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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
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Flowers for Algernon (1966)

by Daniel Keyes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,399242312 (4.09)1 / 345
  1. 61
    The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (infiniteletters)
    infiniteletters: Charlie is definitely not like Lou, true. But their experiences and perspectives have the same mental effect on readers.
  2. 31
    Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (Mumugrrl)
  3. 20
    Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (shesinplainview, sturlington)
  4. 10
    I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier (angelofmusic_81)
  5. 00
    Mixtape for the Apocalypse by Jemiah Jefferson (kiparsky)
    kiparsky: Similar narrative structure used for a similar purpose, and both are brilliant and heartbreaking books.
  6. 00
    After Many a Summer Dies the Swan by Aldous Huxley (Jarandel)
    Jarandel: Similar introduction of a speculative/fantastical premise as a device for observing and criticizing the writer's present reality.
  7. 77
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (unlucky)
  8. 11
    Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: Same theme of experimental intelligence enhancement. Disch's experimenters are much more sinister, and his experimental subjects much more intelligent.
  9. 01
    Oversite by Maureen F. McHugh (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: A short story by Maureen McHugh about an experimental treatment for Alzheimer's that looks at the effect of loss and gain of mental functioning from a bystander's point-of-view.
  10. 24
    The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (Patangel)
  11. 04
    My Teacher Fried My Brains by Bruce Coville (infiniteletters)
    infiniteletters: More humor, less drama, but a similar effect in the end.
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English (234)  French (4)  Tagalog (1)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  German (1)  All languages (242)
Showing 1-5 of 234 (next | show all)
I've read the short story version of this story. It was sad and heartbreaking. It was a story of a man who has Mental Retardation and dreamt of being smart and in the end it cost him. A must-read. ( )
  krizia_lazaro | Jul 25, 2016 |
CAUTION: MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded thirty-two-year-old man, is chosen by a team of scientists to undergo an experimental surgery designed to boost his intelligence. Alice Kinnian, Charlie’s teacher at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults, has recommended Charlie for the experiment because of his exceptional eagerness to learn. The directors of the experiment, Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur, ask Charlie to keep a journal. The entire narrative of Flowers for Algernon is composed of the “progress reports” that Charlie writes.

Charlie works at Donner’s Bakery in New York City as a janitor and delivery boy. The other employees often taunt him and pick on him, but Charlie is unable to understand that he is the subject of mockery. He believes that his coworkers are good friends. After a battery of tests—including a maze-solving competition with a mouse named Algernon, who has already had the experimental surgery performed on him—Charlie undergoes the operation. He is initially disappointed that there is no immediate change in his intellect, but with work and help from Alice, he gradually improves his spelling and grammar. Charlie begins to read adult books, slowly at first, then voraciously, filling his brain with knowledge from many academic fields. He shocks the workers at the bakery by inventing a process designed to improve productivity. Charlie also begins to recover lost memories of his childhood, most of which involve his mother, Rose, who resented and often brutally punished Charlie for not being normal like other children.

As Charlie becomes more intelligent, he realizes that he is deeply attracted to Alice. She insists on keeping their relationship professional, but it is obvious that she shares Charlie’s attraction. When Charlie discovers that one of the bakery employees is stealing from Mr. Donner, he is uncertain what to do until Alice tells him to trust his heart. Delighted by the realization that he is capable of solving moral dilemmas on his own, Charlie confronts the worker and forces him to stop cheating Donner. Not long afterward, Charlie is let go from the bakery because the other workers are disturbed by the sudden change in him, and because Donner can see that Charlie no longer needs his charity. Charlie grows closer to Alice, though whenever the mood becomes too intimate, he experiences a sensation of panic and feels as if his old disabled self is watching him. Charlie recovers memories of his mother beating him for the slightest sexual impulses, and he realizes that this past trauma is likely responsible for his inability to make love to Alice.

Dr. Strauss and Professor Nemur take Charlie and Algernon to a scientific convention in Chicago, where they are the star exhibits. Charlie has become frustrated by Nemur’s refusal to recognize his humanity. He feels that Nemur treats him like just another lab animal, even though it is disturbingly clear that Charlie’s scientific knowledge has advanced beyond Nemur’s. Charlie wreaks havoc at the convention by freeing Algernon from his cage while they are onstage. Charlie flees back to New York with Algernon and gets his own apartment, where the scientists cannot find him. He realizes that Nemur’s hypothesis contains an error and that there is a possibility that his intelligence gain will only be temporary.

Charlie meets his neighbor, an attractive, free-spirited artist named Fay Lillman. Charlie does not tell Fay about his past, and he is able to consummate a sexual relationship with her. The foundation that has funded the experiment gives Charlie dispensation to do his own research, so he returns to the lab. However, his commitment to his work begins to consume him, and he drifts away from Fay.

Algernon’s intelligence begins to slip, and his behavior becomes erratic. Charlie worries that whatever happens to Algernon will soon happen to him as well. Algernon eventually dies. Fearing a regression to his previous level of intelligence, Charlie visits his mother and sister in order to try to come to terms with his past. He finds the experience moving, thrilling, and devastating. Charlie’s mother, now a demented old woman, expresses pride in his accomplishments, and his sister is overjoyed to see him. However, Rose suddenly slips into a delusional flashback and attacks Charlie with a butcher knife. He leaves sobbing, but he feels that he has finally overcome his painful background and become a fully developed individual.

