Cover Image: Fracture


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Member Reviews

It has become well known that adversity at a young age can lead to a person becoming incredibly successful and exceptional in their field later in life. It seems that those who build a resilience in their formative years or become introverted through circumstances often outside of their control leading to them becoming societal recluses helps a person to respond to setbacks in life as a challenge rather than a failure. It appears that there could be some truth to the old adage ”what doesn't kill you makes you stronger”, and I certainly attest to that having grown up in an abusive household and having had many health-related issues in my teenage years; this is on the money. Through his ”five horsemen of the childhood apocalypse”, Parris provides a plethora of interesting case studies of people who have been through the mill yet not only survived but thrived, too; these five horsemen are — Affliction - physical and mental; Isolation - and dislocation; Chaos - and family dysfunction, Cruelty - and oppression and prejudice; and Shock - ruin, death, suicide. 

These vivid vignettes explore the connection between trauma and greatness. For instance, Charlie Chaplin spent much of his childhood in a south London workhouse, while Ada Lovelace was paralysed at the age of thirteen. Edward Lear was the last of twenty-one children, and suffered from severe epilepsy and depression, and Coco Chanel was abandoned by her father in a freezing-cold church orphanage. Yet they would all grow up to be not just successful, but to create paradigm shifts in their fields, and create work that still influence our lives today. This is an informative yet entertaining polemic, which provides many supporting stories. With both humour and a highly readable style, we are treated to potted biographies of scientists, authors, psychoanalysts, philosophers, rappers, artists and politicians, to name but a few. An entertaining and solid read, however, I wish it could've developed the argument a little further in the closing chapters. Other than that, this was a very thought-provoking book.
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An interesting take on whether early trauma can be a positive. But without really going in to the fact that it can be just as much a negative. Interesting case studies, but how much real evidence?
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There are real lessons to be learned from this collection of vignettes from great lives, forged in the crucible of trauma. Matthew Parris is a great story-teller and a great intuiter of human foibles. A wonderful partnership.
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This book presents the childhood trauma of various figures deemed ‘geniuses’ - artists, scientists, statesmen - and argues that the suffering they endured as children enabled their genius to flourish later in life. Parris theorises that these ‘fractures’ in early life lead to a break with societal expectations, or family assumptions, leaving individuals to forge themselves anew and achieve greatness.
Much of the book is taken up with mini biographies of ‘great’ people, some more well-known than others and obviously all chosen according to the author’s personal tastes. Parris does skip over unsavoury aspects of some of these lives, allowing domestic violence and racism amongst other character defects to go unchallenged. The individuals chosen experienced varying levels of ‘fracture’, too, ranging from horrific abuse and neglect to lesser evils. 
By the time we get to the concluding chapters, the author’s synopsis has been well and truly hammered home, whereas the psychology supporting the theory and it’s unfortunate links to the eugenics movement are rather under-explored. The fact that Parris’ writing style is a joy to read saves this book from becoming a dull retread of ‘famous lives’. Although his hypothesis is somewhat flimsy and remains inconclusive, the author manages to create a fascinating and compelling read.
Worth purchasing for social science collections, this is a decent though imperfect book.
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Anything by Matthew Parris is well worth reading as he is a marvellously gifted and talented author. This book develops and an original premise that posits that trauma in childhood helps stimulate adult genius and that many gifted and talented people throughout history came through a troubled upbringing and thrived despite their difficult upbringing.

He provides countless examples of major figures that prove his hypothesis and I learned much that was new but I did find the argument slightly superficial and repetitive.

A dipper-into par excellence.
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Easily readable and fairly interesting, this is a textbook example of a horizontal argument. Parris looks to a wide range of biographies to make his argument that childhood trauma and recognised genius often go hand in hand. He gives a ton of examples of famous people through history, but without moving much further than this foundation.

Identifying five categories for trauma, a chapter is spent on each. I learnt quite a lot from this part of the book. For example, I couldn't have told you that Napoleon wasn't really French as such, being from Corsica, and that Ada Lovelace was the child of Lord Byron. There are ao many stories, hitting much the same beats that it becomes difficult to distinguish them afterwards; who lived which life and what does it suggest about the effects of childhood trauma? 

Parris fails to develop argument as far as one might like, never doing more than spotting this common element to the lives of many who would be considered particularly brilliant and offering the occasuinal theory about where it connects.

The book concludes with its two weaker chapters. The argument at this point becomes either far too broad and obvious, or goes in a wrong direction. Not entirely sure which

Give this a read if you want to dip into the lives of the greats and for a surface level consideration of childhood trauma and how it can form the chrysalis for greatness.
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