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.
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.
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.
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.
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.