Charlie succeeds in finding the error in Nemur’s hypothesis, scientifically proving that a flaw in the operation will cause his intelligence to vanish as quickly as it has come. Charlie calls this phenomenon the “Algernon-Gordon Effect.” As he passes through a stage of average intelligence on his way back to retardation, Charlie enjoys a brief, passionate relationship with Alice, but he sends her away as he senses the return of his old self. When Charlie’s regression is complete, he briefly returns to his old job at the bakery, where his coworkers welcome him back with kindness.

Charlie forgets that he is no longer enrolled in Alice’s night-school class for retarded adults, and he upsets her by showing up. In fact, Charlie has forgotten their entire romantic relationship. Having decided to remove himself from the people who have known him and now feel sorry for him, he checks himself into a home for disabled adults. His last request is for the reader of his manuscript to leave fresh flowers on Algernon’s grave. ( )
  bostonwendym | Jul 22, 2016 |
'This is joy. And now that I've found it, how can I give it up?'
By sally tarbox on 17 July 2012
Format: Paperback
I don't normally read sci-fi but this was brilliant; it's the human story of a scientific procedure that takes a young man with learning difficulties and turns him into a genius. Charlie works in a menial capacity in a bakery where he reckons his workmates are his friends. His family no longer have contact with him; he attends adult education classes in his spare time.
Narrated by Charlie, the 'progress reports' begin as innocent, ill-spelt, childlike entries. But after the treatment, we notice a gradual change as Charlie becomes highly literate and faces a plethora of new problems...
As he begins to get to grips with his new persona- including realising that he was previously perceived as a 'joke' by his workmates and 'not a real person' by the doctors- he has to face the possibility that the treatment might only offer temporary results... ( )
  starbox | Jul 10, 2016 |
This was my first time reading the full-length book but, like many Americans, I read the original short story as a child in school. That was nearly thirty years ago, but I still remembered the basic story quite well. Flowers for Algernon is the kind of story that makes an impression. The premise, if anybody doesn’t already know it, is that Charlie, a mentally disabled man in his thirties, is given an experimental operation to increase his intelligence. The story is told entirely through journal entries that Charlie writes before and throughout the experiment.

I doubt my review is going to reveal much about the story that people don’t already know. I suspect most people know the general story, including its ending, even if they’ve never read it themselves. However, there are definitely spoilers, and I think it’s going to be too hard for me to segregate them out into a shorter segment, so I’m just going to play it safe and put the rest of my review in spoiler tags.


As an adult, I focused on different aspects of the story than I had as a child. As a child, my main focus was on Charlie’s journey from mentally disabled to genius and back again. I felt terrible about the way people made fun of him, I was happy for him when he got smart, and I was devastated when he started to regress. The main parts I remembered from reading it as a child were the beginning and the end. Of course, I originally read a much shorter and more sanitized version, but I had remembered very little about the middle of the story. I didn’t remember how many more problems he’d had after the operation due to his emotional maturity still being quite underdeveloped, and I didn’t remember how much difficulty he had in relating to other people.

As an adult, those middle parts made more of an impression and I was more frustrated with him. I had to remind myself that his intelligence had increased at a rapid rate whereas his maturity needed more time to develop, and that his behavior was surely to be expected. However, I hated to see him looking at other people in much the same way people had looked at him before his operation. I hated seeing him transform from an open, likable, cheerful man into an angrier and more bitter man who didn’t understand how to relate to the people around him. He also had some serious psychological issues, primarily due to the way he had been treated by his family as a child. He did seem to find a better balance toward the end, but that was just before he started to regress. I knew the end would be sad, but this time around I found the middle to be nearly as sad as the ending and that took me by surprise.

As a 40-year-old, I also couldn’t help but draw some parallels with the inevitable (but hopefully much less drastic!) regression of intelligence that will occur when I get older. Fortunately the older people in my family seem to stay reasonably sharp throughout their lives, so I hope that will be true of me as well, but I know that some loss is inevitable. I hate even the temporary and easily resolved foggy feeling I get when I haven’t had sufficient sleep.


Although this book is considered science fiction, this is primarily because of the operation Charlie was given. The story itself has a more contemporary feel to it and would appeal to people who don’t enjoy science fiction. The short story was originally published in 1959 and the novel was published in 1966, but the story didn’t feel dated to me at all. ( )
  YouKneeK | Jun 28, 2016 |

“Thank God for books and music and things I can think about." - Charlie Gordon

I remember my mother watching this sometimes on TV when I was growing up. The haunting memory of an adult man in a swing-set at the end with the expression of a joyful child is hard to forget. I've always wanted to read the book, fascinated by the story. As soon as I started reading it, I knew disappointment would not be met. The book far exceeds the movie!

