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on September 26, 2007
I bought Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison mainly because I was enticed by reviews and interviews to explore the mind of someone who (because of Asperger's Syndrome) thinks a bit differently from us so-called "regular" folks. The book centers on John's struggle to become socially and economically successful as a person with Asperger's Syndrome. His condition wasn't diagnosed until he turned 40.

The two main things about this book that stood out for me (from beginning to end) were: (1) Mr. Robison doesn't give many clues about how he expects the reader to react to his stories. In other words, you get to make your own judgments - whether about his legal and illegal pranks or about his decision to not get involved with groupies (for two examples). He doesn't spend much time defending his behavior and he isn't dogmatic about what's right and what's wrong. (2) He thinks a lot and in unusual ways. As I read about his sometimes-elaborate thought processes, I remembered what a friend told me long ago: "If you're confused, good! It means you're thinking!" And I pondered some of the social conflicts in my own life caused by what others have characterized as "thinking too much."

In chapter 26 "Units One Through Three," Mr. Robison hilariously describes in frank terms the thought processes he went through when choosing his wife. ("Choosing" isn't the right word, but I promised myself I wouldn't write any spoilers into my review.) Here's a short sample from the book, from chapter 26, about his logic concerning choosing a wife: "Unfortunately, when picking a mate from a set of three sisters, it is usually necessary to establish a relationship with one in order to meet the other two. That usually precludes a person from selecting a different sister once an initial choice has been made."

Though I ultimately found "Look Me in the Eye" to be a satisfying and often funny book, it didn't fully capture my interest until the author began vividly describing a major prank (performed during his teenage years) related to fire. From there on (through many chapters) until he finishes talking about his work with rock and roll bands (which included creating pyrotechnically flamboyant guitars for KISS), I was utterly captivated by Mr. Robison's exciting stories. The chapters after that point aren't bad either.

Yes, Mr. Robison does think somewhat differently. He demonstrates an inspiring, practical approach to dealing with some of life's challenges. With his book, he managed to place those challenges under a microscope for all to see. I recommend that you take a look.
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on October 14, 2007
A warning about this book: Asperger's Syndrome is not quite what the author makes it out to be. If you were to only learn about the diagnosis from this memoir, here is what you might expect: "symptoms" that include amazingly innovative genius and a life of non-stop social and financial success.

The author: 1. makes numerous friends during adolescence, finding (as he describes it) acceptance and comfort in the music scene of his community. 2. makes a romantic connection during this time, sustaining a long-term relationship, including (later) marriage and a child. 4. states that he does not like small talk, does not like change. When does he become aware of this? As he is on tour with the worlds biggest rock band (He is reminded of his small-talk aversion later in the book...when he succeeds in the corporate world, functioning as both a creative asset and supervisor.) The biggest dilemma in the book: should he remain a business executive...or, should he open and run his own business?

Wow. Turns out that Asperger's is fun and empowering...assuming, of course, that you're a socially-adaptable techno-genius with highly marketable engineering skills.

'Look Me in the Eye' does make for a fascinating window into Asperger's Syndrome. However, if you are purchasing this book, please bear in mind: few people (and I mean very few people, including neuro-typicals) are as high-functioning as the author. This is a memoir by someone with Asperger's Syndrome, not an educational tool about it.
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on October 19, 2007
People who suffer from Asperger's Syndrome view the world through very different eyes than do normal people. Things that seem perfectly mundane to normals take on a whole new appearance when someone with Asperger's looks at them. Aspergians (a term coined by Robison) do not pick up on the social cues and body language other people do. They don't think things that most people peceive as important matter; and things they believe are of vital importance are seen as inconsequential by normals.

Think for a minute about the sound of nails on a chalkboard. To many normals, the sound is something to make you grit your teeth and wish for its absence. To Aspergians, the sound can range from absolutely intolerable to pleasant, depending on how their particular affect of the syndrome perceives it. This difference in perception is one reason it's so hard for Aspergians to relate to the world.

John Elder Robison has given us a solid look at what it's like to be an Aspergian. He points out that the syndrome gives as well as takes. Although he had a difficult time as a child and adolescent only partly due to his Asperger's (he was afflicted with a pair of nutcase parents, which is the last thing anyone with Asperger's needs), his gifts for 'hearing' a sound and then being able to construct devices to make that sound a reality gave him successful careers as a tech wizard working with the sound systems and instruments of the rock group KISS, among others; and a successful career (as defined by the mundanes) as an engineer for Parker Brothers in the very early days of electronic games and early game consoles. His current career as a master restorer of classic cars also is due in part to the way his Asperger's causes him to see the world; like many other Aspergians, he relates much better to machines than he does to people because machines are logical and do not deliberately set out to hurt you.

