Summary of Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet: a fascinating accountof the personal growth and inner life of a gifted person with Asperger’s syndrome.
By Daniel Tammet, 2019 (French translation), 288 p.
Review and Summary of Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Danniel Tammet
About Daniel Tammet’s literary work
Daniel Tammet is the author of numerous books, including the following, published in French:
- Eternity in an Hour
- Embracing the Wide Sky
- Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing
- C’est une chose sérieuse que d’être parmi les hommes (translated)
- Mishenka: novel (French)
- Portraits: poems (bilingual)
- Fragments de paradis (written in French)
Born on a Blue Day, published in English in 2006, was translated into French the following year by Éditions Les Arènes. This is his first published work.
Note: to make the review more reader-friendly, I’ve divided the chapters by adding subsections that don’t exist in the book. This lightens up the text and makes it easier to grasp the content.
Let’s begin with this touching paragraph in which Daniel Tammet expresses the effect that writing this first book had on him:
[As I wrote, a transformation took place within me: at the end, I was no longer the person who had begun two hundred pages earlier. Strange as it may seem, for the first time I felt whole, my life clearly legible. Countless fragments of my life had been pieced together in my memory – moods, voices, silhouettes – all put to paper, each one taking its place like so many pieces of a puzzle the fate of which I was unaware.] (Born on a Blue Day)
As you may have guessed, this is an autobiography. Which, let’s face it, is not that common for a 26-year-old ! 13 years later, in 2019, Daniel Tammet wrote this preface and admits that this book changed his life. There was, of course, the unexpected and international success. But above all, Daniel Tammet now devotes himself to literature. This preface is written in French, a language he learned over ten years ago and which he now uses daily, as he lives in Paris.
1. Blue Nines and Red Words
Daniel Tammet suffers from “savant syndrome,” a syndrome made popular in 1988 by the film Rain Man and the character of Raymond Babbitt played by Dustin Hoffman.
An obsession with sequence and numbers often characterizes these people, but not exclusively. In fact, they have a truly astonishing relationship with numbers: they can visualize them in an extraordinary way, attributing shapes, colors, textures, and even particular emotions to them. This association gives them dizzying computational abilities.
This is the scientific name for this “neurological confusion of the senses.”
[The number 1, for example, is brilliant white, like someone shining a flashlight directly into my eyes. Five is a thunderclap or the sound of waves breaking against rocks. Thirty-seven is lumpy like porridge, while 89 reminds me of falling snow.] (Born on a Blue Day)
In other words, Daniel Tammet’s relationship with numbers is primarily aesthetic. His emotions and senses help him to compute, and all operations take on singular forms and aspects.
Calendars are another object of love and colorful joy! Not forgetting prime numbers, of course.
Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism. Diagnosed at age 25, Daniel Tammet has a moderate form of this disability. He can live a relatively normal life. Like other autistic people of this type, he has a highly developed memory and pays particular attention to details and rules.
Emotions are on the side of numbers, less on the side of people. However, as the author explains, numbers (and the feelings they inspire in him) can serve as vectors for understanding human relationships and feeling empathy.
Words in color
Words are no exception. Like numbers, they too have their own particular colors, textures, and shapes. In short, Daniel Tammet not only has a talent for mathematics, but also for languages (and, as we shall see, for storytelling). At the time of writing, the author speaks:
- English (mother tongue)
Ten languages! Few people can do that. They are called hyperpolyglots.
2. Early Years
Parents and birth
Daniel Tammet’s family was not wealthy. His parents met young, fell in love and decided to live together and start a large family. He was the first of nine children. Of course, the parents are initially bewildered and surprised by their newborn baby, who demands their constant attention. However, things take a turn for the worse: the child is terribly difficult. He screams and cries incessantly. He even sometimes tosses himself back and forth, throwing tantrums.
Family and medical incomprehension
The family is worried, but they try to find rational explanations:
- You have to let him cry alone, say some.
- He has colic, argues one doctor.
- No, he lacks stimulation and is frustrated, claims another.
It’s true that he’s often ill (and suffers from repeated ear infections). However, little Daniel is otherwise developing well: no developmental delays in motor skills or language, for example.
