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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon February 25, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Jason Padgett is one of an estimated 1.7 million Americans who annually suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Jason's head trauma happened twelve years ago outside a karaoke bar where he was brutally and repeatedly punched and kicked in the head. After that, his life changed dramatically. Before the TBI, Jason's only goal was to live life 24/7 as an adrenaline-seeking, hard-partying extrovert. He describes himself at that time as a math and artistic dunce. He was an I-don't-care college dropout. He was the type of person who constantly needed something stimulating happening around him because he was incapable of just being quiet and entertaining himself from within his own mind.

After the TBI, Jason's whole personality and worldview was completely upended. Suddenly, he found an unlimited rich new world of numbers, geometry, and shapes; they endlessly fascinated him. He was completely entertained from within his own mind. He became a hermit-like introvert. He had little interest outside totally focusing on discovering and visualizing all the geometric fractal shapes he saw around him in everyday life. He started to draw these shapes and discovered he had a marvelous new ability to create artwork out of the shapes he saw all around him. He developed a keen new interest in math and, after going back to community college to learn some fundamental mathematical concepts, he started to delve into mathematical theory. He became a "mathematical marvel."

On the downside--and I learned from this book that there are always major downsides to TBIs--Jason developed an intense case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He also suffered the onslaught of frequent panic attacks. Perhaps most interesting of all, Jason became an extreme empath, i.e., at times he could feel the psychological and physical pain of other people so acutely that it would become seriously harmful to his own body.

I found Jason's life story and transformation extraordinarily fascinating, but also mightily puzzling and frustrating. The book held my attention throughout, yet I was also a bit disappointed. I wanted "more" and that intangible "more" wasn't there.

I was never fully convinced that Jason had become the "math marvel" that the book promised. Yes, he'd uncovered an amazing latent ability to understand math at a fairly advanced level, but this could hardly be called a math marvel much less a math genius. Neither did I find Jason's art to be all that compelling or creative. Yes, it is beautiful--you can look at his work on the Fine Art America Website--but it seems to be the natural by-product of his OCD focus on visualizing fractals rather than anything truly outstanding in its own right. I get the theory behind the pi drawing, but it doesn't make me ecstatic. I'm sure it provides him with a great deal of inner peace and tranquility to spend thousands of hours producing these highly repetitive designs--designs that a computer could easily be programmed to do on its own--but I couldn't help but feel sad for all those "lost hours" that might have been more productively used...for example increasing his knowledge of math, or focusing on learning the medical details of OCD and PTSD.

In the book, Jason repeatedly highlighted his prodigious new skill at narrowly focusing on a topic of interest and learning all he could about it from the Internet, yet so far, he has never been drawn to begin a highly-focused, in-depth study of OCD or PTSD...and this despite the fact that both disorders intervene enormously in his ability to live a normal life. For example, should Jason have taken the time to learn all he could, in depth, about the human microbiome, he might be able to break himself of the harmful practice of excessively lathering his entire body in antimicrobial lotions. Perhaps another habit might emerge to replace the one lost, a habit that might be less harmful and life-disabling.

An extrovert is predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from what is outside the self, while an introvert is predominantly concerned with obtaining gratification from his or her own interior mental life. (I highly recommend reading Susan Cain's magnificent book "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" for more on this topic). This aspect of the book--at least for me--was the number one profound change that took place in Jason. The TBI propelled him from an extreme extrovert to an extreme introvert. I'd have liked to have seen more neurological interest and discussion in this book on that aspect of his transformation.

But I have to remind myself that this book is the intimate private story of Jason's life, not the life I would have wanted Jason to live. So I have no reason to be disappointed or frustrated.

I have nothing but sincere admiration for Maureen Seaberg's talent at writing this book. She did a remarkable job of getting inside her subject and channeling him in an authentic first-person narrative.

I recommend this book highly. It is unique and fascinating. However, if you read it, know that it may leave you with more questions than it answers. But isn't that always the case with life? It is infinitely mystifying.

I wish Jason all the best in his life ahead. I marvel at all he has achieved since his TBI. If he and Maureen were to update this book in another ten years, I suspect that we'd all see an even greater transformation in the years to come.
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VINE VOICEon April 13, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
One night at a bar the hard-partying 30-something author of this memoir was mugged. He was punched and kicked in the head, probably left with a concussion. As his brain healed from the trauma, the author found that he had a profound new interest in and understanding of geometry. Simply walking around outside came to be mesmerizing, as the patterns inherent in nature jumped out at him. Prior to his injury he was no student, but now the author enrolled in college and devoted himself to a study of math, in order to better be able to communicate the whole new world opening up to him.

