Born On A Blue Day Essay

Daniel TammetFRSA (born 31 January 1979) is an English essayist, novelist, translator, and autistic savant. His 2006 memoir, Born on a Blue Day, about his life with Asperger syndrome and savant syndrome, was named a "Best Book for Young Adults" in 2008 by the American Library AssociationYoung Adult Library Services magazine.[1] His second book, Embracing the Wide Sky, was one of France's best-selling books of 2009.[2] His third book, Thinking in Numbers, was published on 16 August 2012 by Hodder & Stoughton in the United Kingdom and on 30 July 2013 by Little, Brown and Company in the United States and Canada. Mishenka, his first novel, was published in France and Quebec in 2016. His books have been published in over 20 languages.[3] He was elected in 2012 to serve as a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.[4]

Personal life[edit]

Tammet was born Daniel Paul Corney[5] and raised in Barking, East London, England, as the eldest of nine children. He suffered epileptic seizures as a young child, which he subsequently outgrew following medical treatment.

He participated twice in the World Memory Championships in London under his birth name, placing 11th in 1999 and 4th in 2000.[5][6]

He changed his birth name by deed poll because "it didn't fit with the way he saw himself." He took the word Tammet from the Estonian for 'oak tree'.[7]

At age twenty-five, he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome by Simon Baron-Cohen of the University of CambridgeAutism Research Centre.[8] He is one of fewer than a hundred "prodigious savants" according to Darold Treffert, the world's leading researcher in the study of savant syndrome.[9]

He was the subject of a documentary film titled Extraordinary People: The Boy with the Incredible Brain, first broadcast on the British television station Channel 4 on 23 May 2005.

He met software engineer Neil Mitchell in 2000. They lived in Kent, England, where they had a quiet life at home with their cats, preparing meals from their garden.[11] He and Mitchell operated the online e-learning company Optimnem, where they created and published language courses.

Tammet now lives in Paris (France)[12] with his husband Jérôme Tabet, a photographer whom he met while promoting his autobiography.

Tammet is a graduate of the Open University with a Bachelor of Arts degree (First class honours) in the Humanities.[13]


In 2002, Tammet launched the website, Optimnem.[14] The site offers language courses (currently French and Spanish) and has been an approved member of the UK National Grid for Learning since 2006.[8]

Born on a Blue Day received international media attention and critical praise. Booklist magazine contributing reviewer Ray Olson stated that Tammet's autobiography was "as fascinating as Benjamin Franklin's and John Stuart Mill's" and that Tammet wrote "some of the clearest prose this side of Hemingway". Kirkus Reviews stated that the book "transcends the disability memoir genre".

For his US book tour, Tammet appeared on several television and radio talk shows and specials, including 60 Minutes and Late Show with David Letterman.[8][15] In February 2007 Born on a Blue Day was serialised as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in the United Kingdom.

His second book, Embracing the Wide Sky, was published in 2009.[16][17] Professor Allan Snyder, director of the University of SydneyCentre for the Mind, called the work 'an extraordinary and monumental achievement'.[18] Tammet argues that savant abilities are not "supernatural" but are "an outgrowth" of "natural, instinctive ways of thinking about numbers and words". He suggests that the brains of savants can, to some extent, be retrained, and that normal brains could be taught to develop some savant abilities.[18]

Thinking in Numbers, a collection of essays, was first published in 2012 and serialised as BBC Radio 4's Book of the Week in the United Kingdom.[19]

His translation into French of a selection of poetry by Les Murray was published by L'Iconoclaste in France in 2014.[20]

Tammet's first novel, Mishenka, came out in France and Quebec in 2016.[21]

Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing, a collection of essays on language, was published in the UK, US, and France in 2017.[22] In a review of the book for the Wall Street Journal, Brad Leithauser noted that "in terms of literary genres, something new and enthralling is going on inside his books" and that the author showed "a grasp of language and a sweep of vocabulary that any poet would envy".[23]

Scientific study[edit]

After the World Memory Championships, Tammet participated in a group study, later published in the New Year 2003 edition of Nature Neuroscience.[24] The researchers investigated the reasons for the memory champions' superior performance. They reported that they used "strategies for encoding information with the sole purpose of making it more memorable", and concluded that superior memory was not driven by exceptional intellectual ability or differences in brain structure.[25]

In another study, Baron-Cohen and others at the Autism Research Centre tested Tammet's abilities in around 2005.[26] Tammet was found to have synaesthesia according to the "Test of Genuineness-Revised" which tests the subjects' consistency in reporting descriptions of their synaesthesia. He performed well on tests of short term memory (with a digit-span of 11.5, where 6.5 is typical). Conversely, test results showed his memory for faces scored at the level expected of a 6- to 8-year-old child in this task. The authors of the study speculated that his savant memory could be a result of synaesthesia combined with Asperger syndrome, or it could be the result of mnemonic strategies.