The birth of a little brother, Lee, brought changes. Daniel Tammet found himself placed in daycare. The child is rather solitary. He’s “in his own world ,” “shy,” and “sensitive,” say his parents, partly to reassure themselves and avoid being stigmatized.
He quickly stands out for his taste for routine and details. It’s impossible to take him any other route than the usual one without triggering a tantrum and tears. On the other hand, at around age 3, he fell in love with books from the “Monsieur Madame” collection, featuring round, triangular, square, yellow, and purple characters.
The house on Blithbury Road
To accommodate the larger family, the parents had to move (which they did several times during Daniel Tammet’s childhood, as the family grew considerably over the years). At the time, he didn’t have much feeling for his little brother, but he did love books, which he built into little forts in his bedroom.
He also loved going for walks in the park around the house and, above all, letting his father take him gently on the swing. However, he doesn’t like the sound of cars!
[My bedroom was my sanctuary, an intimate space in which I felt comfortable and happy. I spent most of the day there, so much so that my parents got into the habit of coming up to the room to sit next to me and spend time together. They were never impatient with me.] (Born on a Blue Day)
Here, too, books and multicolored beadwork keep the child’s attention. What about the others? He doesn’t really care about them. For him, they’re just part of the scenery. At times, it’s even worse. He outright refuses to take part in activities, thus isolating himself even further from his peers.
3. Struck by Lightning: Epilepsy
The first seizure
By all accounts, an epileptic seizure is an extraordinary experience, bringing with it feelings of both bliss and fear. For Daniel Tammet, it’s simply the feeling that time and space disappear and swallow him up with them.
His parents had noticed something a few days before but had no idea what it was. Fortunately, when the time came, he had his little brother with him, who screamed in fright and alerted the adults.
Epilepsy is a disorder of the temporal lobes, located above the ears. It occurs quite frequently in autistic people. Conversely, it’s possible that epileptic seizures play a role in the onset of synesthesia.
However, at the time, the author was not yet diagnosed as such. He underwent tests to establish the diagnosis of epilepsy. Confirmation of the illness greatly affected his parents, and his father in particular, as his own father, who had died prematurely, had suffered from the same affliction.
Fortunately, the attacks ceased. Treatment was effective, as it is in 80% of cases. The drug to be taken, carbamazepine, regulates the seizures. Little Daniel has to have regular blood tests, but other than that, his life is back to “normal,” which his parents value very much.
There are, however, a few side effects, including hypersensitivity to sunlight, disorientation, drowsiness, and sleep disorders (including sleepwalking). As you can imagine, these combined effects don’t make it any easier to stay awake in class. This is why, despite his abilities, Daniel Tammet was a slow learner in his early years at school.
Eventually, his parents decided – albeit with some trepidation – to reduce and then stop the treatment. The side effects stopped, and progress was made at school.
The “weak central coherence” theory
This theory asserts that autistic people focus less on the “big picture” and more on the details, whereas the majority of people do the opposite: they focus more on the context to link information together.
On the other hand, transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS, can anesthetize specific areas of the brain and artificially create autism-like effects in some patients, in terms of performance in recognizing details.
Why does the author talk about this? He seeks to understand how he became the person he became, by means of a scientific explanation. It could be that epileptic seizures have contributed to the development of certain abilities or disabilities.
Creation and epilepsy
Fédor Dostoïevski, Lewis Carroll, Vincent Van Gogh: these are three examples of creators whose epilepsy was known or at least strongly suspected, according to the descriptions they gave of it in their respective works.
Could epilepsy be linked to creative and artistic abilities? What’s certain is that Daniel Tammet, too, remembers intense creative periods as a child:
[When I was about 8 years old, I spent several months writing compulsively, often for hours on end, on rolls of printer paper. Sheet after sheet, I would jot down tiny, tightly packed words.] (Born on a Blue Day)
Little Daniel loves his teacher, Ms. Lemon, whom he associates directly with fruit, of course. He loves his rectangular classroom and his seat by the window, but also the orderly, regular morning gatherings.
