Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

4 out of 5 stars

How have I not read this book before now? A timeless tale about medical ethics and what it means to be human, this book is one that everyone should read at some point in their lives.

The book is told from the perspective of Charlie Gordon, a 32-year-old man with mental challenges and the first human to have an experimental procedure designed to make him smarter. The procedure has previously been tested on Algernon, a laboratory mouse. 

As Charlie’s intellectual capacity increases, his perceptions of his life before the operation begin to change. He also realizes that there are some things that his newfound high intelligence can’t compensate for. As he observes in one of my favorite lines in the book, “Intelligence and education that hasn’t been tempered by human affection isn’t worth a damn.”

“Intelligence and education that hasn’t been tempered by human affection isn’t worth a damn.”

Flowers for Algernon

This book was written in the 60s, so be prepared to encounter some terms that are highly offensive today. Putting that language aside, I appreciated how the author varied how he wrote Charlie’s voice throughout the book. It really helped the reader understand and connect with Charlie’s intellectual and emotional states through the different stages he experienced. 

Ultimately, this book makes you think and feel a wide range of emotions. I can see why it remains on many school reading lists more than half a century after its original release.

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