Once again, Soloman wrote with sensitivity about a very difficult and controversial topic.

From there I read the chapter on dwarfism, and then finally turned to the first pages of the book and started reading the beginning! I wanted to learn about how families deal with a diagnosis of autism; instead I learned about how families deal with all kinds of unexpected outcomes, how resilient parents can be when faced with hardships, and how connected are the identities of parents and their children. As a parent, I understand the constant struggle to balance who we want our children to be and who they actually are. "There is no such thing as reproduction" may be my new mantra.

One more thing: in 700 pages (okay, I admit, I didn't read the Acknowledgments) I never found an example of "martyrdom" that one reviewer complained about. The book relates honest responses from parents in the trenches. Parenting isn't always fun, even for parents of kids who have no extra challenges. But Far From the Tree isn't a chronicle of long-suffering devastated parents; there are plenty of positive, hopeful, make-the-best-of-it moments as well.

It's a fascinating book for anyone interested in parenting, psychology, or the history of disability. Highly recommended.
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183 of 192 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Moving And Informative Book On Raising Children Different From Ourselves, November 13, 2012
How do we raise children who are profoundly different than we are?
This is the question posed by award-winning writer Andrew Solomon in "Far From The Tree." How do parents deal with raising a child who isn't what they expected him or her to be? What if the child is autistic? Deaf? Has Down Syndrome? And how much does nurture have to do with the people our children become? Or is it more due to nature?

Solomon began writing this book twelve years ago, after attending a protest of deaf students who opened his eyes to seeing people with `differences' as not having disabilities, but having their own unique gifts. He follows the lives of many families who are faced with the challenge of raising children who are profoundly different than they expected them to be. Each of these stories reveals in their own way the nature of humanity, the unconditional love of parents for their children, and the desire for all humans to be valued as individuals.

Solomon also shines a spotlight on his own upbringing. The gay son of heterosexual parents, who was also dyslexic and bullied for not conforming to the stereotypical expectations of what a typical male should be, Solomon reveals how he overcame his insecurities to not only accept himself, but to decide to become a father.

Reading this book made me think of two other exceptional books that also deal with unique parenting challenges.

Anthony Youn's In Stitches successfully spotlights the clash that occurs when immigrant, old-school parents raise a child in today's America. How do children react when their parents push them excessively, causing them to become social outcasts? Youn's struggle to deal with his parents' expectations and being the only ethnic minority in his entire town, are at times humorous, moving, and inspiring. It has shades of the controversial book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but is a much more entertaining and empathetic read.
Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety is a memoir I recently discovered from Daniel Smith, a person challenged with severe anxiety issues all his life. Smith details his sometimes funny but always revealing methods he used to deal with anxiety, both as a child and in adulthood. His mother and their relationship is also a big part of his story. I enjoyed this one.
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103 of 112 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone will be talking, November 15, 2012
Everyone will be talking about this book and everyone should. Mr. Solomon's deeply personal narration and vivid story-telling combine with extensive factual scholarship to make compelling reading out of topics you might otherwise expect to find repugnant or marginal. Full disclosure: I read an early draft and have been waiting ever since for others to have this chance to expand their hearts by reading it, too.

The book offers a world of information on particular conditions; it ponders the wider implications of choice and identity for both the parents and the children dealing with dwarfism, deafness, criminality, etc. And just as learning you are not alone with a special gift or disability can be liberating for an individual person, so learning that other families are dealing with the same conditions can give heart to parents who feel isolated. Moreover, those who have had to focus on one particular condition will be led to see wider commonalities. All of us know someone who is profoundly different from their parents. And because Mr. Solomon brings coherence to the book by thinking across conditions, he implicitly opens the way for thinking about analogous conditions not specifically covered.

What is most deeply moving is Mr. Solomon's ability to portray each individual as a unique person. The book is full of voices and stories, a reminder that we are all always surrounded by people who are like us, different from us, and challenged in ways we've never thought of before. Together, they are sobering reminders of how deep the pain of the human condition can be, but also sources of inspiration and hope.