Daniel also loves carols and the living crib at Christmas. He also loves fairy tales, especially one of them: La Soupe aux cailloux (Pebble soup). On the other hand, TV series frighten him, and his frightened reactions earn him unsympathetic nicknames from his little classmates. Nevertheless, television became one of his favorite activities, both in and out of school.
On a day-to-day basis, however, it’s not always easy. Writing, in particular, is tedious. As a child, Danniel Tammet has difficulty writing letters and connecting them together to form words.
A growing family
This means moving again! Let’s take a look at the brothers and sisters who make up the family.
At the time, there is Daniel Tammet, but also:
Admittedly, he doesn’t pay them much attention. And yet, in retrospect, the author states:
[Their presence, in the end, had a very positive influence on me: it forced me to gradually develop social skills. Having people around me all the time helped me get used to noise and movement. As I watched silently from my bedroom window as my brothers and sister and their friends played together, I also began to understand how to interact with other children.] (Born on a Blue Day)
The family is in overdrive. Not to mention the arrival of two more little sisters, twins, restoring a semblance of girl/boy parity:
Managing money, as well as organizing daily baths, laundry and other domestic chores, was a constant challenge, if not a miracle!
First math exercises and collections of all kinds
His attentive mother gives him a mathematics book. He set off to discover his synesthetic gifts by solving the problems in the book. They take him far, farther than what is seen and learned in the classroom. He loves doing them and spends hours on them.
Daniel Tammet also has another passion – if not obsession – collecting. Throughout his childhood, he sought to collect as many:
- Advertising pamphlets.
He also wanted to know everything about the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. He lists all the numbers: number of countries, number of sports, scores, etc.
Stress at school
It’s hard to manage his emotions and know when not to intervene! Little Daniel doesn’t always understand why the teacher is giving him a hard time, why he has to stay put, or why he can’t touch his classmates or the results of their efforts. He acts without thinking about it, then gets fiendishly frustrated at being scolded.
There was, for example, a multi-day excursion that ended, on the whole, in failure. During his school years, the author undeniably preferred the comfort of a library or his own home to outings and group activities.
5. Odd One Out
It wasn’t always easy for Daniel Tammet. During his childhood, and especially at school, he was sometimes teased and suffered from loneliness.
[I remember standing alone in the shade of the trees surrounding the schoolyard, watching the other children running, shouting, and playing. I’m ten years old and I know I’m different from them, in a way I can’t express or understand … The feeling of never being quite comfortable or safe, of always being somehow apart or excluded, weighed heavily on me.] (Born on a Blue Day)
Realizing his isolation, the child sets off in search of friends. This is no easy task, for:
- he has great difficulty maintaining a conversation when it doesn’t interest him.
- his natural tendency is to talk about whatever interests him, and to go straight to the heart of what he wants to say, regardless of what it costs the listener.
- he can’t “read between the lines,” that is, decipher the implicit meaning of what people are saying.
- questions, among other things, are problematic for him (since they sometimes use double negations, are not clearly expressed, or are rhetorical questions, for example).
And yet, despite these conversational difficulties, Daniel Tammet would gradually forge friendships throughout his school life.
- Babak, during elementary school.
- Rehan and Jens, later, in junior high and high school.
Let’s stay with elementary school for now. To satisfy his need for affection and social interaction, Daniel Tammet experiences a strange friendship for a few months: that of a tall, sweet old woman, who is also… imaginary. It’s not the first time this has happened to him, but Anne – that’s her name – had a particular impact on him.
He chats with her about life in the playground, by the trees. One day, however, she decides to leave. He is very sad. Looking back, the author analyzes this as a decision to face up to his limitations and [try to find his way in the wide world and live in it.]
At times, he also finds comfort in his siblings. Despite his differences, his first-born status makes him a popular figure with his younger brothers and sisters. From time to time, the relationship “catches on” and games are formed. For example, the author remembers:
- putting away the books in the house and making a proper library out of them, including codes and borrowings.
- ironing endlessly, dividing up roles, and unfolding what had been folded a few minutes earlier.
On a day-to-day basis, the boy has difficulty with the little things of everyday life. These included:
- brushing his teeth.
- tying his shoes.
- walking in the street with his head up.