This truly incredible story is advanced for its time in terms of science-fiction and what man can (and cannot) accomplish. It's not a black and white issue either; today we still wouldn't know which would be the best course to take. Is it so much of an improvement to have brought his IQ to such a high level, or would it have been better to let him stay the way nature and God intended? He was held back by the disabilties of his mind...he couldn't be promoted at work and only worked as a favour of a friend. His friends at work made fun of him and he didn't even realize it. He couldn't have personal, adult relationships with women or other men. He couldn't make sound decisions about savings, checking, safety, insurance, and the proper way to live. The tragedy of this is he realized his limitations and dreamed of being smart like "other people", able to live as a normal man would.

The book focuses on every heartbreaking aspect - developing initial attractions to women as his mind starts maturing, the realization and horror at his parents dismissal of him and shame as they are unable to handle how limited their son is, seeing he didn't have the good friends he always thought he did. When his IQ reached higher proportions, he was able to then see that, despite his increased mind-power, he was still as isolated as ever from his peers. Likely due to character traits inherited from his past, whether he was "cured" nor not, but mainly because he has now crossed over to the other side, the opposite side, where he's not too intelligent to relate with anyone.

His supreme intelligence made it so that he was the only who realized where the experiment would go wrong, and that like a cancer, his new-found mind would slowly fade away. Having to tell doctors the inevitable must have been especially daunting. Imagine, instead of getting the news from someone else, you realize what they can't, and have to focus on convincing them of your own personal doom.

This is not a happy book, obviously, but it's incredibly powerful. It reads nearly as a diary would - he was supposed to record thoughts as part of the experiments and process. The first part of the book you see horrible grammar, bad spelling, as if a small child were writing the book. It evolves, as the man does, becoming poetic, beautiful, gifted, and bitter.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It's full of lessons about life, people, intelligence, social standing, science, dire consequences, faith, motivations, and acceptance. It shows that the ponderings and philosophies of people in regard to their fellow man have almost always stayed the same, no matter the generation.

From beginning to end it was both tragic and sobering. The book shows how literature can be a work of art. The ending closes the book, but the memory of the book shall not fade. ( )
  ErinPaperbackstash | Jun 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 234 (next | show all)
[Keyes] has taken the obvious, treated it in a most obvious fashion, and succeeded in creating a tale that is suspenseful and touching - all in modest degree, but it is enough.
added by Shortride | editThe New York Times, Eliot Fremont-Smith (pay site) (Mar 7, 1966)
 

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Daniel Keyesprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Barroso, PazTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Delessert, EtienneIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Etienne, DelessertIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gallet, Georges HilaireTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leek, JanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moore, ChrisCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paz, BarrosoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pekkanen, HilkkaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Podaný, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, RichardIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rabkin, Eric S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Santos, DomingoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Szepessy, GyörgyTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Woodman, JeffNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees anyone whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be to (sic) ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from drakness to the day is dazzled by excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den. Plato, The Republic
Dedication
For my mother And in memory of my father
First words
Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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This is the full length novel based on the short story. Please do not combine the two.
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Haiku summary
What if your dream to

get smart came true, but then you

knew you'd lose it all?

(legallypuzzled)

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0156030306, Paperback)

Daniel Keyes wrote little SF but is highly regarded for one classic, Flowers for Algernon. As a 1959 novella it won a Hugo Award; the 1966 novel-length expansion won a Nebula. The Oscar-winning movie adaptation Charly (1968) also spawned a 1980 Broadway musical.

Following his doctor's instructions, engaging simpleton Charlie Gordon tells his own story in semi-literate "progris riports." He dimly wants to better himself, but with an IQ of 68 can't even beat the laboratory mouse Algernon at maze-solving:

I dint feel bad because I watched Algernon and I lernd how to finish the amaze even if it takes me along time.

I dint know mice were so smart.

Algernon is extra-clever thanks to an experimental brain operation so far tried only on animals. Charlie eagerly volunteers as the first human subject. After frustrating delays and agonies of concentration, the effects begin to show and the reports steadily improve: "Punctuation, is? fun!" But getting smarter brings cruel shocks, as Charlie realizes that his merry "friends" at the bakery where he sweeps the floor have all along been laughing at him, never with him. The IQ rise continues, taking him steadily past the human average to genius level and beyond, until he's as intellectually alone as the old, foolish Charlie ever was--and now painfully aware of it. Then, ominously, the smart mouse Algernon begins to deteriorate...

Flowers for Algernon is a timeless tear-jerker with a terrific emotional impact. --David Langford

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:21 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

From the Publisher: With more than five million copies sold, Flowers for Algernon is the beloved, classic story of a mentally disabled man whose experimental quest for intelligence mirrors that of Algernon, an extraordinary lab mouse. In poignant diary entries, Charlie tells how a brain operation increases his IQ and changes his life. As the experimental procedure takes effect, Charlie's intelligence expands until it surpasses that of the doctors who engineered his metamorphosis. The experiment seems to be a scientific breakthrough of paramount importance-until Algernon begins his sudden, unexpected deterioration. Will the same happen to Charlie? An American classic that inspired the award-winning movie Charly.… (more)

» see all 8 descriptions

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