Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon

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Far From The Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love

Five words from the blurb: parents, exceptional, children, difference, acceptance.

Far From the Tree is the most important book I’ve ever read. It is a masterpiece of research; giving an impressive insight into human relationships and our tolerance of those who are different. If everyone read this book the world would be a better place.

I requested a review copy of this book because, as the mother of a child with autism, I was hoping for some insight into the way my relationship with my son might develop. The book not only managed to do this, but also had a profound impact on the way I view the rest of society. It made me appreciate the similarities that exist between groups that I’d previously thought of as quite separate and it gave me an insight into the problems faced by other parents around the world.

The title takes its name from the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and, through 700 pages of outstanding non-fiction, Andrew Solomon investigates how parents cope when their children turn out to be different from themselves. The book begins with Solomon’s own experiences as a gay man, and continues to include chapters on many different groups, including the parents of children who are dwarfs, deaf or born from rape. I expected to find the chapter on autism the most interesting, but this wasn’t the case as the details were already familiar to me. I was surprised to discover that I was most interested in the conditions I knew less about – the chapter on schizophrenia was particularly eye-opening and I found myself sympathising with those parents, along with the parents of children who committed horrific crimes, the most.

I normally like to make a note of the important passages that I find whilst reading a book, but just 10 pages into this one I gave up. Almost every page contained some sort of profound insight and this was especially true of the first chapter, Son.

Insofar as our children resemble us, they are our most precious admirers, and insofar as they differ, they can be our most vehement detractors. From the beginning, we tempt them into imitation of us and long for what might be life’s most profound compliment: their choosing to live according to our own system of values. Though many of us take pride in how different we are from our parents, we are endlessly sad at how different our children are from us.

This opening section was one of the most impressive pieces of writing I’ve ever read and, if the length of the entire book intimidates you, I urge you to at least read the first 48 pages – they summarise the key findings of Solomon’s research and, although you’ll miss out on many wonderful examples of parents explaining their problems and accomplishments, you’ll come to realise how people can be united and supported by others who experience difference.

The only negative aspect of this book was that after a while some of the parent’s testimonies began to feel repetitive. Overall this was a good thing as it emphasized the fact that the parents of this diverse range of children all experienced the same set of emotions.

For me, the take home message of this book comes from Ari Ne’eem, a man with Asperger’s syndrome who is quoted in the chapter on autism:

Society has developed a tendency to examine things from the point of view of a bell curve. How far away am I from normal? What can I do to fit in better? But what is at the top of the bell curve? Mediocrity. That is the fate of American society if we insist on pathologising difference.

I cannot over-emphasize the importance of this book. It is a modern masterpiece and I’m sure it will be quoted from and referred to for many years to come.

Very highly recommended.

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18 Comments

  1. This does indeed sound like a book that everyone shoudl read. The passages you shared brought tears to my eyes, they are so very, sadly, true. I’ve been thinking about this lately too, as I suppose all parents do. I will get this and get other parents I know to read it too. It is by talking about things like this that we can make the world a better place!

    1. Jackie says:

      Joanna, It is wonderful to hear that even these short extracts moved you. I hope that you enjoy the book as much as I did.

  2. I read The Noonday Demon by this author several years ago and was impressed as well. I will try to get the audio version of this one from the library as the Kindle is expensive at $16.99.

    This does sound like an insightful read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Diane, I haven’t read The Noonday Demon, but after reading this book I am very keen to give it a try. I hope that the audio version works well. Enjoy!

  3. stujallen says:

    As we hope to have kids at some point soon this sounds like a great book ,I want be a great parent so this be one I ll be getting does sound like a important book being a bit niicer makes the world a lot better ,all the best stu

    1. Jackie says:

      Stu, I think you’d love this book and it might also be helpful for your job. I hope you like it as much as I did.

  4. This sounds very interesting and it’s so good to hear about your experiences. It sounds almost as if the book was written especially for you.

    I’m a bit worried about the size, the hardback is almost a 1,000 pages. Maybe I should just read the synopsis. But it sounds worth reading/knowing, that’s for sure.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Yes – this book is perfect for me! I can’t see anyone producing a better book any time soon.

      The hardback is 1000 pages, but 300 of these are notes and references (the other 700 pages are pure genius ;-) ) Perhaps you could try a sample on your kindle? Hopefully the first few pages would be enough to persuade you to read the rest?

      1. Good idea, Jackie! I don’t have a Kindle but can read it on my laptop with Kindle for PC.

        1. Jackie says:

          Judith, I hope you fall in love with the first section as much as I did.

  5. Vasilly says:

    Jackie, yes! The first section of this book is so amazing! I had to re-read this section a few times to see how Solomon wrote it. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. Now I need to start reading it again.

    1. Jackie says:

      Vasilly, I hope that you manage to finish this book soon. This final chapter is also outstanding and well worth reading. Enjoy!

  6. Jeane says:

    This sounds really good, and not at all the content I was expecting from the title. I’m going to look for it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jeane, Yay! I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

  7. Jenners says:

    With that kind of recommendation, I feel I have to read it right now. Thank you for making me aware of it. Sounds like a book we all need to read.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, It is a really important book and I hope that you manage to get hold of a copy. Enjoy!

  8. Gavin says:

    Yes. I am slowly making my way through this one, not because it is difficult (though on an emotional level it sometimes is) but because it is so dense. I know I will have to turn around and read it again.

    1. Jackie says:

      Gavin, Yes. I had to read it slowly too. I agree it is difficult emotionally, but that emotional response is what makes it so special. I hope you enjoy the rest of it.

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