- coordinating movements.
Nevertheless, his parents help him to come up with tricks. His mother, for example, suggests that he stare at a point in the street to keep his head up and walk straight, safely.
Illness and recovery
His father experienced a psychological illness (not named as such) over a period of several months. Apathetic at times, and talkative at others, he also seemed to have aged enormously.
Following a fall, he was hospitalized. Without him, the household was no longer the same. When he returned, the roles had changed: the protector became the one who had to be protected and cared for.
And one day, the illness disappeared. He regained his vigor and courage. The couple, which had also been faltering, regained their strength. The result? Two more children in less than two years:
And, of course, another move!
First days of middle school
Although the constant change of classes, courses, and canteen rituals were difficult to assimilate, Daniel Tammet nonetheless managed.
The bus also created a few difficulties. He took the bus every day to and from school. The first time, he took it in the opposite direction. But after that, he managed to get to school on time every time.
His trick when he got lost in the buildings: follow the other students!
Favorite subjects … and others!
His favorite subjects included:
And his least favorite?
- Physical education.
Around the age of 13, his father taught him to play chess and – after being beaten twice in a row – decided to take his son to a club. It became a passion for Daniel Tammet, who loves the logical problems associated with the game. And, let’s face it, the young man likes to win.
On the other hand, he doesn’t like losing very much. It frustrates him enormously. However, in competitions, not everything is under control. A player may decide to stand up and wait for his opponent’s move; he may make unpredictable physical gestures that unsettle Daniel Tammet. He decides to eventually stop playing in tournaments.
The author remembers becoming aware of his homosexuality around the age of 11. While his peers were interested in girls, he felt his heart clench at the arrival of certain boys. In high school, it was a new boy who swept him off his feet. Unsuccessfully (this time), despite his attempts to approach him with notes passed during history class…
7. Ticket to Kaunas
At the end of high school, Daniel Tammet told his parents that he didn’t want to go to university. He preferred another option: volunteering abroad. He wrote to the Voluntary Service Abroad following an advertisement in the newspaper. His application was initially accepted for an interview, which he passed with flying colors. Then it was time for training. For one week, he lived with other apprentices, learning about teamwork and culture, as well as the economic and political conditions of the countries he visited.
His destination is finally announced: Lithuania. Not the capital, Vilnius, but Kaunas, the country’s second-largest city in the south-central region. At the time, this Baltic country was emerging from communism and had declared its independence only a few years earlier (on March 11, 1990).
Settling in and lessons
The journey is exhilarating: Daniel Tammet experiences a strong sense of taking his life into his own hands. He arrived and was welcomed with open arms. For the first time, he would have to live alone in a large apartment, to cook for himself and to take care of all his other daily needs.
Rather shy at first, he gradually acclimatizes. He works at the Social Innovation Fund. His role? To teach English to unemployed and destitute women from different backgrounds. The classroom atmosphere is warm. He has friendly colleagues with whom he prepares certain lessons.
One of his students became one of his closest friends: Birute. She already had a good command of English and offered to act as Daniel Tammet’s guide to the city. Considering herself as an older sister-like figure, she would adopt a protective and encouraging attitude.
Over the weeks, the young man also met other volunteers with whom he shared his life on site:
Gurcharan became especially dear to Daniel Tammet’s heart. This Indian woman was both the most experienced of the volunteers and a very open person. Faced with the author’s silence, she knew how to deal with it and was patient. They ended up talking about his homosexuality, and as a result, she encouraged him to contact a gay association.
There, he meets a couple of young men who are also to become his friends:
Naturally, Daniel learns Lithuanian during his stay. This astonished his colleagues and friends, especially because he was such a quick learner!
8. Falling in Love
Reunion and the benefits of travel
The year abroad comes to an end. When he returns home, after an emotional farewell to all his loved ones in Lithuania, he has to re-acclimatize to life in England.
For starters, his family has moved again. The house may be more spacious, but his bedroom seems small compared to the apartment he lived in before. Gradually, however, he gets used to living with other people under the same roof again, enjoying catching up with his family.
In any case, the trip has changed him in many ways. He is more aware of his” differences” and more positive about them; he also benefits from various social experiences that he can use in his new daily life.