Thinking back to your school days, I am sure you will remember the weirdo who was hopelessly awkward, who had no social graces and few if any friends, but who was incredibly gifted with one subject or non-sports-related activity in or outside school. I'm also sure you'll recall (if you are honest about it) how that kid was tormented for his awkwardness, gracelessness, and inability to fit in. Chances are you were dealing with an Aspergian, who had no more of a clue of how socialization and perception works than you did about why he was the pink monkey in a cage full of brown monkeys in the jungle that is childhood and adolescence. Thanks to Robison, you now have some idea of what life was like for that kid, and why he was the way he was, and what life is like when you're the one who has Asperger's.
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on August 4, 2014
I hate to have to give this book one star as I was very excited to read it. I actually did not finish this book which is saying a lot because I've only put down one other book in my 24 years of life. As a person with Aspergers, I found this book highly offensive. The author does not seem to have ASD at all. I think that he fits the description that he was called in the book of psycho or sociopath much more than any ASD. He has just a few of the traits of someone with Aspergers but with all disorders, symptoms overlap. The author actually seems to be the exact opposite of most the criteria for Aspergers and is nothing like myself or other aspies I know. I couldn't imagine lying and being manipulative, hurting other people or animals, etc. The author also seems to have navigated social situations very well as he has many friends and multiple wives. I hope that no one reads this book knowing nothing about ASD and believes that this is how people with Aspergers act. It is a terrible misrepresentation of a group of people as well as probably a misdiagnosis on the authors part.
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on January 6, 2015
I'm not a fan of this book. Something about it rubbed me the wrong way. For one thing, Aspies love technical things and there are whole sections where he goes on and on about various technical setups. It's extremely boring for the average reader. The other thing is, it's hard to like the guy who wrote it. He may have Asperger's but that does not absolve him of some of the things he does- like dumping his toddler brother upside down in a deep hole and leaving him there for 15 minutes, or rigging up a homemade taser to electrocute the same brother. He got married later in life and disturbingly enough, he describes how he is not sure his wife is "the best" woman for him and he should be able to compare women like dishwashers so he gets the best one. Also he plays what he calls "pranks" on his young son- for instance, making up stories about how Santa gets drunk and slums around, etc. These stories clearly upset his son but he thinks they're funny. At the age of 13 he says his son can no longer be tricked (i.e., he no longer trusts his father). There is just an element of unpleasantness to the author that I don't think all Aspies possess.
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on November 30, 2008
The subtitle suggests that this is a memoir about having Asperger's syndrome. Actually, it's a book about a guy who grew up in a wildly dysfunctional family, who had a series of adventures, and who turned out okay. Many of his idiosyncrasies, however, have nothing to do with Asperger's. His Asperger's isn't even particularly salient in this memoir. What stuck out for me was his obsession with practical jokes, some quite elaborate, all apparently executed because Robison derives enormous enjoyment from humiliating people. (This is not a feature of Asperger's.) And yet, throughout the book, he whines about how he felt humiliated in many situations. His annoying habit of insisting on his own names for things (e.g., "Aspergian," which is his own peculiar term) also has nothing to do with Asperger's. Robison likes to entertain an audience with outlandish stories, and that's what he's doing here. If that's your idea of a good read, you'll enjoy this book.
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on March 4, 2008
I was very excited to get this book, but unfortunately I found it hard to get through because it is poorly written, and because a large part of the book is about guitars and electronic circuits.
I found the tone to come across as "showing off." The author seemed to brag about what a great prankster he is, and what a savant he is. Perhaps I am misinterpreting some of Asperger's traits, which is not my intention, but this is how it felt to me personally. I have 4 people in my life with AS, and none of them play mean tricks on people, nor do they act superior or condescending. And I have read many other AS autobiographies, and none of those people played mean tricks either. So I do not believe that these personality traits can be applauded or excused as belonging to the disease. We should not blur the line between pathology and personality.
Whenever it seemed like the author was about to get to some interesting story, instead of telling it, he would refer the readers to his brother's book.
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I've been interested in Asperger's Syndrome for more than 15 years, ever since articles about the syndrome first started to appear in popular newspapers and magazines. It was obvious to me from the very beginning that the academic world in which I worked had an unusually high number of these brilliant, but decidedly weird, personalities. I wanted to know more about these colleagues that seemed to think and act so differently from the norm.

