Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tribute to Kim Peek (1951-2009)

I would like to say a few words to pay tribute to Kim Peek, who passed away December 19th, at age 58. I was informed yesterday morning, but wanted to await Kim’s father Fran’s permission before making the news public.

For those who don’t know, Kim was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character in the Oscar-winning movie ‘Rain Man’.

I met Kim and his father Fran in July 2004, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our time together was filmed for the documentary film “Brainman” (pun intended) and many viewers subsequently told me that this sequence was the highlight of the film. I also dedicated a chapter of my 2006 memoir “Born On A Blue Day” to our encounter.

Kim was a remarkable human being, blessed with astonishing mental gifts; he also battled numerous handicaps throughout his life. At the same time, he was funny, provocative, and down-to-earth. I remember fondly how he regaled me (and the documentary’s film crew) with all manner of facts and jokes, tunes and anecdotes. When I interviewed his father Fran, he was unsurprisingly extremely proud of his son, and vividly described Kim’s history and current life, which included much travel across the States with the important message that difference needn’t be a disability, because everyone’s different.

The memory I most treasure of Kim is of our mutual feelings of joy and excitement at finding someone who understood, in some small way, what it was like to think and feel and perceive the world very differently. We spent a long time swapping facts and figures with the kind of affection normally reserved for the gossip and reminiscences of old friends. And it really did feel as if we had known each other for years. There was a warm and wonderful ease and intimacy between us. I was and remain profoundly moved and inspired by the experience.

Meeting Kim and Fran helped me to learn much about what it means to be a savant, and a man. Kim faced his condition, its blessings and its burdens, with great courage, humour, and dignity. I must also pay homage to the tremendous and untiring dedication of Fran, on whom Kim depended and of whom he famously said: “We share the same shadow.”

Rest in Peace.

(If you would like to learn more about Kim's life and about Savant syndrome in general, please visit the excellent website by Dr. Darold Treffert, the world's leading expert on the condition:

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

New York Times Article

Apologies for the long hiatus - I'm busy at work on my third book (more details on which to follow). In the meantime, I'm posting a link to today's article in the New York Times which references me and 'Embracing the Wide Sky' and includes a recent photo and some of my number drawings.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Interview in Scientific American Mind

The April edition of 'Scientific American Mind' has an interview with me entitled 'Learn to Think Better: Tips from a Savant'. You can read it online here:

Friday, March 27, 2009

French drawing for my book

A great illustration in last week's 'Livre Hebdo' magazine in France for an article on my book 'Embrasser le Ciel Immense' (Embracing the Wide Sky). The mother is scolding her child: 'How does one recognise a precocious genius? He writes on paper, not the walls!' to which her son replies: 'I didn't mean to!'

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pi Poem

Here is a new poem I just wrote, in English and French, for Pi Day (March 14th):


Three, One, Four, One, Five, and On
The numbers recount their endless tale.
Three - Barefoot green, a silent voice.
White as hunger, One is twice
Bright like babies’ eyes.
Four is timid, envious of E.
Five, Punctuation or a pregnant sigh
Precedes proud Nine, colour of falling night.
Two, an unfastened knot,
A wayward wind, the hollow of Six resounding.
Nearby, Eight, a cloud of fireflies above a lake
Over which I skim Sevens
Remembering that Zero is nothing but a circle.


Trois, Un, Quatre, Un, Cinq, et ainsi de suite
Les chiffres racontent leur histoire sans limite.
Trois – vert, les pieds nus, une voix silencieuse.
Blanc comme la faim, Un est vif
Comme les yeux d’un bébé.
Quatre est timide, envieux du E.
Cinq, ponctuation ou soupir lourd
Précède le Neuf fier, couleur d’une nuit tombante.
Deux, un nœud défait, vent rebelle,
Comme le creux du Six qui résonne.
Tout près, Huit, nuage de lucioles au dessus d’un lac
Sur lequel je fais des ricochets avec les Septs
En me souvenant que Zéro n’est rien qu’un cercle.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Embracing the Wide Sky German Edition

I'll be in Hamburg, Germany, next week to promote the German edition of 'Embracing the Wide Sky' entitled 'Wolkenspringer' (cloud jumper!) Here's what the book looks like:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

CBC Hour photos on Flickr

A set of photos from my interview on CBC's 'The Hour' with George Stroumboulopoulos has been put up by the production team on Flickr:

Monday, February 09, 2009

Interview in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Here's an interview I recently gave on my book (German translation available by Patmos, entitled Wolkenspringer) and ideas: (type 'Tammet' to find article - the link is too long to include in full here!)