Baron-Cohen, Bor and Billington investigated whether Tammet's synaesthesia and Asperger syndrome explained his savant memory abilities in a further study published in Neurocase in 2008. They concluded that his abilities might be explained by hyperactivity in one brain region (the left prefrontal cortex), which results from his Asperger syndrome and synaesthesia.[27] On the Navon task, relative to non-autistic controls, Tammet was found to be faster at finding a target at the local level and to be less distracted by interference from the global level.[27] In an fMRI scan, "Tammet did not activate extra-striate regions of the brain normally associated with synaesthesia, suggesting that he has an unusual and more abstract and conceptual form of synaesthesia".[27] Published in Cerebral Cortex (2011), an fMRI study led by Professor Jean-Michel Hupé at the University of Toulouse (France) observed no activation of colour areas in ten synaesthetes.[28] Hupé suggests that synaesthetic colour experience lies not in the brain's colour system, but instead results from "a complex construction of meaning in the brain, involving not only perception, but language, memory and emotion".[29]

In his book Moonwalking with Einstein (2011), science journalist and former US Memory Champion Joshua Foer speculates that study of conventional mnemonic approaches has played a role in Tammet's feats of memory. While accepting that Tammet meets the standard definition of a prodigious savant, Foer suggests that his abilities may simply reflect intensive training using standard memory techniques, rather than any abnormal psychology or neurology per se. In a review of his book for The New York Times, psychologist Alexandra Horowitz described Foer's speculation as among the book's few "missteps", questioning whether it would matter if Tammet had used such strategies or not.[30]


Tammet has been studied repeatedly[9] by researchers in Britain and the United States, and has been the subject of several peer-reviewed scientific papers.[16] Professor Allan Snyder at the Australian National University has said of him: "Savants can't usually tell us how they do what they do. It just comes to them. Daniel can describe what he sees in his head. That's why he's exciting. He could be the 'Rosetta Stone'."[7]

In his mind, Tammet says, each positive integer up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, colour, texture and feel. He has described his visual image of 289 as particularly ugly, 333 as particularly attractive, and pi, though not an integer, as beautiful. The number 6 apparently has no distinct image yet what he describes as an almost small nothingness, opposite to the number 9 which he calls large, towering, and quite intimidating. He also describes the number 117 as "a handsome number. It's tall, it's a lanky number, a little bit wobbly".[8][31] In his memoir, he describes experiencing a synaesthetic and emotional response for numbers and words.[8]

He holds the European record for reciting pi from memory to 22,514 digits in five hours and nine minutes on 14 March 2004.[32][33][34][35][36][37] He revealed in a French talk show on Radio Classique on 29 April 2016, that this event was the inspiration behind Kate Bush's song 'Pi' from her album Aerial.

He is a polyglot. In Born on a Blue Day, he writes that he knows ten languages: English, Finnish, French, German, Lithuanian, Esperanto, Spanish, Romanian, Icelandic, and Welsh.[8] In Embracing the Wide Sky, he writes that he learned conversational Icelandic in a week and then appeared on an interview on Kastljós on RÚV speaking the language.[16][39]





  • "What It Feels Like To Be A Savant" in Esquire (August 2005)
  • "Open Letter to Barack Obama" in The Advocate (December 2008)
  • "Olympics: Are the fastest and strongest reaching their mathematical limits?" in The Guardian (August 2012)[40]
  • "What I'm thinking about … Tolstoy and maths" in The Guardian (August 2012)[41]
  • "The Sultan's Sudoku" in Aeon digital magazine (December 2012)[42]
  • "Languages revealing worlds and selves" in The Times Literary Supplement (September 2017)[43]


Short Films[edit]


Mänti is a constructed language that Tammet published in 2006.[45] The word 'Mänti' comes from the Finnish word for 'pine tree' (mänty). Mänti uses vocabulary and grammar from the Finnic languages. Some sample words include:

