This book made me fall in love with math all over again. A dramatic story told by a traumatic brain injury (TBI) patient, Struck by Genius is a memoir about the importance of life and the beauty of math. By converting geometric patterns, irrational numbers, and other mathematical concepts into art, Jason Padgett shows that math is so much more than the formulas we learned in math class. Memoirs don’t usually excite me, but Padgett’s enlightening discussions about math and neuroscience and his beautiful math art make me one happy geek.
Jason Padgett was just a normal guy running his family’s futon business by day and partying by night. However, after getting mugged one night and violently punched in the head by his attackers, Jason’s world turned into geometric shapes and fractal patterns overnight. His new “gift” evoked a love for math in him, and Jason started to draw mathematically inspired artwork and take math classes and a nearby college. However, his talents came with a price, as Jason suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. While overcoming the many challenges that came from that one unforeseen mugging, Jason learned more about the world of synesthesia, savant syndrome, and neuroscience in order to pin down why he sees what he sees.
Honestly, I read this entire book in lab during five-minute breaks in the middle of my experiments, and despite (or maybe due to?) the inconsistency of my reading experience, I was engrossed in Struck by Genius in those five-minute periods. Jason’s story is a unique one (and it seems like I automatically refer to memoir writers by their first names), and he tells the details of his traumatic mugging incident in the same tone as the rest of the book: calm and collected. He saves much of his enthusiasm for his discoveries in how different and beautiful things look to him, but doesn’t go too deeply into the math.
And maybe I should mention that I’ve never really loved reading memoirs, so me not loving this one and just liking it is normal. There were moments where I wished Jason would move away from his feelings of awe or depression in dealing with the changes that he faces and just focus on the math, but I guess memoirs don’t work like that. He devotes more pages than I felt was necessary on his relationship with his girlfriend-now-wife, but I understand that that’s a big part of him being able to pick himself back up after his injury. What I did love were the beautiful, complex drawings that were included in the book, because they really made me appreciate Jason’s talents and the world of synesthesia. (You can see some of his artwork on his website!)
Struck by Genius is as much about the physical, mental, and spiritual journey that one man takes during his recovery after a head injury as it is about the beauty of math and nature. Jason Padgett shares with us his new world as well as the ever-evolving field of neuroscience. If you’re interested in math, psychology, memoirs, and pretty pictures of geometric patterns, this book is worth a try.