Monday, February 02, 2009

Globe and Mail bestseller!

'Embracing the Wide Sky' has made the Globe & Mail bestseller list in Canada:

Book Review in the 'Telegraph'

A book review for 'Embracing the Wide Sky' was published this last weekend in the 'Telegraph' (UK). A few extracts:

"He tells us that people with autism can be abundantly creative. If we think of the condition simply as one that leads people to take in a whole world of information without editing the irrelevant bits, and making the connections necessary to make sense of, say, social situations, we’re missing something exciting. It’s the connections somebody with the condition does make that are important. After all, poets link the unexpected because they make associations between parts of their experience that are often disparate. Tammet quotes from the Borges story “Funes the Memorious”: “He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on April 20, 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marble grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once.”

Here, Tammet is telling us about the benefits of forgetting, but it serves his purpose about the links, too. The way he remembers so many numbers, or the succession of American presidents, or masters languages, is to make this information part of a coherent world, and he reminds us that “these dots of data make most sense when they contribute to something greater than ourselves”."

"The book is full of information such as this, packed with his clear summaries of fascinating experiments. Does the principle behind six degrees of separation work? Can babies count? Will computers ever hold a conversation? Can you think in two ways at once? At times the nuggets he gives us can seem like diverting trivia, and there’s a pleasing amount here that looks like digression but isn’t, so we can enjoy the splendour with which it all coheres, just as the author does."

"Recent debate has bumped up this book from delightful to vital, because we are learning that it is possible to scan babies in utero to see how likely it is that they have autism. If you read Embracing the Wide Sky you might well wonder what the point would be. For one thing, as Tammet points out, there are as many sorts of autism as there are people with autism, so perhaps these tests won’t tell us much. And for another thing, as the author demonstrates, the joys that a brain and its insights can bring, be it in Bach or prime numbers, can be intense and life-affirming, whether you’re ordinary, extraordinary, or both at once."

You can read the whole review here:

Friday, January 30, 2009

Interview in The Australian

My interview with Australia's national paper 'The Australian' has just appeared online - you can find it here:,25197,24986084-26040,00.html

I'm particularly humbled by the compliments of Australia's prize-winning neuroscientist Professor Allan Snyder (whose work I write about in 'Embracing the Wide Sky') who describes my book in the article as: "an extraordinary and monumental achievement...It is as if he has packed 12 years of research into this book, it is intellectually rigorous, insightful and beautifully written for anybody let alone somebody with autism."

UK and Canada Bestseller!

'Embracing the Wide Sky' has just hit the UK bestseller list - no.8 in today's the Independent/Waterstone's chart. It has also made the non-fiction bestseller list (no.9). Thanks to all my readers for their fantastic support!

Swedish Article

Monday, January 26, 2009

French edition of 'Embracing the Wide Sky'

The French edition of 'Embracing the Wide Sky' (Embrasser le Ciel Immense) is now available - I translated the book myself, with the kind assistance of my partner Jerome.

For any francophones reading this: Je serai sur le plateau du 'Grand Journal' (Canal Plus) mardi le 27 janvier a partir de 20h!

