The book is about Daniel Tammet, a man with Savant Syndrome and a condition called synaesthesia, which makes him see numbers as colours, shapes and textures, enabling him to do extraordinary sums in his head.
I’m sure we’ve all heard about people with Savant Syndrome in the past, you’ve probably seen Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman or watched a documentary on TV. But this book was completely different as it was written by Daniel and contained his thoughts and feelings, not someone else speculating what is happening in his head. It’s unusual for someone with this rare form of Aspergers to be able to communicate so effectively for themselves, and you find out through the book just how that came about. For example, he even travelled on his own to Lithuania to live for a year teaching English. While he was there he also learnt to speak Lithuanian, one of ten(!) languages that he can speak. He learnt to speak Icelandic in 7 days, conducting a live interview on Icelandic TV at the end of the week.
As well as finding out about his extraordinary ability for learning languages, you also find out a lot about his love of numbers, and how he experiences them. To him, each number up to 10,000 has it’s own shape, colour and feeling (e.g. the number 9 is large and towering). When he does calculations, he sees the results in his head as a composite of the numbers involved. Throughout the book, Daniel draws out examples of what he means by his descriptions, including a picture of the number on each chapter’s title page.
Here’s an example of what he sees when he multiplies 53 x 131. The shape on each side is the shape of each number, and the shape in the middle is the shape of the result. All this happens subconsciously, which is why he can do these sums so quickly – how incredible is that?!
There was a documentary about him on Channel 5 a few years ago, which I think I am going to have to find and watch. You hear about his experience of filming in the book, but I would love to watch it too. He also wrote a second book called Embracing the Wide Sky, which I will have to read. A definite 5 star book, if only because of how incredible this man is!