A “beautiful and astonishing” (Walter Isaacson, # 1 New York Times bestselling author of The Code Breaker) narrative that examines the many ways to be fully human, told by the first young adult with autism to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.
As a child, Jory Fleming was wracked by uncontrollable tantrums, had no tolerance for people, and couldn’t manage the outside world. Slightly more than a decade later, he was bound for England, selected to attend one of the world’s premier universities.
How to Be Human is a “profound, thought-provoking” (Barry M. Pizant, PhD, author of Uniquely Human) exploration of life amid a world constructed for neurotypical brains when yours is not. But the miracle of this book is that instead of dwelling on Jory’s limitations, those who inhabit the neurotypical world will begin to better understand their own: they will contemplate what language cannot say, how linear thinking leads to dead ends, and how nefarious emotions can be, particularly when, in Jory’s words, they are “weaponized.” Through a series of deep, personal conversations with writer Lyric Winik, Jory makes a compelling case for logical empathy based on rational thought, asks why we tolerate friends who see us as a means to an end, and explains why he believes personality is a choice. Most movingly, he discusses how, after many hardships, he maintains a deep, abiding faith: “With people, I don’t understand what goes in and what comes out, and how to relate,” he says. “But I can always reconnect with my relationship with my Creator.”
Join Jory and Lyric as they examine what it means to be human and ultimately how each of us might become a better one. Jory asks us to consider: Who has value? What is a disability? And how do we correct the imbalances we see in the world? How to Be Human shows us the ways a beautifully different mind can express the very best of our shared humanity.
Fleming, a Rhodes Scholar who is on the autism spectrum, challenges societal assumptions around the subject in an illuminating extended conversation with writer Winik. Though Fleming struggles to process external stimuli that often overwhelm him—including the language and emotions of neurotypical people—he puts in extra effort to listen to and empathize with others, resulting in a "sophisticated and self-aware" approach that others might learn from. "The small number of us out there who think differently, whether it's from autism or some other reason, might have something valuable to bring to the discussion," Fleming writes. Autism has its advantages, he argues, including "not being easily influenced by emotion." Fleming also notes how, though it doesn't come naturally to him, he is sensitive to others' emotional needs and has a strong sense of public service, regarding himself as a "ruthless" optimist who believes "world problems, environmental problems, social problems" can be solved. Fleming sets a high bar, but he doesn't consider himself to be a role model. "I don't think role models are always a good idea, because everybody is unique." Fleming's insights intrigue and inspire.