Mr. Solomon is never dogmatic. He has opinions, but he also makes clear that no formulaic rules apply to the choices parents and children must make because every circumstance is different and every person is a unique combination of his or her own abilities and values. If the book urges anything, it is to love and see the power of human compassion, understanding, and hope.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars 3.4 stars--lots of good information but still a mixed bag, August 10, 2013
Andrew Solomon has turned upside down the adage, "An apple doesn't fall far from the tree" in his exploration of a panoply of conditions that may sometimes distance children from their parents. The range of these situations is broad and often quite unrelated, but this theme of family dissonance and adaptation to that dissonance ties the book together in most aspects. While I can definitely recommend the book to many audiences, I did vacillate over whether to give it three or four stars. In the end, I have chosen to round down rather than up. My reasoning:

Pros:
Solomon's research is solid and thorough and generally avoids the kind of "professionalese" that can sometimes infect scholastic writing of this nature. He has combined discussion of current scientific literature with extensive personal stories of families, and his accounts of these situations shows a real care for the people he has interviewed and spent hours and days and weeks with.

Solomon has included some situations many of us may not want to acknowledge or that may not even have crossed our radar as being problems for parents. We see stories of conventions of dwarfs or see a video clip of a child prodigy or read a news account of a juvenile crime spree or have our heartstrings tugged by Facebook entries about a Downs child named prom king, and we may not think of the parental struggles behind each of these diverse situations. Almost a dozen different challenges are presented chapter by chapter, giving us an opportunity to better understand how situations that are "not normal" tax even the most caring parents.

Each chapter stands almost alone in the coverage of a challenging parenting issue. If you don't have time to read over 700 pages (and reference almost 200 additional pages of notes and bibliography), you could zero in on just one or a few situations that you would like to learn more about.

Cons:
The length of the book alone will be a problem for many, as this is not something to be skimmed over lightly. I read this as a hard copy and wonder whether the size of the text would work very well as an e-book, especially given my frequent referencing of notes and use of the index to go back to concepts and names mentioned earlier.

In his last chapter, Solomon notes "When broadmindedness blinds us to our offspring's needs, our love becomes denial," yet there are many places where it seems like an earnest and probably well-meaning effort at being broadminded and accepting of every difference noted has sometimes not been in the ultimate best interest of the children featured. While many readers may disagree with me, I am more than a little concerned that some of the family stories included may fall into what one "trans-friendly therapist" said: "Parents tell me often, and it's sort of Pzc, that they are following their child's lead." And though Solomon follows this quote with "If your child is seven, you probably don't let them choose what they're going to eat for dinner, let alone if they're going to transition to a new gender." However, Solomon generally seems most supportive of this child-leading-the-parent style, even when it may not be best for the child's long term development.

Finally, the beginning and end of the book (which, as many earlier reviewers have illustrated with their comments) contain Solomon's personal family story, both his relationships with his own parents and with his partner and very 21st century family structure. While this is every writer's privilege (and duty?), his own struggles seemed to be projected onto some of the stories in other chapters, creating a less objective look at the overall picture.

If you decide to read the book--and you should--don't just read the first chapter. But if you don't have time to read all of the text, read the first and last chapters along with those sections that are most relevant to you to get the appropriate context...and then come back later to the unread portions. I think you will be glad you did.
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The author not only writes about parents with children far different from them but how the research affected his own identity, November 13, 2012
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This review is from: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (Kindle Edition)
Far from the Tree focuses on parents who raise children very different from them. Some have mental illness. Others have been conceived during a rape. And then there are the prodigies, a group which may seem strange to include in a volume which focuses on children society may label as "disabled."But author Andrew Solomon asserts that parents of prodigies face many of the same challenges as those with other children who are vastly different from their parents - or different in ways that standard parenting books don't cover.

I am glad that Solomon expands and questions the standard perceptions of those individuals considered far from the norm - whatever normal is ( and the author questions assumptions about that as well).