The part of this story that discussed the science behind Padgett's injury and the amazing results of his recovery were fascinating. I would have loved it if this book were entirely focused on math and science--how Padgett experiences the world and why his brain interprets stimuli as it does.

Unfortunately, a larger portion of this book is about Padgett's personal life, which I found much less interesting. His narrative voice has a self-congratulatory tone that permeates every anecdote contained within this memoir. In high school it was only he who could befriend the dirty and abused outcast, bring him home, and rescue him. A falling out with his brother was the result of Padgett simply being better at everything, from winning games to getting the attention of girls. Even their stepmother preferred him to his brother.

After his attack, when the author became fixated on geometry, he continued to work in his family's furniture store while taking college classes. He talks about discussing math and showing his drawings to all who come into the store. According to him, customers universally love these discussions while they are trying to choose furniture. None find it intrusive or annoying. He talked math to one woman for four hours and even ended up curing her depression.

Story after story had a similar theme, which seemed not to match up with what I've observed about people and their relationships to others, especially when one person is obsessed with an insists on talking endlessly about an obscure topic. I found myself skeptical of many of the author's claims about himself and the others around him, and this uneasy feeling detracted greatly from my enjoyment of this memoir.
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VINE VOICEon April 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
My short review of this book is that it should have been a magazine article, but they padded it with completely extraneous material to make it the length of a short book and then published it like that. Supposedly "Struck by Genius" tells the story of Jason Padgett, an ordinary guy who is mugged and left with a traumatic brain injury that, when healed, leaves him with a strange new way of looking at the world. Ok great, that sounds like a pretty good story.

The problem though is that there really isn't all that much to the Padgett story. Enough to fill 75 or 100 pages, tops. So what do we get? Tons of filler along the lines of "I learned X. and that reminds me of the well known story about Einstein...." and then a page long anecdote about someone discovering something that isn't really related to anything Padgett is doing. This happens at least 15 times in a 200 page book.

Then you get filler like "and so i showed this guy at the deli my drawings, and explained to him how i see the world now, and *he* was amazed too!" about 45 times, literally. Every single person Padgett talks to is amazed at how awesome and special he is, no matter what/where/when he tells them about his new abilities. Jason works at a futon store, and instead of selling futons, he tells customers about geometry and various Discovery Channel specials he watched that week. NONE of them ever have a problem with this, which I find more amazing than anything else in this book.

Jason's co-author is a big fan of over-dramatic language, which doesn't help anything either. Jason self-diagnoses himself with PTSD and OCD, and then as a humorous aside he mentions that his step dad also had OCD, because he didn't like scuff marks on the carpet. That's not really OCD Jason, sorry.

The whole book is just full of the authors stretching, trying to make what is a pretty interesting story even more interesting or incredible by making connections that aren't really there or trying to exaggerate the importance of Jason's experiences. And tbh I just found that to be pretty tiresome after awhile. They should have just told the story the way it was and left the reader to draw his own conclusions, I think.

Anyway, google this guy or something instead of wasting money on this book, that's my advice.
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VINE VOICEon August 21, 2014
Jason Padgett suffered a traumatic brain injury during a mugging and underwent significant personal and mental changes. Among other things, he is now synesthetic, meaning that he perceives things in multiple ways simultaneously. Most synesthetes see numbers, letters, or musical tones as having particular colors. Padgett sees a particular geometry overlaid on the entire world, particularly lights, running water, reflections, and certain other phenomena. As a result, he becomes obsessed with drawing his "impressions" of particular numbers or phenomena, particularly the irrational number pi and his understanding of certain subatomic processes. Most of these drawings are the kind of line drawings a bored young person with a straightedge and compass might draw to kill some time: many lines intersecting in a single point with a spirograph-like set of intersecting lines around the central point, forming an approximation of a circle. To Padgett, these drawings literally are how he "sees" these concepts.

The synesthesia is interesting, and I have no reason to doubt it. The story took a stranger and more disturbing turn, however, when Padgett holed up for four years with almost no human contact in an apartment that was literally falling apart (there were pigeons living in a hole in the roof) and spending all of his time on the internet. In the process, he diagnosed himself with synesthesia, savant syndrome, PTSD, OCD, agoraphobia, depression, and various other potential maladies. The internet may be a great tool, but a reliable source of lay diagnoses of medical and psychiatric conditions it is not. Most of these self-diagnoses were never confirmed, at least not in the book, and it is not clear how many of the purported diagnoses are, in fact, diagnoses, as opposed to casual conversation with persons in the medical, psychiatric, or academic fields. Moreover, he was subjected to almost no testing for years after the incident, and so most of the purported diagnoses are presented as musings, not as declarative statements.

