The New York Times - Notable Books of 2012

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Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012)

Written by Andrew Solomon

From the National Book Award–winning author of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression comes a monumental new work, a decade in the writing, about family. In Far from the Tree, Andrew Solomon tells the stories of parents who not only learn to deal with their exceptional children but also find profound meaning in doing so.

Solomon’s startling proposition is that diversity is what unites us all. He writes about families coping with deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities, with children who are prodigies, who are conceived in rape, who become criminals, who are transgender. While each of these characteristics is potentially isolating, the experience of difference within families is universal, as are the triumphs of love Solomon documents in every chapter.

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Drawing on forty thousand pages of interview transcripts with more than three hundred families, Solomon mines the eloquence of ordinary people facing extreme challenges. Whether considering prenatal screening for genetic disorders, cochlear implants for the deaf, or gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, Solomon narrates a universal struggle toward compassion. Many families grow closer through caring for a challenging child; most discover supportive communities of others similarly affected; some are inspired to become advocates and activists, celebrating the very conditions they once feared. Woven into their courageous and affirming stories is Solomon’s journey to accepting his own identity, which culminated in his midlife decision, influenced by this research, to become a parent.

Elegantly reported by a spectacularly original thinker, Far from the Tree explores themes of generosity, acceptance, and tolerance—all rooted in the insight that love can transcend every prejudice. This crucial and revelatory book expands our definition of what it is to be human. This book won the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction. (Copyright © Scribner/Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.)

Source:  Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics, and the arts; and an activist in LGBT rights, mental health, education and the arts. He has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, Artforum, Travel and Leisure, and other publications on a range of subjects, including depression, Soviet artists, the cultural rebirth of Afghanistan, Libyan politics, and deaf politics.

He has lectured widely on depression, including at Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Harvard, MIT, Cambridge, and the Library of Congress.  He is a lecturer in Psychiatry at Weill-Cornell Medical College; a director of the University of Michigan Depression Center, Columbia Psychiatry, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory; a member of the Board of Visitors of Columbia Medical School, and the Advisory Boards of the Mental Health Policy Forum at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.

Additionally, Solomon serves on the boards of the Alliance for the Arts, the World Monuments Fund, and The Alex Fund, which supports the education of Romani children.  He is a member of the Chairman’s Council of the Metropolitan Museum, the Library Council of the New York Public Library, and the corporation of Yaddo.  He is also a fellow of Berkeley College at Yale University, and a member of the New York Institute for the Humanities and the Council on Foreign Relations.

He has authored essays for many anthologies and books of criticism, and his work has been featured on National Public Radio’s Moth Radio Hour. His first novel, A Stone Boat (1994), the story of a man’s shifting identity as he watches his mother battle cancer, was a national bestseller and runner up for the Los Angeles Times First Fiction prize.

His two best-selling books, The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression (2001) and Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012) received numerous recognitions and awards. The Noonday Demon won the 2001 National Book Award for Nonfiction, was a finalist for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize, and was included in The Times of London’s list of one hundred best books of the decade. Far from the Tree was named one of the 10 best books of 2012 by The New York Times. It won the National Book Critics Circle Award (2012) in the Nonfiction category.

A native New Yorker, Solomon received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Yale University and a Master’s degree in English at Jesus College, Cambridge. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology at Jesus College, Cambridge. He lives with his husband and son in New York and London.

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