As a gay man who also is dyslexic, Solomon also shares his own struggles and search for identity, some of which are similar to the children and adults in the book. His honest, vivid, and detailed recollections add an extra richness and added perspective to his research and interviews. He notes that "my parents had misapprehended who I was' and he concludes that "other parents must be constantly misapprehending their own children" . They may even see their child's challenges as an "affront."

Far From the Tree is one of the best books I've read this year, encompassing a host of questions about how we perceive those who we consider different and even frightening. It is inspiring to read that of the strong love some parents feel for children others may so easily dismiss, a love that may even surprise them.

One example: a mother has a daughter who is a dwarf and wonders how to help her daughter forge her unique identity. How much should she try to get her daughter to be like everyone else (only shorter)? Should she strive to ensure that her daughter has dwarf role models and mentors? Readers - as I did - are likely to ponder these questions and wonder what answers they'd choose.

Solomon describes how raising children so different from themselves can humble parents, bring them to their knees, cause despair - or enrich their lives in ways they never imagined. Reading of their experiences, I was forced to question my own assumptions and biases about the word "disabled" and how far I'd go to help my child blend in - or simply accept and even celebrate his differences.

Far From the Tree tackles issues which are likely to be considered controversial but are so worth exploring. Should deaf children be urged to participate in the hearing world or should parents accept that they can benefit from being primarily members of a community of other deaf people Is deafness truly a disability or are there benefits as well? Of course, I can't help thinking of the Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, a man with two prosthetic legs who was ranked among the top racers in the world. He was named one of hundred most influential people in the world by Time magazine. How many did he inspire? Solomon mentions him in the book.

Potential readers should know that this book is far from an easy read. The main body of Far from the Tree is 702 pages and the Acknowledgments, Notes, Bibliography, and Index are an additional 200 pages long. Still, it is a book which is worth the time, one likely to change your perspective on how you see those individuals who sometimes are shoved to the margins of our society.

As Solomon confesses, "Sometimes, I had thought the heroic parents in this book were fools, enslaving themselves to a life with their alien children...." He is surprised to discover that "my research had built me a plank, and that I was ready to join them on their ship. " I was so glad I got to be along for the ride.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best Non-Fiction Books I've Ever Read, December 14, 2012
I read mostly non-fiction, and I am mostly disappointed. There are so many poorly researched, badly written books in this genre. Far From the Tree is a glowing exception to the drivel. Each chapter feels like its own comprehensive book, yet the stories flow together because of the common thread between the parents. I have read some criticisms in other reviews that I feel I must address: Firstly, it seems that some people think it's insulting to compare a kid with Down Syndrome to Dylan Klebold. That didn't happen in this book. The parents of these children have a tenuous link due to their children not turning out as expected; that is what's being explored. Also, any grumblings about too many details or this book reading like a textbook are ridiculous. If you want to read charming anecdotes about unusual lives, try Augusten Burroughs. If you want to be fascinated by the human condition and the very nature of love, what it can endure, and how it changes people, this book is for you.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful Book on Families with Children who are Different, January 28, 2013
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Patricia (San Diego, CA, United States) - See all my reviews
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This is an amazing book. It is also a very big book at almost a thousand pages but it is well worth the effort. (Actually, the last 250 pages are all notes and references.) The author, Andrew Solomon writes about families who have a child or children different from them and how the families cope. He has done extensive case studies over a decade or so and the individual stories are poignant and mesmerizing. The long first chapter is a bit more technical but stick with it because he is explaining his methods and theories. He explains that as a gay son he and his family had to learn to cope and this suffering caused him to become interested in families where the child differs in a significant way from the parents. He then devotes the next 11 chapters to the following issues (all of which will floor you):

The DEAF: How do families cope when they have a deaf child? He gives the stories of many family and explains the conflicts between sign language and implants and how the deaf community struggles to survive and protect its own. You will never look at sign language or the deaf the same way. American Sign Language is a true language, very complex and difficult to fully learn after childhood. The grammar and structure are not related to English. A child must have language early in life, whether that language is by sign or by hearing/voice, otherwise it will be too late for the child to ever fully enter into language. Therefore, big decisions about implants, education, signing have to be made fairly quickly. It makes you reflect on the choices. The deaf community believes that the implants are imperfect and don't offer real hearing and that forcing them on infants may deprive the infant of real language until it is too late. He tries to present all sides fairly and usually doesn't take sides.

