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Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

Flowers for Algernon (original 1966; edition 2005)

by Daniel Keyes

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,352242317 (4.09)1 / 343
Title:Flowers for Algernon
Authors:Daniel Keyes
Info:Mariner Books (2005), Paperback, 324 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Mental Illness

Work details

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (1966)

Recently added byYehiaK, honeyryder62, LauraM77, Skyde, private library, YouKneeK, msjennymarie
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1960s (129)

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English (231)  French (4)  Tagalog (1)  Spanish (1)  Finnish (1)  German (1)  All languages (239)
Showing 1-5 of 231 (next | show all)
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 |
First read this when I was 14 or 15 - borrowed from school library.
I remember being very moved at the time; since then I've re-read this many many times, and continue to feel deeply affected.
2 vote GeetuM | Jun 3, 2016 |
Review: “Flowers For Algernon” by Daniel Keyes. A great book. A must read. There is no way the character Charlie could not be loved. All he ever wanted was for others to see him as a person. No matter what Charlie went through or how he acted the real Charlie was always there buried within a cumbersome body, a specimen in an experiment, a retarded boy in a man’s body, and a genius in a man’s strong body. They messed with Charlie’s brain to try to give him a better life but it was not his brain they battered with, …..it was his heart….
A great recommendation for all readers…….
( )
  Juan-banjo | May 31, 2016 |
emotionally wringing. a tough topic to take on - the writer does a fabulous job of getting the reader into the mindset of a pretty complicated character. ( )
  Darth-Heather | May 31, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 231 (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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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
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.)
Disambiguation notice
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?


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)

(summary from another edition)

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