Daniel Tammet has also learned to better understand the meaning of friendship and how it develops:
[I had also come to understand that friendship is a delicate, gradual process that should not be rushed or anticipated, but allowed and encouraged to take its natural course over time. I pictured friendship as a beautiful and fragile butterfly soaring through the air, and any attempt to catch it was tantamount to destroying it.] (Born on a Blue Day)
You have a new message
For shy people, who sometimes find it difficult to create social links, the arrival of the Internet and online messaging has generally been a blessing in disguise.
With the money from his voluntary work, Daniel Tammet bought a computer and discovered the joys of the Web and chat (emoticons, for example, made it easier for him to interpret emotions).
In 2000, he met Neil, a reserved computer specialist who became his first companion. The connection was made. Daniel Tammet decided to tell his parents; his “coming out” was well received.
Love is born, little by little, in the course of conversations, and then the first real encounters. The feeling of experiencing something important and intense takes precedence over everything else. He decides to move in with Neil.
Moving and living as a couple
Living as a couple is another story. And yet, the young couple manage it, despite each other’s difficulties and lack of resources.
At the time, Daniel Tammet was not working, and his attempts to do so proved fruitless. As he rightly points out, autistic people are often discriminated against in the workplace, even though they can bring a great deal to a company.
After a few months in an apartment, the couple moved into a house in Herne Bay, a quiet area near Canterbury. Despite some communication tensions, routines settle in, and life takes its course.
The creation of Optimnem
It was at this point that Daniel Tammet conceived the idea of founding Optimnem, an educational language-learning website. Neil helped him with the technical side, while he took charge of creating the teaching materials. The idea was simple: use his experience as a teacher and his skills to facilitate language learning.
The platform was a success and was recognized by the UK’s National Grid for Learning, a government portal that lists “a selection of quality educational content on the Internet.” Daniel Tammet could then earn a living and be proud of it.
When he moved in with Neil, he didn’t live alone: he had a cat named Jay. She’s rather wild, but the young man manages to tame her by dint of tenderness and affectionate gestures. The cat keeps coming back for more! Unfortunately, illness strikes and Jay dies some time later. It’s a difficult moment.
9. The Gift of Tongues
The beauty of words
When the author speaks of languages, he speaks of them with relish: words are not just abstractions for him. As mentioned above, synesthesia creates surprising associations for him. He loves speaking foreign languages because he can make connections between them, but also because he visualizes words by attributing colors, textures, etc. to them.
[The relationship I have with languages is an aesthetic one: certain words and word combinations appear to me as particularly beautiful and stimulate me. Sometimes I’ll read a sentence in a book over and over again because those words evoke particular emotions in me. Nouns are my favorite words because they’re the easiest to visualize.] (Born on a Blue Day)
How does learning a language begin? What tools are needed?
- A dictionary.
- Examples of various texts (children’s books, adult books, newspapers, etc.).
- Conversing with others.
- Comparisons with other known languages can be useful (because languages have “family” links with each other).
- Learning compound words.
Some abstract words and complex sentences are particularly difficult for Daniel Tammet to analyze and learn, as he has difficulty with implicit and general statements.
Synesthesia and metaphors
More generally, the author examines the role of metaphors and synesthesia in ordinary language and literature. He draws on a number of scientific works to support his arguments. In fact, all languages, and all human beings, use synesthetic connections in one way or another. Let’s take two examples:
- We make connections between “low” and “sad,” and between “high” and “happy” (especially in the English language).
- A rounded shape is more likely to be named bouba than kiki, which is more likely to be reserved for an angular shape (here, the sounds of the words synesthetically refer to the contours of each shape).
Esperanto and Mänti
Daniel Tammet was delighted to learn Esperanto and explains some of its principles in the book. What amazes him most of all is the formation of the language. Its creator, the ophthalmologist Lejzer Ludwik Zamenhof, invented a new language from elements found in other languages.
This is what the author himself is trying to achieve with Mänti. It’s a personal project that he’s been developing for several years, and which he links to the particular ability of autistic people with Asperger’s syndrome to create new words or “linguistic combinations.”