DWARFISM: Like the deaf, dwarfism too is a community that struggles for acceptance. There are so many physical health issues here with various forms of the syndrome. And the very visibility of the condition makes them standout. Once again, families have huge decisions to make for their child. (And some of the examples of how insensitive doctors have explained things to the parents are mind blowing.) Shortened limbs limit so many things, from mobility to personal hygiene and some of the purposed solutions are drastic. Fortunately, here as in other cases, the internet allows forming of communities of those who share the condition. But there are many controversial issues.

DOWN SYSDROME: Families often go into shock when they discover their newborn has Downs. Everything has changed for them and for this child's future. Families adjust in different ways and go through a long period of grief and adjustment. Often these children are so sweet and loveable that the parents come to the conclusion that they would not wish it any other way. This chapter is a heartbreaker and an eye-opener.

AUTISM: This chapter blew me away. Of course I am familiar with autism because it has become so common but we tend to think of withdrawn kids whose families try desperately to break into their isolated world. But the more extreme cases can drive families to near insanity from lack of sleep and from just trying to physically control the child. Feces and blood spread on walls and the whole house - what a way to walk in the door. For a minority there is hope as some children can be pulled back into normal life. But some can't... What the families face is unimaginable.

SCHIZOPHRENIA: When a child has Down Syndrome the family usually finds out about it at birth or early infancy. Then they have to adjust to the child they have rather the child they expected. With Autism the child often develops normally for about 2 or 3 years and then regresses and the family has to give up the child they had and live with the one they have now. Schizophrenia is even crueler since it often does not show up until puberty or the teen years. Then the hallucinations and confusion start and the family loses the person they have known for all these years. Sometimes medication and treatment offer some respite but often it doesn't and these are agonizing cases. There are a wide range of symptoms and some can be quite violent. The families can face agonizing decisions including considering institutionalization.

DISABILITY - In this chapter he covers many forms of disability ranging from Cerebral Palsy to multiple severe disability where the person has an overwhelming number of challenges. Some are completely paralyzed and some don't even have fundamental awareness. They don't know who they are, they can't talk or feed themselves or demonstrate basic emotions. But as he says "They are human and often they are loved." The individual stories and the decisions the families face will haunt you for a long time.

PRODIGIES - This was the most surprising chapter. We think of having smart kids as a good thing. Well, these children are beyond genius and families don't know how to handle them. They can have extraordinary gifts from toddlerhood but dazzling brilliance is an aberration and the parents are faced with raising children who are beyond their comprehension and who are often poorly adjusted in many ordinary life functions. Because the author understands music he concentrates on musical prodigies but some are also math genuises. Can they have a happy life - read it and see.

RAPE - Children born of rape always carry for the mother the memory of their violent conception. And if there is an ethnic or racial difference, then the child and mother face even stiffer obstacles. Rape is often used in ethnic wars and then both mother and child are cast aside as reminders of the enemy. This is so common is many of the war-torn areas of the world today and he has examples from all over the world.

CRIME: How does it affect a family when one of the children commits a vicious crime? Unfortunately today there are too many examples and they are all tragic. The most moving part of this chapter is the long section on the family of Dylan Klebold - one of the shooters at Columbine. His haunted parents are really magnificent people. The nightmare they have had to deal with is beyond imagining and yet reading their story is incredibly uplifting despite the tragedy that underlies it. Don't miss this section.

TRANSGENDER: I don't know if anything can be more conflicting to parents than gender confusion. Of course sometimes it is obvious at birth when a child is born with both male and female genitalia, and then there are big decisions to be made. But what about the physically perfect child who says he/she is the wrong gender and insists on it? Or some children who want to be a mix or alternate between genders? What these families face and how bravely some of them cope is mind boggling. And the abuse, bigotry and hatred they can encounter from the outside is terrifying. I found it hard to sleep after reading this chapter.

