How Asperger Talents Changed the World
In Genius Genes
, Michael Fitzgerald, a pioneering researcher and clinician in the field of autism, and his coauthor, Brendan O’Brien, claim that aspects of Asperger syndrome may be advantageous in evoking new thinking, creativity and inventiveness, and that this may be “the difference that makes all the difference” in terms of human evolution. Asperger syndrome is often portrayed as a negative phenomenon – a kind of affliction or curse – but if it was an integral part of the make-up and mindset of Newton, Darwin, and Einstein, arguably science’s three most important personalities, it can clearly be seen in some respects as a gift to humanity. Indeed, it may be no exaggeration to say that Asperger intelligence has shaped the world as we know it.
develops and expands a controversial thesis that Professor Fitzgerald has placed in the public domain in recent years – the attainments and failures of many famous historical figures were the fruit of an autistic mind-style, and this ought to color the way we approach autism today. Building on the vision outlined in previous books by Fitzgerald, the authors claim that geniuses are largely “born and not made,” and that the role of the environment in engendering creativity has often been grossly exaggerated. Their approach is to emphasize the power of nature (the expression of the individual’s genetic endowment), as opposed to nurture, in the genesis of genius.
After an introductory overview, the main part of the book presents case studies of the lives of 21 famous individuals, which weigh the evidence that their talents and their achievement can be properly understood only in the light of Asperger syndrome. Subjects of the case studies include political/military figures (Thomas Jefferson, Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Viscount Montgomery and Charles de Gaulle), mathematicians (Archimedes, Charles Babbage, Paul Erdös, Norbert Wiener, David Hilbert, and Kurt Gödel), scientists (Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Henry Cavendish and Gregor Mendel), writers (Gerard Manley Hopkins and H. G. Wells), plus maverick aviator Charles Lindbergh, psychologist John Broadus Watson and sexologist Alfred C. Kinsey.
This book’s chief importance, then, lies in challenging – from a novel perspective – a widespread overwhelmingly negative perception of autism and Asperger syndrome. It demonstrates that many persons with autism have lived rich, complex and productive lives, and that their intelligence contributed hugely to shaping the world that we now know.
MEET THE AUTHORS
is a freelance writer and editor with an interest in autism. He lives in County Cavan, Ireland, with his wife and young-adult children.
is the first professor of child and adolescent psychiatry in Ireland. His special interest is Asperger Syndrome. A clinical and research consultant to the Irish Society for Autism and an honorary member of the Northern Ireland Institute of Human Relations, he has a doctorate in autism and has been a researcher in this field since 1973. He trained at St. Patrick's Hospital, Dublin; Chicago Medical School; and The Maudsley Hospital and the National Hospital for Nervous Diseases, London. He has clinically diagnosed more than 1,500 individuals with autism and Asperger Syndrome, and has served on the Government Task Force on Autism and the Family. He has contributed to international journals on autism and is the author of over 120 publications, including 16 books.