When autobiographies by Aspergians started to appear in publication, I snapped them up and read them eagerly. One of the very first was Temple Grandin's "Thinking In Pictures." She became widely known when the famous neurologist and author, Oliver Sacks, wrote about her in his bestselling book "An Anthropologist On Mars." I recommend both of these books highly.

Autobiographies are great, but there is nothing like the power of fiction to get a reader deeply inside the mind of another human being! There are two outstanding works of fiction that I am familiar with that are told from the perspective of someone on the high end of the autism spectrum: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time" by Mark Haddon, and "The Speed of Dark" by Elizabeth Moon. I also recommend both of these books highly.

A few weeks ago, I stopped to gaze on the many titles that Amazon was recommending to me, based on the titles I've purchased from them or reviewed on their site. I was delighted to see there was a new Aspergian autobiography on the market: John Elder Robison's "Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's." I ordered it immediately. Yesterday, I picked up the book after breakfast and was surprised to find that I had completely finished it by later that same afternoon.

What a delightful, and often humorous, book this was! The book is mainly a collection of stories from the Robison's unusual life. The writing is surprisingly fresh, honest, and emotionally open. The stories are full of amazingly dysfunctional parents, geeky pranks, and weird happenings. Though them, and many inward-looking passages found throughout the book, Robison gives us keen insight into the mind and thinking processes of a high-functioning person with Asperger's Syndrome, aptly named by Robison throughout this work as Aspergians.

Other reviewers have covered well what is included in these stories and how Robison's life and this book relates to his younger brother's bestselling book and major motion picture "Running With Scissors," so I won't cover those aspects here.

What I do want to add that as is wholly new, is that this book is a great companion-piece to "The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science" by Norman Doidge. This absolutely fascinating new book gives an easily readable, enjoyable, and thought-provoking nonprofessional overview of the new science of neuroplasticity--the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections over the life span. This is what Robison was able to do--completely by himself, without professional intervention. As you read this book, you'll be able to see how Robison was able to rewire his brain, and eventually to make himself more normal.

Robison, the adult accomplished 40-year-old author who writes this book, no longer possesses the same brain wiring problems that his younger self had to deal with. That is why this book can be told with such a high degree of emotional openness and understanding. Toward the end of the book, Robison talks with great understanding briefly about the new science of neuroplasticity and how he is confident that he has been able to slowly rewire his brain over the last two decades of his life.

This is what is wonderful about this book. For me, it was not so much a good book about Aspergians, but it was a fascinating tale about an Aspergian who was able to rewire his brain successfully to respond more normally to life.

If this aspect of Robison's autobiography interests you, then by all means, read "The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science." There you will find numerous real-life stories about people, with a wide range of disabilities, who were able to achieve successfully what seemed--until only very recently--an impossible task: changing their brains and conquering their disabilities. Norman Doidge's neuroplasticity book gets my unqualified highest recommendation. It will change the way you look at the world and you will be able to understand, on an easy scientific level, what Robison was able to do to his Aspergian brain over the last two decades.

So, what do I feel about Robison's book in general? Well, it was easy and pleasant to read and well worth the time and effort. There are perhaps better books that take you deeper into the mind of an Aspergian. But no book out there shows you a better real-life example of the brain's ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections over the life span. I'd give it three stars for the storytelling, three stars for the writing, three stars for the insight it brings to bear on Asperger's Syndrome, but four stars on what it brings to bear on the new science of neuroplasticity, and for me, that last one out weighs all the rest.
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on October 5, 2007
Mr. Robison's book is well-worth reading, if only because it really makes people think about the tremendous variety of human expression, and about how the ways we think can be gifts, curses, or something in between. The heartfelt nature of the reviews on the page tell you that Mr. Robison has struck a nerve. The story of his life will alternately amuse and terrify you--Mr. Robison is a very resilient man--as well as educate you. His book also lists a number of books, particularly memoirs, associated with Asperger's which you may enjoy if this one interested you. And if your car needs repair, he tells you how to get in touch with him! An all-service book.
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on April 19, 2014
The first chapter is decent, but the author seems very proud to be vulgar and the book is laced with the f-bomb over and over, not to mention sadistic treatment of his younger brother and "tricks" he played on people that involved theft, fraudulent fund raising and explosives. I have a son with ASD and he does not naturally possess this level of cruelty, vulgarity, and lack of regard for other people. I understand this man had an abusive childhood. However intrigued I might have been regarding his view as a person with Aspergers syndrome, I could not continue to overlook the foul language and tacky subject matter.
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