kellokültlateness, tardinessviitsimatus, hilineminemyöhästyneisyysLiterally "clock-debt". In Finnish kello=a clock / a bell
puhukellotelephonetelefonpuhelinLiterally "speak-bell". In Finnish puhua=to speak
tontöömusicmuusikamusiikkiLiterally "tone-art". In Estonian töö=work
koet saapatfootwearjalanõudjalkineetIn Finnish saappaat=boots. In Estonian saapad=boots.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ ab"ALA 2008 Best Books for Young Adults". American Library Association. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  2. ^Emmanuel Hecht; Marianne Payot; Jérôme Dupuis; Liger Baptiste; Delphine Peras (23 March 2010). "Livres: Les best-sellers de l'année 2009 réunis au Fouquet's". L'Express. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  3. ^"Andrew Lownie Literary Agency". Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  4. ^ abDaniel Tammet (19 December 2012). "Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts". Thinking in Numbers: The Blog of Daniel Tammet. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  5. ^ abFoer, Joshua (7 April 2011). Moonwalking with Einstein. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0141952277. 
  6. ^"Contestant 'Daniel Corney'". Michael Gloschewski. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  7. ^ abJohnson, Richard (12 February 2005). "A genius explains". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  8. ^ abcdefgTammet, Daniel (22 February 2007). Born on a Blue Day. Hodder Paperbacks. ISBN 978-0340899755. 
  9. ^ abLyall, Sarah (15 February 2007). "Brainman at Rest in His Oasis". The New York Times. New York. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  10. ^Caroline Scott (13 August 2006). "Daniel Tammet". The Sunday Times. London. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  11. ^Lucia Sillig et Peter Greenwood (3 April 2016). "Mise au Point". Radio Télévision Suisse. Genève. Retrieved 23 April 2016. 
  12. ^"About the author". Daniel Tammet. 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  13. ^"Optimnem: Foreign Language Courses". Daniel Tammet. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  14. ^"A Look at an Autistic Savant's Brilliant Mind". NPR Talk of the Nation. Washington, D.C. 15 January 2007. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  15. ^ abcTammet, Daniel (2009). Embracing the Wide Sky. London: Hodder & Stoughton. ISBN 0-340-96132-5. 
  16. ^The Hour (Television). Ottawa: CBC Television. 2 February 2009. Archived from the original on 20 January 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  17. ^ abPeter Wilson (31 January 2009). "A Savvy Savant finds his voice". The Australian. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  18. ^"Thinking in Numbers". Daniel Tammet. 2012. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  19. ^"C'est une chose serieuse que d'etre parmi les hommes". L'Iconoclaste. 24 September 2014. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  20. ^"Daniel Tammet : un regard poétique sur les nombres et les échecs". RadioCanada. 16 April 2016. Retrieved 13 June 2016. 
  21. ^"Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing". Daniel Tammet. 2017. Retrieved 22 August 2017. 
  22. ^Brad Leithauser (6 October 2017). "Words in Flight". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 12 October 2017. 
  23. ^Darold Treffert, M.D. "Daniel Tammet -- Brainman: 'Numbers are my friends'". Wisconsin Medical Society. Archived from the original on 15 November 2012. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  24. ^Maguire, Eleanor A.; Valentine, Elizabeth R.; Wilding, John M.; Kapur, Narinder (January 2003). "Routes to remembering: the brains behind superior memory". Nature Neuroscience. Nature Publishing Group. 6 (1): 90–95. doi:10.1038/nn988. PMID 12483214. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  25. ^Baron-Cohen, Simon; Bor, Daniel; Billington, Jac; Asher, Julien; Wheelwright, Sally; Ashwin, Chris (2007). "Savant Memory in a Man with Colour Form-Number Synaesthesia and Asperger". Journal of Consciousness Studies. Imprint Academic. 14 (9–10): 237–251. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  26. ^ abcBor, Daniel; Billington, Jac; Baron-Cohen, Simon (2008). "Savant Memory for Digits in a Case of Synaesthesia and Asperger Syndrome is Related to Hyperactivity in the Lateral Prefrontal Cortex". Neurocase: the Neural Basis of Cognition. Taylor & Francis Online. 13 (5–6): 311–319. doi:10.1080/13554790701844945. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  27. ^Hupé, Jean Michel; Bordier, Cécile; Dojat, Michel (2012). "The Neural Bases of Grapheme-Color Synesthesia Are Not Localized in Real Color-Sensitive Areas". Cereb. Cortex. Oxford University Press. 22 (7): 1622–1633. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr236. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  28. ^Hupé, J-M (2011). "Neural basis of grapheme-colour synaesthesia". Perception. Pion Ltd. 40 (ECVP Abstract Supplement): 41. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhr236. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  29. ^Alexandra Horowitz (11 March 2011). "How To Memorize Everything". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  30. ^Morley Safer (26 January 2007). "Brain Man". CBS News. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  31. ^"Big slice of pi sets new record". BBC News. 15 March 2004. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  32. ^"Pi memory feat". Oxford University. 15 March 2004. Archived from the original on 28 October 2014. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  33. ^"'Rain Man' finds numbers easy as Pi". The Scotsman. 15 March 2004. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  34. ^"Pi recital enters record books". The Guardian. 16 March 2004. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  35. ^"Pi-man sets record". Melbourne: The Age. 16 March 2004. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  36. ^Brainman (Television). Silver Spring, Maryland: Science. 9 November 2005. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  37. ^Bethge, Philip (3 May 2009). "Who Needs Berlitz?". Der Spiegel. Germany. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  38. ^Tammet, Daniel (11 August 2012). "Olympics: Are the fastest and strongest reaching their mathematical limits?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  39. ^Tammet, Daniel (23 August 2012). "Olympics: What I'm thinking about … Tolstoy and maths". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  40. ^Daniel Tammet (10 December 2012). "The Sultan's sudoku". Aeon. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  41. ^Daniel Tammet (5 September 2017). "Languages revealing worlds and selves". TLS. Retrieved 1 October 2017. 
  42. ^Burgel, Thomas (12 December 2013). "Florent Marchet: Il y a un cosmos intérieur encore inexploré". Les InRocks. Paris. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  43. ^Daniel Tammet (13 July 2006). "Mänti". Optimnem. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  44. ^"Booklist Editors' Choice Adult Books (2007)". 1 January 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 
  45. ^"Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads Announces Selection for 2012". 27 October 2011. Retrieved 1 November 2015. 