In a way, this is his eleventh language, but spoken only by him, so far!
10. A Very Large Slice of Pi
What is pi?
The sixteenth letter of the Greek alphabet, Pi is also a number. We all encountered it during our primary school years. In case you don’t remember, it refers to the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter.
One of the peculiarities of pi is that it’s an irrational and – above all – infinite number: it has endless decimals! Most people are familiar with 3.14 (and possibly 3.1416). But what comes next? Well, you could draw up a literally endless list.
After a phone call with his father, during which he recalled how lucky he’d been to beat epilepsy and how far he’d come since then, Daniel Tammet had an idea: to help the UK’s National Epilepsy Society by raising donations.
How? Well, by reciting as many decimals of pi as possible! His goal: to aim for the European record, set at 22,500. There are tried and tested techniques for learning the decimals of pi, including poems that encode the decimals in words.
However, it’s synesthesia that comes to the author’s aid: he sees the shapes and textures of numbers; he imagines number landscapes, which resemble mountain landscapes of peaks and valleys, or icebergs.
The performance had to be oral, which complicated matters. However, thanks to Neil and intensive training, Daniel Tammet studied the decimals and prepared himself to recite them orally.
On D-day, he was ushered into a dusty room at Oxford University, accompanied by Neil (even sicker than the author), a few photographers, the jury of experts, and a blackboard used by Einstein himself.
In fact, as he began, Daniel Tammet felt calm as he saw the landscape of numbers before him. He rattled off the numbers with ease, despite the audience also entering the room and keeping their distance from him. He paused from time to time for a quick bite to eat.
At one point, his brain went black, but it was short-lived, and he resumed. After five hours, he recited: “67657486953587.” He was done! 22,514 decimal places! European record broken.
Why choose a pi challenge? Here’s Daniel Tammet’s answer – aesthetic as ever:
[Pi is for me something very beautiful and quite unique. Like Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason to be loved.] (Born on a Blue Day)
11. Meeting Kim Peek
Travelling to the United States
Daniel Tammet’s European record for decimals of pi opens doors for him. Shortly afterwards, he was approached by a British TV channel to work with him on a documentary about the life of Kim Peek, the man who inspired the film Rain Man.
Despite his misgivings, the author accepted. For him, it was an unhoped-for opportunity not only to meet Kim Peek but also to be put in touch with internationally renowned researchers on the subjects of autism, epilepsy, and synesthesia. It’s also the start of a new adventure: the discovery of the United States. First stop: Los Angeles, where the plane lands. It’s a hot day. Daniel Tammet must get used to the hotel.
Meeting with Professor Ramachandran
The scientist impresses the author. His assistant, Shai, is more approachable, amazed by his abilities, and very friendly, so the rapport is good. The professor conducts experiments to establish whether his “visions” of numbers can be measured neurologically.
[Sometimes people ask me if I mind being a guinea pig for science. I have no problem with it because I know I’m contributing to a better understanding of the human brain, which is something that benefits everyone. It’s also rewarding for me to learn more about myself, and how my mind works.] (Born on a Blue Day)
The documentary’s production team wanted to give it an “entertaining” tone by reproducing some of the casino scenes from the film Rain Man. Daniel Tammet wasn’t too keen on the idea but agreed out of curiosity. The Nevada sun is blazing hot. In the city streets, light stimulation and noise are at their peak.
Daniel Tammet plays Blackjack or 21. It’s a card game played against the dealer. To count cards and strategize, Daniel Tammet needs peace and quiet, and casinos are noisy places (remember his poor performance in chess tournaments, when faced with the unpredictable reactions of his playing partners).
That said, the author manages to keep his stress under control. In fact, he opts for another technique: he lets himself go completely by feel, trusting completely the mental and sensory representations that flood his mind at the sight of the numbers.
And against all the odds, he wins an astonishing hand: three 21s in a row at once! He walks away proud and with a few extra dollars in his pocket! Nevertheless, he’s glad to be leaving Las Vegas.
Salt Lake City, meeting Kim
Kim Peek lives with his father, Fran Peek. Despite his age (he was born in 1951), he is not self-sufficient. The meeting takes place at the public library in Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah, in Mormon country.