The real hole in the book, however, is this: there is nothing in it that supports the title. Nothing in it indicates genius or Padgett's status as a "mathematical marvel." He certainly gained a new interest in math, especially geometry, but almost nothing in the book demonstrates that he actually understands any mathematical concepts beyond how to create his drawings. There is one equation in the book, a needlessly complex (and, in practical terms, useless) method of calculating pi. The remainder of the "math" consists of Padgett's geometric "impressions" of various formulae, which he believes reflect a deep insight into the very nature of the universe. Speaking as a math major, I can state that none of Padgett's impressions or theories are more sophisticated than those presented in a trigonometry or precalculus class, if not earlier.

I do not doubt Padgett's suffering, the sincerity of his interest in mathematics, or that he has many daily struggles to overcome in light of his attack, and I do not mean to criticize him in any way. Rather, I simply want to warn readers that this book does not actually demonstrate that Padgett was "struck by genius" or became "a mathematical marvel." Instead, it is a very biographical book that demonstrates, at most, that Padgett's experience gave him synesthesia and an interest in subjects that he previously ignored, primarily math and physics. He was, apparently, a bright student in school who simply didn't apply himself to certain subjects. What the book demonstrates is merely that he developed an interest in some of those subjects after his injuries.

The writing itself requires a brief comment. This is not a well-written book. It rambles and delves into extended discussions of minutiae that do not add anything to the story. As I have said, it is mostly biography, including a huge amount of material related to his party-hard lifestyle before the attack. The substance of the book -- the impacts the attack has had on Padgett's mind -- might make for a interesting and short article, but no more. Instead, it is more than 200 pages long, rambling, full of commentary that often borders on outright narcissism, and devoid of content related to the main point: Padgett's purported new mathematical abilities.

I recommend taking a pass on this book; it simply does not deliver on its promises.
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VINE VOICEon March 9, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Jason Padgett was, by his own account, a shallow, pleasure-seeking goof-ball, until the night he was viciously beaten after stumbling out of a karaoke bar. He suffered severe traumatic brain injury from which he has never fully recovered. His symptoms have been mainly psychiatric, including PTSD, OCD, and spells of depression. He also developed a remarkable new interest in mathematics, geometry, the significance of pi, and fractals. He began to see mathematical concepts in visual forms, and expressed his discoveries in detailed drawings. There was nothing in his previous background or training to explain these interests and abilities.

This book is a detailed memoir of Jason's journey through hell and back and into his new life as a mathematical savant who also experiences synesthesia (the blending of sensory modalities). These abilities are uncommon, and to acquire them in adult life is extremely rare indeed. Jason's experience raises difficult questions about the brain and its workings, and about consciousness itself, and Jason meets many fascinating people as he seeks answers to these riddles. He takes the reader on an amazing journey of discovery--still unfinished as of the writing of the book.

Author Jason Padgett and co-author Maureen Seaberg have written an interesting and moving memoir about experiences that most of us can barely understand. The writing is not polished, often repetitious, and sometimes rambling. Still, I managed to finish it in a day. If you liked Treffert's "Islands of Genius," or if you have any interest in the savant syndromes or synesthesia, you will surely want to get hold of his book. I recommend it. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
On a September night in 2002, Jason Padgett was brutally beaten outside a bar. He suffered a traumatic brain injury that literally turned him into a different person. Before the crime, he was a happy-go-lucky, 31-year-old bar-hopping player. Afterward, he became a "mathematical marvel," as the subtitle says, obsessed with the geometric fractal patterns he sees everywhere -- in a stream of running water, a line of trees, a ray of light glinting off a car hood.

The world becomes a fascinating place for Padgett. He obsessively draws precise pictures of what he sees and discovers their connection with math concepts he'd never known: sine and cosine, tangents, even particle fusion and relativity. Eventually, he is diagnosed as being the only known person in the world with having "acquired savant syndrome," an acute giftedness in a particular area (often math), and "acquired synesthesia," a condition in which one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another; for example, seeing numbers as colors or shapes.