FATHER: In this final chapter Solomon tells his own story of becoming a gay father of biological children and the struggles he faces. I live in California and this is much more widely accepted here than in other parts of the country but there are still many obstacles. Very moving.

This powerful book is beautifully written and will affect you for a long time.

A final afterthought: Many of these families have found happiness in the hand that life has dealt them - they are very brave and truly love their children and only want their children to be happy. They are an inspiration.
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26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hasn't been put down yet, November 28, 2012
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I bought this as a present for my wife who refuses to put it down. Every day I come home from work she starts reading me a couple paragraphs because she loves it so much. In fact I told her to write this review but she won't stop reading to do it.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disability v. identity, January 13, 2013
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This review is from: Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity (Kindle Edition)
I have been disabled all my life. I have cerebral palsy which means that at this point in my life I walk with two canes. Though my parents sought medical attention for me, eventually they embraced my paternal grandmother's Christian Science faith. I have through the years been considered crippled, handicapped, disabled, differently abled and physically challenged. I am who I am both because of and in spite of my parents.
Andrew Solomon's book is wonderful because he is so open to any possibility. He enters so fully into the lives of the people whom he interviews that he helps you understand what their lives are like. All of these families have difficulties but the ones who seem to do best are those who accept (and in some cases) embrace the difference and who say to their children "I love you as you are" and thereby allow their children to accept themselves.(That, alas, sounds like a Hallmark greeting card and Mr. Solomon's book never gets mawkish and his explanations of the difficulties these families face are never facile).
I also loved Mr. Solomon's inclusion of all sorts of differences. He talks about transgendered people, criminals (his interview with Dylan Klebold's mother is very moving) and geniuses. I know a bit more about Joshua Bell's relationship with his mother than I might like, but the chapter was very entertaining.
Mr. Solomon himself is part of this tapestry. He discusses his mother's wish to correct his homosexuality much as she fixed his dyslexia and the teasing he underwent because of he was more interested in opera plots than football plays. As an adult he has married and talks about the feelings he had as he contemplated the possibility of having to raise a disabled child (the child is not disabled and Mr Solomon confesses his relief)
Many the families to whom Mr. Solomon speaks are well off (if they can't find a suitable place for their children to be treated they start one) and I sometimes fear he may be preaching to the choir. Nonetheless, this is a marvelous book and it's wonderfully written. It deserves the widest possible audience.
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55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Monumental and harrowing -- like, say, Rodin's "Gates of Hell.", November 14, 2012
As part of the full disclosure policy, I should mention that I know Andrew Solomon -- but I'm also a true fan. The hundreds of interviewees in this massive achievement range from the family of Dylan Klebold, the main architect of the Columbine Massacre, to the violin-and-many-other-things prodigy Joshua Bell, to people with dwarfism, autism, or schizophrenia -- and, it's tempting to say, to everything in between, as though there were a "between." Astonishingly, as Solomon focuses on their early years and particularly on their relationships with their parents, he locates a previously hidden common ground between all of them, like a clearing in a dark forest. And he pulls this off so thoroughly that, not too far into the read, one begins to see his subjects almost as a coherent family, a clan of misfits who somehow fit together like the eccentric "whimsy pieces" in a Liberty jigsaw puzzle.

Perhaps I shouldn't say this, but I will anyway because I suspect some readers may feel challenged by the book's heft. Personally, I've only had the book for a few days. On the first day I read the first two chapters -- "Son" and "Deaf". After that, I started skipping around, to the "Crime" chapter, to the last chapter ("Father), and to various shocking- or enticing-looking bits in the rest of the text. I don't believe that saying a book can be read out of sequence, or in snippets, or backwards,(or even, if one wants an extra challenge, upside down) is to say anything bad about it. After all, I mean, for heaven's sake, I don't think many folks breeze straight through Hobbes' "Leviathan" or Burton's "Anatomy of Melancholy" from Page One to whatthehellever. And yet slews of intelligent people do still really enjoy those books. So don't be daunted. Check out the zinger against Peter Singer on Page 401. Stupendous.
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