A little background first about Kim Peek:
- Was able to read as early as 16 months.
- Completed high school at just 14 years of age.
- Encyclopedic knowledge (music, geography, history, literature, sports, etc.).
- Can calculate the years and days of the calendar with disconcerting ease.
- Reads for hours at the public library.
- Travels and gives lectures free of charge all over the world.
The meeting between the two men is moving. They stroll through the library and converse quietly, acknowledging their common difference, but also what separates them. The team films parts of it.
Daniel Tammet is deeply grateful for the opportunity to meet and talk with Kim Peek and his family. He pays tribute to him as follows:
[Kim ‘s special gift lies not only in his brain but also in his heart, his humanity, his ability to touch the lives of others in a truly unique way. Meeting Kim Peek was one of the happiest moments of my life.] (Born on a Blue Day)
12. Reykjavik, New York, Home
One last challenge awaited Daniel Tammet. The producers wanted him to learn Icelandic – a language reputed to be particularly difficult to learn, not least because of its variations – on his return from the USA. Do you think they’d give him enough time? No: the challenge was to learn it in just a single week!
The author began work with the following tools in hand:
- A dictionary.
- A children’s book.
- Two grammar books.
- A tutor.
- A CD (which didn’t help much).
How did they ensure that he spoke the language? The film crew had it all planned: take him to Iceland and get him to take part in a famous TV show, where he would have to do an interview entirely in Icelandic.
His tutor, Sirry, whom he met on-site, was a great help. A number of trips were organized to see the sights and learn about the culture. In the end, all went well, and Daniel Tammet was very happy with the experience.
Ultimately, the documentary was edited and broadcast in the UK for the first time in 2005. Its title was Brain Man, in reference to the famous film starring Dustin Hoffman.
Late Show with David Letterman
There’s every reason to believe that the author was beginning to develop a taste for television, notoriety, and travel. What else can we say about his new departure for the United States? There, he was invited by David Letterman, a famous TV presenter from across the Atlantic, who wanted to talk to him following the screening of the documentary Brain Man.
The interview went well, in the relaxed, slightly superficial atmosphere typical of this type of show. What seemed to be an exercise beyond his grasp a few years earlier – involving concentrating amidst noise, looking someone in the eye maintaining eye contact while speaking, and also managing frustration and anxiety – was successfully pulled off without difficulty.
[This experience showed me more than any other that I was now capable of moving forward in the world, of doing things on my own that most people take for granted: traveling unexpectedly, staying alone in a hotel, or walking down a busy street without feeling overwhelmed by the different sights, sounds, and smells all around me. I felt intoxicated by the thought that all my efforts, far from being in vain, had taken me beyond my wildest dreams.] (Born on a Blue Day)
The end of the book is devoted to his parents and family, and a confession about his Christian faith. Daniel Tammet admits he didn’t always know how to be emotionally attached to his parents and family. Today, however, he knows how much they have helped him in his personal evolution.
The love he feels for Neil also helps him to establish more stable and affectionate relationships with all those close to him. He enjoys the company of his brothers and sisters. He seeks to guide and listen as best he can to his brother Steven, who also has Asperger’s.
The author is deeply grateful to each of his family members for their support and looks forward to many more experiences with them.
At home: this is where he feels most at ease. Admittedly, he now knows how to go out into the world on his own (unlike, for example, Kim Peek). But more than anything, he loves being at home, quietly, with his routines, his precise rituals and the people he loves. He loves cooking for Neil, gardening and spending time with his partner.
His professional projects?
- Continue to support charities such as the National Autistic Society and the National Society for Epilepsy.
- Participate in research and work with scientists.
Contrary to the prejudice that he can’t relate to a subject as abstract as religion, Daniel Tammet affirms his Christianity, citing several religious writers with autism as examples. His Christianity is simple: it’s based on values such as charity and hope.
Conclusion to the book Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Danniel Tammet
The discovery of a touching and astonishing personality
There’s no doubt that Daniel Tammet is both a remarkable and fascinating person. What’s touching about his story is the way he recounts his social difficulties and overcomes them: his loneliness, in particular, due to certain handicaps brought on by autism. He manages to meet many people and forge deep friendships. He becomes autonomous and learns to develop a healthy couple relationship.