External links[edit]

Tammet speaking at a TED event in 2011

Born on a Blue Day — Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant — A Memoir by Daniel Tammet (Free Press, 2006)

Summary Review

Daniel Tammet sees the number "1" as a very bright white, the number "11" is friendly, and "5" is loud like a clap of thunder. He has synesthesia, a condition that connects his senses together in a way that is as magical as it is rare.

According to Tammet, prime numbers (those that only have 2 factors, like 2, 3, 5, 7,...) are "smooth and pebble-like" while composite numbers (4, 6, 8, 9, ...) appear "jagged". My favorites — "39" is lumpy like custard and "89" reminds Tammet of falling snow.

There is much more to Tammet than his ability to see colors and shapes when he looks at numbers. He is an autistic savant. In particular, he was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (or high functioning autism), which means he experiences many of the symptoms of autism but unlike most autistics, he is able to talk about his experiences.

Characteristics of autistic behavior include:

  • Repetitive, obsessive actions
  • Difficulties in social situations
  • Lacking empathy (and awareness) of others

Autism affects men more than women (80% of autistics are male).

Mathematical abilities

Tammet can mentally calculate values like 374 (which equals 1,874,161) and 13/97 to 100 decimal places (0.13402061855670103092783505154639...). (I featured a video of this here: The Rain Man in each of us).

He once recited the first 22514 digits of pi. This is more of a memory feat rather than a mathematical one, but he was helped in this task by the fact that he could "see" the colors and shapes of the numbers.

The book opens with an account of his fascination regarding his birth date: 31 Jan 1979. Each of the following numbers drawn from the digits in this date are primes: 31, 19, 179 and 1979.

His life story

What makes Born on a Blue Day extraordinary is the fact that Tammet had a very difficult education. He was bullied by his classmates because of his "weirdness" and compulsive behavior. He was socially withdrawn and preferred his own company. For Tammet, secondary school was a nightmare after the relative orderliness of primary school. It must have been a very difficult for Tammet and for his teachers.

But Tammet still learned despite his difficulties. He would spend significant amounts of time in the school and public libraries. His continued passion for learning is evident in this book. He can write eloquently about his condition largely because he has conducted extensive background research.

He describes how his parents had to support a large family on a low salary. They believed in Daniel and supported him through the many difficulties he faced. Tammet gives this advice to parents of children suffering from epilepsy or autism:

Give your children the self-belief to hold on to their dreams, because they are the things that shape each person's future.

Amen to that - the above advice applies to all parents (and teachers).

Tammet suffered from epileptic fits as a child and he tells the story of the day he almost died during a dramatic rush to hospital.

Language Abilities

Apart from having extraordinary mathematical abilities, Tammet can learn languages extremely quickly (he once learned Icelandic in a week). His website, Optimnem sells foreign language courses.

Born on a Blue Day gives some sound advice on how to learn languages (no doubt as a teaser for his language courses).


Most of the book kept me enthralled. It was fabulous to dig into such an interesting mind.

Unfortunately, the narrative tended to get off track somewhere around the 3rd quarter of the book, but it was saved by a strong conclusion.

Overall, I strongly recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in the workings of the human mind. It gives great insights into learning, autism, savant syndrome and the traumas of someone who craves orderliness.

See the 4 Comments below.

0 thoughts on “Born On A Blue Day Essay

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *