Thomas Jefferson may have had it. The pianist Glenn Gould almost certainly had it. There are even those who insist (probably incorrectly) that Albert Einstein had it. Whether it is called "geek syndrome," "high-functioning autism," or simply "Asperger's," it is not just one of the most poorly understood of all neurological disorders, but amazingly one of the fastest-growing of all psychiatric diagnoses in America today. Some support organizations even claim that as many as one in five hundred people in the general population suffers from some aspect of the disease.
Basing his report on memoirs, clinical histories, poems and stories, and visits with dozens of individuals afflicted with the disorder, journalist and essayist Lawrence Osborne shows us what life with Asperger's is really like. Often brilliant at math and able to perform savant-like feats of memory, those who are afflicted with the syndrome -- some 80 percent are boys or men -- are also wracked with bizarre obsessions. And strangely and characteristically, most of them are unable to understand even the most simple expressions of the human face. They may know everything there is to know about vacuum cleaners, the New York City subway system, or industrial deep-fat fryers (or, for that matter, J. S. Bach), but they are unable to hold a normal conversation about even the most basic of their own feelings, or anyone else's. They are, in their own words, the Mind Blind -- strange solitaires, anti-social loners -- in a world dominated by the ordinary people they call "neurotypicals."
In this front-line report and very personal investigative journey, Osborne also asks hard questions. Just how different from the so-called normal are those with Asperger's, and is it possible that virtually all of us have a little of the syndrome in ourselves? Setting aside the usual pieties of medicine and rehabilitation, he embarks on a quest that casts a skeptical eye on American psychiatric culture, with its tendency to over-diagnose, then over-medicate. And even more, he ventures into the elusive but essential realm where one has to ask what is the difference between eccentricity (with all its potential for creativity, for enriching our society and ourselves) and normality, with its undertones of blandness, averageness, and uniformity?