Book Review: Aspergirls: Empowering Females with Asperger Syndrome by Rudy Simone

Being a parent of a girl with autism biases my reading interest toward books on the topic, and to date I have read a lot. Aspergirls is quite atypical of many i have read and refreshing in style.

Rudy Simone has Asperger's Syndrome (AS) and has been a strong advocate for those with the condition for some years. Her approach to writing is to say it as it is, and simply. She does this to good effect. What I particularly like about this tome is she quotes regularly from interviewed girls and women with AS and consequently adds many voices to hers in her coverage of a myriad of topics, from challenges in schools, to the impact of puberty on aspergirls. Nothing is taboo. There were also a few quotations that caused me to laugh out loud – it's good to be able to infuse some humor in what is a topic that can get quite serious.

Another aspect of the structure of the book is that at the end of each topic (chapter), Rudy summarises by providing direct advice to aspergirls, followed by advice to aspergirl parents. This is smart, very smart, as the two target audiences are vastly different and covers her audience well – and more importantly, sends clear messages to the two most important groups that affect aspergirls.

I found the book useful, but I have to concede that the book is overwhelmingly targeting Asperger's Syndrome, not other folk on the Autism Spectrum. My daughter is a high functioning autistic girl, and has many challenges that differ from AS. And yet the common ground was useful, evidenced by having discussions with my wife on various statements made.

All in all I found the book useful, clearly written, and sensibly structured.

Four stars.

Book Review: Lincoln, by David Herbert Donald

It is a little difficult for me to write a review of a book that covers the US Civil War period, and notable people of that geography and era – it has fascinated me for decades, and I suspect what some people consider dry, I consider absorbing. Nevertheless, I believe I can be reasonably detached with this work.

Donald is an accomplished writer – two Pulitzer Awards, and the research and style/flow of writing of Lincoln is perfect. Seriously. More importantly, he covers the life of Lincoln with a rigor for truth and evenly weighted probability masterfully, and this is the reason why I enjoyed the book so much. As a non-American, but nevertheless mid-Eighteenth Century US student, I have developed a view of who Lincoln was. I saw his as a visionary and as an eloquent statesman, and also as a self-made man. The burden of his responsibilities during the Civil War were always permeating the total picture of the man, and there seemed to be an endless collection of anecdotes about Lincoln’s axe-swinging, frontier-living, small-office and saddle legal days. And much more. What Donald did was take the filters away, but at the same time analyze the self-same filters when appropriate. I discovered the real man, and with the meticulous research, feel confident that I really know the truth.

As a non-US citizen I feel that I understand the United States better, by understanding Lincoln, and his times – a period in history that has had, and continues to have, a profound influence on that great nation. Donald’s book is one of those definitive sources to ensure that the understanding is complete.

I rate this 5 stars out of 5.

Book Review: The Way I See It by Temple Grandin

As a father of a child with ASD/AS, it would be inevitable that I would find this book useful – and I did. I have read her two most famous books – Thinking in Pictures and Emergence, which I rated high, and which complemented each other, telling us the Temple Grandin story. This book isn’t like that – it is essentially a re-edited compilation of articles that she wrote over 8 years for a leading ASD/AS magazine.

This format slightly takes the publishing sheen off the book – there is some repetition (which would not have been evident in the individual articles), and the organization of the articles are commendable, but not perfect.

Having said this, there is a LOT of good stuff in the book, of a practical, common sense nature – particularly for parents with young children. This is not a book for adults with ASD/AS (there are only a few pages devoted to college/workforce aged people).

I certainly would recommend this book to parents with young children in the spectrum.

4 stars.

Book Review: The Story of England, by Michael Wood

I always take a little longer to read non-fiction – just the nature of the beast.

Michael Wood is a long-standing favorite of mine – in tandem with his television series. He truly is a rarity – a historian who knows how to popularize history without losing insight and scholarship.

When I heard about his The Story of England, I just had to get it straight away. The concept of depicting the culture and history of England from prehistoric times to modern day, through the archives and archaeology of a single set of village hamlets, was inspiring. And I can say that the reading validated my anticipation.

I particularly liked the medieval period of history, and the Tudors, but I can say that the book was interesting and insightful throughout. What I particularly liked was his ability to use contrasts and comparisons between different time periods (often with examples of families who lived in or near the locale for those represented periods), and expressing insightful patterns in history.

And of course, his writing is crisp, fluid, and even at times, poetic.

Perhaps the only criticism I can throw in – which does not undermine my rating of 5 for this work – is that the geography often mentioned of areas outside of the locale are not represented by maps. As a non-Englishman, I simply lose my sense of direction and geographical context when reading about various counties and cities. It would have been helpful to have a few extra maps.

I heartily recommend this book to any student of history or culture.

Five stars

Review: Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin

I have a major interest in Temple Grandin, and books on Autism/Asperger’s, because I have a 5 year old daughter with Asperger’s. Nevertheless, Thinking in Pictures is a well written book without that bias.

This book is NOT about Temple’s life – you need to read Emergence to get the story, and it is well worth reading, but ten years later Temple’s writing style has improved amazingly. I keep thinking that the movie on Temple’s life would have had more influence from Emergence than Thinking in Pictures, but this book has all the publicity associated with it – go figure.

This book is in many ways technical – what it really is about is Grandin’s understanding of what autism is, and how autistic people deal with it, and how ‘normals’ should deal with it. It is well founded in latest findings in psychology, and has a fresh perspective in terms of Grandin’s immense experience in animal behavior. She does use examples drawn from her life, which does, in a way, provide a form of autobiography, but as stated above, it is not the point of this work of non-fiction.

I can honestly say that I have a more synthesized, cohesive understanding of my daughter’s condition reading this book, than all other books put together.

An excellent read, but if you are after an autobiography, you will be disappointed.

Five Stars.