I was fully immersed in Padgett's story for a few chapters, but then I have to admit that it became repetitive. I can't imagine what he's seeing, no matter how many times he describes it. I don't see the point of the elaborate drawings he makes and can't make the math connection for myself. Not only that, but the more he reveals about his life, the sadder I became for him. Finding his place in the small community of people with his abilities assures him that he isn't mentally ill, and for that I'm glad. But although he is delighted with his new perceptions, they are accompanied by severe drawbacks: for years he is an agoraphobic hermit, venturing out only to grocery shop; he has obsessive compulsive disorder and practically bathes in antibacterial gel after touching someone; his sense of empathy is so keen he becomes physically ill when he hears the sad stories of others.

I also question some of the statements he makes. Can he really be the only person diagnosed with this acquired syndrome? The Department of Defense says that since 2000, close to 300,000 U.S. military members have sustained a TBI. Add to that the sports-acquired TBIs (and crime victims) and you have a cohort group of about 1.7 million sufferers a year. More importantly, I was put off by his statement that people with his heightened awareness alone are positioned to enjoy real spiritual insights. What a sad world it would be if only a few hundred people could lay claim to true spirituality.

I do commend Padgett's ghostwriter, Maureen Seaberg. She's done a terrific job of translating arcane mathematical concepts and fantastical visions into layman's terms. At times, though, I feel the scenes she and Padgett chose to depict showed only the upside of his injury. Padgett works at his family's futon store, and time and again he corners customers with convoluted math monologues, mostly about pi. Everyone is depicted as being enthralled. Honestly, if I were trapped by a salesperson with that agenda, I would escape at the first possible moment!

I would highly recommend two other books in this genre: the recent book, The Answer to the Riddle Is Me: A Memoir of Amnesia, a story of a man who suffered a psychotic break as the result of taking anti-malarial medication, and My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey, by a woman who suffered a stroke at a young age and discovers the joys of more fully engaging the intuitive, kinesthetic right side of the brain.
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on July 23, 2014
Jason's story is a fascinating one. The first half of the book moves quickly, describing his pre-injury persona, the circumstances of his injury, his initial post-injury symptoms, and the gradual recognition of his unique neurological gifts. For me, the second half of the book, which recounts his interactions with the scientific community that studies synesthetes and savants, dragged a bit. His saga is ultimately an uplifting one. It is pertinent to mention that I am a practicing clinical neurologist.
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on May 15, 2014
I could not put the book down. Jason underwent traumatic experiences with little help for a long time. What a strong, determined guy. Putting his early life in context helped the reader to understand what a dramatic change has taken place. Maureen's writing is excellent and perfectly chronicles Jason's ordeal. When I saw his interview on Fox, I had to read his story. So glad I did. Becoming a "mathematical genius" is an understatement. The other problems and gifts are truly amazing.
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VINE VOICEon March 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I first learned about "acquired savant syndrome" and synesthesia while reading Darold Treffert's book Islands of Genius: The Bountiful Mind of the Autistic, Acquired, and Sudden Savant. Dr. Treffert, a psychiatrist in Wisconsin, is the leading authority on savants. I highly recommend his book to anyone interested in savants, as well as interested in those who acquire savant abilities due to injury or illness, and in "neurotypical" individuals with savant like skills. His book is very comprehensive, yet very easy to understand.

Jason Padgett's book was an interesting read, too, but not quite as easy to understand, at least not when he's talking about mathematics . . . never my best subject. The story starts when Mr. Padgett is severely beaten during a mugging, and ends with him going to visit Dr. Treffert in Wisconsin. In-between those two events, the reader learns all about what it's like to suddenly acquire amazing mental abilities, as well as to acquire an OCD, PTSD and extreme feelings of empathy. (One is always reading online or in metaphysical books about individuals who consider themselves to be "empaths", so it was noteworthy to read about what a true "empath" is like.) Those three "tradeoffs" were extremely hard for the author to deal with at first, but he seems to have adjusted somewhat to them, and found some success in controlling them with medication and meditation.

It has all been a long, strange trip for Jason Padgett in the strange, new world he lives in, but he keeps slowly moving forward. Personally, I think he should become a teacher, because of the way he loves to share his astounding knowledge of the universe with others, including children. Maybe he can help and inspire others the way Dr. Treffert has helped and inspired others--including Jason Padgett. It sounds like he would very much like to do that.
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on June 2, 2014
Although it was "slow starting" for me in getting the background beginning set up for the bonanza of the rest of the book, it made
me stop frequently and ponder before moving on. I will never again look at circles as circles again. Great read.
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