Review for Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

I am not what you would call an avid science fiction fan. In fact, I think I can count the number of Sci-Fi books I’ve read on one hand. But after finishing reading Flower for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, I might have to reconsider the world of fictional science.

                Flowers for Algernon is told as a series of progress reports written by Charlie Gordon, an adult living in New York with an I.Q. of 68.  Wanting to improve himself, Charlie attends reading and writing classes at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults. 

Professor Nemur and Doctor Strauss, two Beekman researchers, are looking for a human subject on whom they can test an experimental surgical technique for increasing intelligence. They have already performed the surgery on the titular named mouse, Algernon, and it lead to a dramatic improvement in his mental performance. Based on Charlie’s teacher’s recommendation and his own motivation to learn, Charlie is picked to undergo the surgery.

                The procedure is a success but as his intelligence, education and understanding of the world around him increases, his relationships with people deteriorate.  Charlie’s story touches on important themes such as the treatment of the mentally disabled, the conflict between intellect and emotion or happiness, and how events in the past can influence a person later in life.

The book was first published as a short story in the April 1959 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The expanded novel was first published in 1966 and by 2004, it had been translated into 27 languages, published in 30 countries and sold more than 5 million copies. Since its original publication, the novel has never been out of print.

                The short story and the novel share many similar plot points but the novel expands significantly on Charlie’s developing emotional state as well as his intelligence, his memories of childhood and his relationship with Alice Kinnian, Charlie’s teacher at the Beekman College Center for Retarded Adults . A number of minor details were also changed for the novel, including Charlie’s age, his job and the name of his employer.

Although the book has often been “challenged” for removal from libraries in the US and Canada, sometimes successfully, it is regularly taught in schools around the world and has been adapted numerous times for television, theatre, radio and as the Academy Award-winning film, Charly.

I would definitely recommend Flowers for Algernon to those who enjoy reading science fiction or even to those who do not. The book shows a unique view into the life of a mentally retarded person and Charlie’s story is one that will melt the heart of anyone who reads it.

To learn more about Daniel Keyes or Flowers for Algernon, visit his website.