Having read a few other reviews, I didn't think I would be disappointed, and I wasn't. The book is divided into two parts. The first part is basically a short history of autism in western society, mostly in North America. The second part explains how three other cultures (Korea, India, and Africa) view and treat autism, from an anthropologist's view (which Grinker is).
Like most people directly affected by autism, I'm fairly well versed about "all things autism", and I didn't think that I would learn very much from the first part of the book. But there were many things that I hadn't known that I found quite interesting. Things such as J. Langdon Down (for whom Down's syndrome is named) also described atypical patients who he thought had mental retardation that sound very like autistic patients back in 1887. Down was also the source of the comment that he thought these children were especially beautiful.
Grinker comes from a long line of psychiatrists, as well as being married to one, and is thus well versed on how psychiatry and autism have evolved. He weaves anecdotes and personal history of famous figures like Kanner into an intriguing description of how autism has always been with us, and how it has come to be recognized and systematized.
Probably the thing that draws most readers in is how Grinker uses examples from his own familiy's experience with autism into this book. Grinker's daughter, Isabel, now 16, came of age during the leading edge of increasing awareness of autism. Many of the battles that she and her family went thru, as well as many of her victories, will be very familiar to anyone whose life has been touched by autism.
As bad as society sometimes views autism in America, things are often much worse in other parts of the world. Grinker takes us on a world tour of select spots in the world where autistics are treated much worse that they are here. Places where autistics are shunned and locked in cages, and places where there is little understanding, much less assistance, for autistics. Amongst other feelings, it leaves one feeling lucky to have as much understanding and acceptance that we do have, though it is far from perfect.
So I heartily recommend Unstrange Minds, both to readers who are a part of the autism community, as well as those that aren't. It's a great read, and hard to put down. Grinker personalizes autism thru his daughter, Isabel, while being thoroughly educational as to how autism has evolved both in western society as well as elsewhere.
Me- Joe, husband of a great wife, and dad to two great kids, who were both adopted at birth.
Liz- My ever understanding wife, who manages to wear many hats (mom, advocate, therapist, teacher) for our kids.
Buddy Boy- Born in 2000. Funny, intelligent, inventive, and autistic. Loves machines.
Sweet Pea- Born in 2002. Typical little sister. Competitive, outgoing, and smart. Loves anything pink.