Switched On

  • by John Elder Robison, Alvaro Pascual-Leon - introduction, Marcel Just - afterword
  • Narrated by John Elder Robison
  • 11 hrs and 21 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

An extraordinary memoir about the cutting-edge brain therapy that dramatically changed the life and mind of John Elder Robison, the New York Times best-selling author of Look Me in the Eye.
Imagine spending the first 40 years of your life in darkness, blind to the emotions and social signals of other people. Then imagine that someone suddenly switches the lights on.
John Elder Robison's best-selling memoir, Look Me in the Eye, is one of the most beloved accounts of life with autism. In Switched On, Robison shares the second part of his journey, pushing the boundaries of scientific discovery as he undergoes an experimental brain therapy known as TMS, or transcranial magnetic stimulation. TMS drastically changes Robison's life. After 40 years of feeling like a social misfit - either misreading other people's emotions or missing them completely and accepting this as his fate - Robison can suddenly sense a powerful range of emotion in others as a result of the treatments: "It was as if I'd been experiencing the world in black and white all my life, and suddenly I could see everything - and particularly other people - in brilliant, beautiful color." The ability to connect emotionally with others for the first time brings Robison a kind of joy he has never known.
And yet, Robison's newfound insight has very real downsides. As the emotional ground shifts beneath his feet, he must find a way to move forward without losing sight of who he is, what he values, and all he has worked so hard for. Robison is our guinea pig and our guide, bravely leading us on an adventure that holds the key to new ways of understanding the mysteries of the human brain. In this real-life Flowers for Algernon, he grapples with a trade-off - the very real possibility that choosing to diminish his disability might also mean sacrificing his unique gifts and even some of his closest relationships.
Switched On is a fascinating and intimate window into what it means to be neurologically different and what happens when the world as you know it is upended overnight.

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What the Critics Say

"A fascinating companion to the previous memoirs by this masterful storyteller." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Switched On is a mind-blowing book that will force you to ask deep questions about what is important in life. Would normalizing the brains of those who think differently reduce their motivation for great achievement?" (Temple Grandin, author of The Autistic Brain)
"John Elder Robison is an extraordinary guide, carefully elucidating the cutting-edge science behind this revolutionary new brain therapy, TMS, alongside the compelling story of the impact it has on his relationships, his thinking and emotions, and indeed his very identity. At the heart of Switched On are fundamental questions of who we are, of where our identity resides, of difference and disability and free will, which are brought into sharp focus by Robison's lived experience." (Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Effect)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Transcendent Experience

This book (which is part memoir and part Neuro for Newbies textbook) tells the personal story of the author's participation in and response to clinical research trials investigating the effects of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) on the social and emotional intelligence of adults with Asperger's syndrome. Robison's response to TMS is nothing short of life-changing; everything from his marriage and family, to his career as a business owner, to his avocations as a music aficionado and amateur photographer is shaken to its very foundations and emerges completely altered. Anyone even slightly interested in autism spectrum disorders and/or brain research will be hooked from the very first chapters.

The book's only drawbacks--one related to content, one to performance--are ironically both likely related to the author's status as an Aspie. First, he writes like an Aspie, with fully competent grammar, usage and sentence mechanics, but a somewhat pedantic style, with perhaps an overreliance on technical details. Secondly, he reads his own words, which on the one hand is great (makes his memoir feel more authentic; makes the emotion more palpably real), but on the other hand will pose a problem for listeners who are easily put off by a less-than-stellar narrator. As a speech therapist, I couldn't help but cringe as I listened to his decreased respiratory support resulting in short breath groups of four to six words separated by pauses. For example, he reads like this: "As Howard Gardner first wrote....decades ago in Multiple Intelligences.... there are a variety.... of distinct intellectual capacities and orientations....that contribute to our understanding....of ourselves and our place....in society.” That's a lot of pauses, and DOES make the techie parts sound more boring than they need to, as well as distracting somewhat from the emotional impact of the more emotional parts of the story. I recommend either listening at 1.25 x normal speed, or supplementing listening to the Audible book by simultaneously reading the print version. I did both, and was VERY glad I did! Highly recommended.
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- Gretchen SLP "Avid listener on my daily commute!"

Adequete anecdotal telling of complex science

The book is an anecdotal account of the author's experience of taking TMS (transcranal magnetic stimulation), as an experimental treatment for autism (he'll often use the word Asperger instead of 'autism'). The author is a good narrator, and tells his personnel experiences in a very likable manner.

Overall, I think I could have gotten what I wanted out of the book by reading a magazine length article on the merits and wizardry on TMS instead. I had wondered about the efficacy of the procedure before reading this book, and to the author's credit, I still wonder because he doesn't go beyond what the current science says and much more science needs to be done before easy answers can be given.
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- Gary "l'enfer c'est les autres"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-22-2016
  • Publisher: Random House Audio