What is exceptional, of course, are his talents for languages, mathematics, and numbers in general. In some respects, these may seem like superfluous superpowers. Yet the book also shows that these gifts need to be channeled, and can be put to very positive use. Synesthesia, for example, is a particularly amazing ability.
In short, this kind of autobiography helps us learn how to learn. We all emerge enriched by the examples set. We learn to love difference, to recognize it as a source of richness and not as something that should simply be “tolerated.” We also learn tips and tricks, in a much more prosaic way, to improve our social interactions or our command of languages.
Takeaways from Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
I think it’s particularly important to remember that Daniel Tammet has succeeded, through repeated experimentation, in developing his emotional intelligence. It goes without saying that his family and social environment has been conducive to this from an early age. Not all individuals with autism will be able to go as far as Daniel has. However, his story offers hope.
As you can imagine, I was especially drawn to this association of numbers and words with textures, shapes, sounds, and colors. After all, why not try our hand at a few synesthetic techniques? Perhaps, as I said earlier, we can improve our command of languages in this way. You never know.
Last but not least, there’s nothing ridiculous about thinking and being in your thoughts. Of course, thought without action is misery. And we see a lot of Daniel Tammet acting in this book. Taking the time to think, and giving those who need it the time to think, is crucial. Let’s be Zen and, without being unreasonable, let’s cultivate only the habits that do us good.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Born on a Blue Day
- Daniel Tammet is an excellent writer, and his autobiography is an easy read.
- A very interesting insight into his ways of perceiving the world.
- A stimulating spiritual and intellectual reflection.
- I couldn’t think of any.
My rating :
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The Handy Guide to Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet
The necessary tools to start learning a language listed by Daniel Tammet in his book:
- A dictionary.
- Examples of various texts (children’s books, adult books, newspapers, etc.).
- Conversing with others.
- Comparisons with other known languages can be useful (because languages have “family” links with each other).
- Learning compound words.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) concerning Daniel Tammet’s Born on a Blue Day
1. How was the book received by the general public?
Daniel Tammet’s first book, Born on a Blue Day, was published in English in 2006 and was translated into French in 2007 by Éditions Les Arènes. It has been well received by the public and has been an international success, changing the author’s life and leading him to devote himself to literature.
2. What has been the book’s impact?
This book has affected many people around the world, giving readers an insight into the inner life and personal growth of the fascinating and gifted Daniel Tammet.
3. Who is the book’s intended audience?
This book is aimed at anyone interested in finding out more about Daniel Tammet’s development and personal story, especially parents of gifted children.
4. What little things did young Daniel have trouble with on a daily basis?
On a day-to-day basis, Daniel as a child had difficulty with the little things of everyday life, which included:
- brushing his teeth
- tying his shoes
- walking in the street with his head up
- coordinating movements
5. What were Daniel Tammet’s favorite subjects at school?
His favorite subjects included:
Behaviors of the gifted little Daniel versus the behaviors of a normal child
|The behaviors of the gifted little Daniel
|Behaviors of a normal child
|Constant shouting and crying
|Usually quiet or rarely cries
|Gets sick often
|Rarely gets sick
|Difficult to manage emotions
|Easy to manage emotions
|Surrounded by playmates
Who is Daniel Tammet?
Real name Daniel Paul Corney, Daniel Tammet was born on January 31, 1979 in Barking (London), England. The eldest of nine siblings, he spent a fairly modest childhood in the south of Great Britain. He was later diagnosed with epilepsy and Asperger’s syndrome. Endowed with a memory of extraordinary capacity, he is a hyperpolyglot and spoke exactly ten languages at the time of this writing.
A successful writer and poet, he is the author of numerous books, including “Born on a Blue Day,” in which he shares with readers his childhood as a gifted child and the evolution of his personal life. He is also the author of many other works, namely: Eternity in an Hour, Embracing the Wide Sky, Every Word Is a Bird We Teach to Sing, C’est une chose sérieuse que d’être parmi les hommes, etc.