Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius is a great read that tells the astonishing story of Jacob Barnett, measured as perhaps the smartest person on the planet by the age of thirteen. Dismissed as an autistic who would never read before the age of three, Jake’s mother and father indulge and engage his curiosity as he silently pursues his passions and obsessions. Rather than focusing on his shortcomings, Jake’s mother pays attention to what interests and engages her son, and opens the doors that lead him to college physics classes by the age of eight, and graduate level mathematics research by the age of twelve.

I watched the 60 minutes piece about Jacob in January 2012 and was thrilled to read more about his fascinating development and his parents' journey to ensure their son had a normal childhood, friends and the unwavering love of his family. Jacob’s family is as amazing as their child, giving so freely of their time and money to help not just their son, but other autistic kids have fun.  They have more heart and hardship  than any family I’ve encountered, and I learned that Jake’s mother’s greatest gift is her ability to notice her child, to see what he’s doing and what he needs to keep growing and learning, and to notice it in all the kids she’s worked with.  Her discovery of their son’s limitless curiosity and photographic memory for among other things, mathematic equations, is as compelling a narrative as their son’s journey from a toddler trapped inside his mind to a brilliant, fine young man who wants to share his love of math with others. 

Memoir and biography of extraordinary genius are among my favorite reads,  particularly Paul Erdos, the Man who Loved Only Numbers, by Paul Hoffman,  Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet, Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures,  and now, The Spark will rank among my favorites.

I highly recommend reading this book to learn about the minds of extraordinary people, to rethink education and parenting of special needs and typical children, to discuss in book groups or parenting groups, and I encourage you to learn more about Jacob and his parents’ continuing passion to make a difference in the lives of so many children.

Jacob just gave a lecture at TedXTeen, and you can watch video of him speaking here,
as well as read these startling facts:

Jacob Barnett is an American mathematician and child prodigy. At 8 years old, Jacob began sneaking into the back of college lectures at IUPUI. After being diagnosed with autism since the age of two and placed in his school’s special ed. program, Jacob’s teachers and doctors were astonished to learn he was able to teach calculus to college students.At age nine, while playing with shapes, Jacob built a series of mathematical models that expanded Einstein’s field of relativity. A professor at Princeton reviewed his work and confirmed that it was groundbreaking and could someday result in a Nobel Prize. At age 10, Jacob was formally accepted to the University as a full-time college student and went straight into a paid research position in the field of condensed matter physics. For his original work in this field, Jacob set a record, becoming the world’s youngest astrophysics researcher. His paper was subsequently accepted for publication by Physical Review A, a scientific journal shared on sites such as NASA, the Smithsonian, and Harvard’s webpage. Jacob’s work aims to help improve the way light travels in technology.

Jacob is also CEO and founder of Wheel LLC, a business he started in his mom’s garage, and is in the process of writing a book to help end “math phobia” in his generation.

Jacob’s favorite pastime is playing basketball with the kids at his charity, Jacob’s Place. It is a place where kids with autism are inspired every day to be their true authentic selves…just like Jacob.   Featured image, video and caption: Credit: TEDx (

Related reads:

An amazing genius! I'm not a math person (at all!), but I love smart, fascinating people - Erdos lived out of a suitcase, interested only in solving math problems with the brightest minds. He was socially clueless, bizarre and brilliant. One of my favorite biographies. 

Fascinating view into the Aspergian mind; amazing journey of self discovery, and an interesting supplement to Augusten Burrough's work as well. A very quick read.

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