Struck by Genius is the story of what happened after Jason Padgett was violently mugged and left with a head injury. Almost immediately, Jason developed synaesthesia (a kind of neurological blending of the senses), which in his case meant he could see geometric shapes, particularly fractals, wherever he looked. He also became a mathematical savant and could understand a high level of maths he’d never been taught. Jason was transformed from being an extroverted, physically restless party-goer, to an inquisitive, focussed introvert.
Jason’s story is unusual, in fact he is the only person known to have both acquired synaesthesia and acquired savant syndrome. Despite the inclusion of some of his drawings, it’s hard to imagine, but fascinating, to consider the way he literally sees the world. However, he does have some ‘trade-offs’ to his new abilities – he also develops OCD and PTSD, as well as experiencing a decline in his interest and ability to write (which is why he has a joint/ghost writer).
*Gets on soapbox* It is, quite frankly, ridiculous that he was unable to have the right scans and support after his injury because of the cost of healthcare. I will never understand a system where health is dependent on wealth. *Steps off soapbox*
It is a fascinating story, but I found myself wanting more from the telling of it. It was quite repetitive and in places over-written, and could have been edited down to become a much tighter, more engaging piece of writing. I found myself wishing Oliver Sacks had written it, both for style and for his ability to go that little bit deeper emotionally and neurologically. However, the explanations of neurological processes, such as the fight or flight response, were succinctly and simply explained for a range of readers.
Part of the repetition may come from Jason’s hyper-focus on his interests and passion to share what he sees. I do admire his new-found passion for learning and maths, but I also struggled to believe that every single person’s face ‘lights up’ when he starts talking to them about pi or fractals when they’ve come into his shop to buy a futon. Some, yes, but not all. He talks about how he developed heightened empathy as a result of his injury (which read to me more like a heightened awareness of others due to PTSD), but I wonder whether his passion for fractals exceeds this, and so he doesn’t always realise that some people just want to buy a futon.
Struck by Genius is a story of human resilience and the fascinating way the brain can work. I just wanted something more from it.
Struck by Genius is released on 22nd April 2014. You can view some of Jason’s beautiful fractal drawings here.
Leave a comment below by 16th April 2014 for a chance to win a copy of Struck by Genius. All names will be put in a hat and one will be chosen at random. UK only.
I kindly received a free copy of Struck by Genius from Headline in exchange for an honest review.