Articles in the Times and FT

Here are a couple of articles that have just appeared in the Times and the Financial Times on my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky' and its ideas:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Promotional tour photos

Appearing on CBC's 'The Hour' with host George Stroumboulopoulos

UK edition of 'Embracing the Wide Sky'

Signing copies of 'Embracing' in Toronto

Giving a talk at London's Science Museum Dana Centre

With psychiatrist Dr. Norman Doidge and Canadian TV presenter Steve Paikin for the TVO show 'The Agenda'

In the hot seat for an interview for 'Good Morning America NOW' in New York

Friday, January 16, 2009

CBC 'The Hour' Interview

On Wednesday I appeared on CBC's late night show 'The Hour' and talked with host George Stroumboulopoulos about my life and ideas, and put him to the test as you'll see in this link to the interview!:

Overcoming Information Overload

Here's an excerpt (from chapter 8) from my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky' that's appearing on the online version of the 'Advocate' magazine:

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Scientific American Interview

I recently did an interview for Scientific American, discussing some of the ideas in my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind'. Here's the link:

Sunday, January 04, 2009

On Perception

Here are a couple of extracts and an image from chapter 7 (on vision/perception) of my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind':

"Color is a good way to illustrate the remarkable variety and subjectivity of our perceptions. The range of colors that we see when we look around us, though impressive, is in fact far from exhaustive. Humans are normally able to perceive colors with wavelengths of 400 nanometers (violet) through to 700 nanometers (red), with purples, blues, greens, yellows and oranges in between. Birds, however, can see what we cannot – ultraviolet range colors with shorter wavelengths (between 340 and 400nm). For every color that we see, our feathered friends see many more. "

(From a later section of the chapter:)

"Ambiguous images have long been a staple of optical illusions – images that are designed to demonstrate the vagaries of our perceptions. The ‘open book’ illusion, for example, invented by the German psychologist Ernst Mach, can be seen as either open towards or away from the viewer. Once both perspectives are seen, the viewer’s eye will oscillate between the two representations as our brains try to make sense of what it is seeing..."

Saturday, January 03, 2009

On Creativity

Here are a couple of short extracts from chapter 6 (on creativity) of my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind':

"Like the philosophers of the past, today’s neuroscientists are seeking to understand what makes some people especially creative. Some believe the answer to this age-old enigma can be found in the biology of the brain. Synaesthesia, the scientific term for a mingling of the senses, offers a valuable window on how the brain produces original, creative thoughts, according to neurologist Vilayanur Ramachandran who has been studying the phenomenon for the past two decades"

(From a later section of the chapter:)

"Linguists have long been intrigued by cases of healthy young children (usually twins) who invent their own languages between themselves, without any special assistance or training from adults...This exuberant invention of original word forms by young children has been documented in a range of languages around the world, suggesting that such creativity may be a natural part of the process by which some children acquire a full grasp of their native language."

The book is available now for purchase online at:

Friday, January 02, 2009

Interview in the New Scientist

The 'New Scientist' magazine has just published an interview with me for their January edition. You can read it in full online here:

Numbers in the Mind

Here are a couple of short extracts from chapter 5 (about the relationship between numbers/math and our minds) of my new book 'Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind':

"How is this mental number line organized in the human mind? There are several clues. One is found when you ask people to think of a number at random between 1 and 50. Though it might be supposed that each response would occur around 2% (1 in 50) of the time, in fact, given a large enough sample of people, a systematic bias can be observed: people will tend to produce smaller numbers more frequently than larger ones. This suggests that numbers are mentally represented rather like the logarithmic scale on a slide rule where roughly equal space is given to the interval between 1 and 2, between 2 and 4 or between 4 and 8. Our ‘mental ruler,’ it would seem, compresses larger numbers into a smaller space, which is why smaller numbers are more accessible to our minds."

(From a later part of the chapter:)

"As many as 10-15% of people report some kind of graphic mental representation of numbers. Francis Galton, a psychologist and cousin of Charles Darwin, carried out the first of these surveys back in 1880. The responses he obtained offer a fascinating glimpse into the sheer variety of mental number representations... some of the number lines had twists and bends, some turned upside down or back on themselves. A physicist replying to Galton’s questionnaire described seeing numbers in the form of a horseshoe, with 0 at the bottom right, 50 at the top and 100 at the bottom left. Another respondent, a barrister, described visualising the numbers 1-12 as though on the face of a clock, with the following numbers tailing off afterwards into an undulating stream with the tens – 20, 30, 40, etc. – at each bend."

The book is now available for purchase online here: