Kyle Anderson
April 23, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Struck By Genius

Current Status
In Season
Jason Padgett, Maureen Seaberg
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

We gave it an A-

A college dropout gets whacked on the head — and he’s instantly transformed from a hard-partying musclehead into a Beautiful Mind-level mathematical genius. Too clichéd to be a movie, yet that’s exactly what happened to Jason Padgett, a futon salesman who was leaving karaoke night back in 2002 when two guys from the bar assaulted him. At the hospital, doctors told him the mugging had resulted in a concussion and a bruised kidney, nothing more. They were wrong: The blows that had rained down on his skull with such ferocity somehow turned him into a mathematical prodigy able to see the complicated geometry behind everything in the universe.

Padgett’s deeply absorbing memoir touches lightly on a youth spent shuttling between suburban Tacoma and Anchorage, as well as the manual labor he did for oil and construction companies. But it’s really about his life after the attack, when he developed both savant syndrome (a sort of high-functioning autism) and synesthesia (the phenomenon wherein a person’s senses blur, allowing them to taste colors or visualize sound), which completely reshaped his entire personality.

These developments unnerved Padgett, and for the next four years he barely left the house. But then, driven by a hunger to unlock the secrets of his newly configured brain — and to see if anyone could help decipher the dazzling 3-D images dancing through his field of vision — he began traveling around the world, meeting doctors and other synesthetes. Throughout his quest, Padgett continued to sell futons in his family’s store whenever he could, and he describes hours spent eagerly conversing with customers about the way he understands pi or how fractals work. It’s that contagious enthusiasm, bursting off the page, that makes this tale of a man trying to understand himself so fascinating. A-

The Opening Line

”If you could see the world through my eyes, you would know how perfect it is, how much order runs through it.”

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