This was a very long book with great emotional impact. It is very heartfelt and sincere and one of the most moving books I have read. I usually am wary of authors who read their own books, but the emotion of the author adds meaning to this text and is an important part of the experience. The book is a very personal exploration of the experience of parenthood of children who fall 'far from the tree'. The author interviews hundreds of families, focusing on parents with children who are 'different'. Most are children who are different from 'typical' society as well as different from their parents. The author refers to the identity shared with others not of the family as 'horizontal' identity. This is distinguished from a 'vertical' identity from family membership (i.e. father down to son). However the book also studies the issue of parents who purposefully or incidentally conceive children who share their horizontal identity. The issues the book raises are complex, emotional, and sometimes challenging and frustrating (not in terms of comprehension but rather in terms of experiencing emotionally difficult subject matter and politically/philosophically/religiously sensitive views). The book explores the limits of human morality and human dignity. The author concludes that the ability to sustain a horizontal identity with the love and support of parents and family is critical to a happy life for people whose lives are considered 'not typical' and that the ability to accept and embrace these horizontal identities -especially when it is foreign to us- is part of what 'love' requires.
I cannot say it is the 'best' book I ever read, or even the best I have read recently, but it is one of the most meaningful ones due to the weight of its subject. It's about identity, parental love, loss, fulfillment, disability, eugenics, abortion - pretty weighty stuff. What is wonderful about this book is that it presents the reader with the situation that initially faced the unwary parents and then pushes you to look at the situation from different perspectives. It discusses the implications of actions that are very emotional and asks you - or maybe forces you to examine the logical or illogical conclusions of your own beliefs and prejudices and those of the parents involved. It asks you to consider what you take for granted and what you are willing to reconsider in light of what you hear.
The book stemmed from the author's own experience of growing up gay with parents who initially rejected that identity in their son. He seems to have suffered his own homophobia as a result even after he grew comfortable as an adult with a gay identity. Thus, the question of identity and parental love is central to his quest to understand the many identities of the people in the different groups he studies - deaf children, those with autism, Downs Syndrome children, criminal children, schizophrenics, etc. Sometimes the book bogs down with all the different identities and examples, but it is always valuable and sincere and the multiplicity of examples helps to illuminate different aspects of the issues.
The book ends with a discussion of the author's own decision to become a parent. It's thus a very personal book as well as a study of parents and children with 'horizontal identities'. It is very focused on parental love and unconditional love and the nature of acceptance. Although I highly recommend the book, I think those who find it most satisfying will be those with some connection to people with horizontal identities or readers with very open minds willing to ask themselves questions that don't always have easy or evident answers.
I remained intrigued throughout the many hours of this book, as preconceived ideas about ability and disability fell one after another.
I have never read any book like this one.
I was wary of listening to an author read his own book, but Solomon does an excellent job and makes it all seem very intimate, as if you are along on each interview.
I will never look at people with differences in the same way.
Andrew Solomon covered so much information in this book, but I wished there was more. The sign of a great scientist, he left me with so many questions: what about the children who aren't from affluent families? What will happen as these children age?
The author, as a narrator, was disappointing. I couldn't help but imagine him standing at a lectern presenting a paper to a large group of students. Instead, I wanted to envision him interacting with those he interviewed.
His material engaged me. His presentation didn't. I heartily recommend this book in spite of "the reader"
This is the best audiobook I have ever listened to.
His voice is incredibly easy to listen to for 40 hours!
Yes! I couldn't put it down, so to speak.
I now know what it means what it means when someone says that something is like "music to my ears". The author's language, storytelling, and insights fed my mind in ways very similar to a beautiful song. My mind and my heart swirled into one as I listened to many of his brilliantly constructed sentences. It's not just a well-researched book on humanity, family, adversity, and courage. It is also an artistic masterpiece that touched my emotions and intellect. Seriously good audiobook.
Really enjoyed this. Solomon interweaves individuals personal stories within the context of the historical and social issues of many different conditions that separate a child's identity from their parents. Very thought provoking and moving at the same time without being preachy. You can't read this without coming away from it a changed person.
50yrs old / audible member for 5 yrs library. 75% nonfiction, 15% classics and 10% fiction. History/Science/biography/Eng.18th cent fiction
This is the kind of book I search for. This book is TRULY remarkable. This book not only stretched my humanity, it opened a whole new vista. The biggest mistake you can make is to think that this book isn't for you, this book is for everyone and anyone who wants to enrich their experience of being alive.
The authors ability to articulate these stories ( including his own) with such honesty, depth and sensitivity are one thing. His stunning prowess really comes through when he extrapolates the wisdom within them and conveys these multifaceted insights with such remarkable clarity - It took my breath away! Wow this guy can write!
It's often a mistake for authors to narrate their own work- but not here. I think he did a really fine job of it and considering the intimacy of the work and the way he bares his soul, it seems almost necessary that he should do the narration.
Solomon wrote a book before this one on depression called THE NOONDAY DEMON-AN ATLAS OF DEPRESSION. it won the national book award in 2002 , Unfortunately its only available as abridged on audible at the moment -though I understand its 570pgs in its uncut form which may make its abridged form more accessible for some and not a bad option.
Im definitely going to be watching for more from Andrew Solomon, His combination of talents are rare and desperately needed in our time. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION
If every person in America read this book thoughtfully, we would see far reaching positive repercussions. Solomon delves into hundreds of lives and describes how they manage the lot they were given. He knew each family personally for years as he compiled the book. It is a long book, but the quickest way to appreciate the human experience, central to which is parenting.
I bought this book immediately after watching a TED talk the Author did. If you see the talk, it is easy to gauge the tone of the book and Andrew Solomon's exhaustive research and empathy for the people it is about.
This is not an easy read, children suffering incurable mental and physical illnesses and the exhaustive work of there parents sometimes with no hope of any light at the end of the tunnel is what your in for. Be warned
I was interested in this book, because my 2year old son was born with TAPVR, and was in need of immediate emergency by-pass surgery at birth, to the complete surprise of my wife and I. He is a very happy and healthy boy now and will have a complete and full life the same as any healthy child.
Many of the parents at the hospital we go to for his check ups have children that are no where near as lucky. It is with the realization that these are normal people whom have had a tremendous burden and responsibility placed on them and are doing the best they can with love and strength, There greatest worry is whom will help care for my child when I die?
I would not recommend this book to anyone who is pregnant, it will fill you with unneeded worry about the healthy birth of your child, do not buy this book.
Otherwise it is a great book (indeed it could of been many books) Andrew Solomon is a fantastic writer and thankfully he narrates the book himself, a man of amazing empathy, taking on a subject that society would rather did not exist.
Likes: Cozy mysteries, esp w/cats, books on workings of the brain/autism, not-too-dark fantasy. Dislikes: Animal cruelty, torture scenes.
Unlike some other reviewers I really like Andrew Solomon as a narrator for his own book. Usually I don't like authors as narrators but it really felt more that he was relating personally. I think a book this long without a good narrator would have been unbearable. I also don't think I could have made it through this in print form, and I am glad I did make it through.
As a parent of a special needs child myself, I was really interested in the personal stories of the families, particularly those facing issues I considered more challenging than mine. The stories in the chapters about schizophrenia and MSD I thought were particularly good. Though autism is a topic near and dear to me, that wasn't my favorite chapter. I didn't dislike it I just had stronger feelings on that subject and therefore it was easier to find things I disagreed with him on about it. However, with all the media attention that falls on high function autistics, and with how it is easier to get information from such people, I was glad to see Solomon provide examples of families facing the more severe forms. I saw reviewers object to repetition in the stories, but I did not object. I felt it helped drive home the point of the relentlessness of some people's issues. I felt less connected to some of the other chapters. I was not entirely convinced, despite Solomon's persuasive arguments, that all these chapters formed a cohesive whole. I found the chapter on musical prodigies particularly out of sync with the rest of the book and it held my interest the least. A lot of what went on there was more about abusive parent behavior than about a child's identity. The chapter on children of rape also felt out of sync and did not feel as inspiring to me as many of the others. It was certainly tragic and sad, but also had a lot of child abuse in it. I felt the strongest parts related to the traditional disabilities. However, I also found the chapter on Transgender people to be very informative and it did highlight a prejudice I wasn't even aware I had and helped me get passed that.
I did cry at several points over moving stories.
All in all, I would and did recommend it, particularly for people who are inspired by people facing challenges.
author of books for teens and children
I learned a lot about disabled children and their parents. Much of it was very heartwarming. The book presented wonderful life lessons in love, acceptance, and struggling against the odds.
However, it could have been a stronger book it if had been edited down. Many of the examples were repetitive (for instance, showing many different families similarly affected by schizophrenia), and there were entire chapters that didn't seem to fit within the topic of the book (for instance, children conceived from rape). It was as if the author felt compelled to use every bit of research he'd done, and no one at the publishing house stopped him.
Also, sometimes the author didn't allow much room for alternate viewpoints.For instance, the idea that it is beneficial for children to change their genders if they desire, no matter their age, was accepted with little argument.
That said, the book was emotionally affecting and I know that much of what I learned about people in difficult circumstances will stay with me a long time.