Flowers for Algernon

This book is cataloged as sci-fi, and it actually won a Nebula and Hugo prize, so good sci-fi it should be. But if you don’t like sci-fi, give it a try anyway. Published in 1959, the book epoch doesn’t matter and except a few details it could happen right now in the 2020’s.

The narrator, Charly Gordon, is mentally disabled with a IQ in the 80 range, and we read the regular reports he write. At first, the reports are very hard to read, especially for a non-native english speaker like me, because the texts are filled with heavy mispelling. Then, Charly undergoes a surgery operation that should make him smart.

And it did, in a few months his IQ jumps from 85 to 185. We see the spelling and the vocabulary in the reports improve dramatically through his intellectual progress. Furthermore, a new world opens to him: he starts to understand what his “friends” were actually abusing from his previous condition. While now genius, he still a “child” emotionally, and struggles with social norm.

I’m not going to tell more about it to not spoil you.

The book is fascinating for its view of intelligence, and don’t worry, the controversial IQ does get attacked a bit. The story central point, how intelligence (which is hard to define), affect your relations with others, both informal and formal.

Since I’ve started computer science, and even more my PhD, I’ve been confronted to insanely smart people from across the world, and may suffer from time to time from imposter syndrom. So this talk about questioning intelligence really speak to me. Plus some parts of the book are funny, as the author (from 1959!) roast academia about aspects that are still very present.

comments powered by Disqus