What is Daniel Keyes’ book ‘Flowers for Algernon’ about? Read the book review of Keyes’ book ‘Flowers for Algernon’ on GreatBooks&Coffee!

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Book Review & Summary:

Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes

‘Flowers for Algernon’ is one of those great books that I am having a hard time putting into boxes and blogging categories. But it surely has a place on my literary blog. It is a novel for sure, somewhere in between science-fiction and futurist science description, with a dose of anticipation and a hint of humour. At times. It is overall a revolutionary, thought-provoking and mind-blowing story that totally deserves being called a must-read great book!


Title: Flowers for Algernon
Author: Daniel Keyes
Thought leadership field: anticipation, science fiction and culture

>> Available from Amazon <<

I bumped into ‘Flowers for Algernon’ by pure luck. I was looking for a book to read, a book that would surprise me and challenge my taste for the unexpected and the unexpectable. So I asked one of my friends to tell me about his best favourite books and authors and Daniel Keyes’ ‘Flowers for Algernon’ eventually came up.

He wouldn’t tell me much about the book but promised I would love it. And I did! ‘Flowers for Algernon’ is about anticipation, a novel between serious everyday life and extremely realist science fiction. Not to say science-testing, which in fact would be rather appropriate.

In short, you simply cannot miss that book!

About the author

Daniel Keyes has been a seaman, an editor, a teacher, and a fantastic novelist. He wrote and published ‘Flowers for Algernon’ in the 1960s as a magazine story, before making a TV show out of it and, ultimately, a book.

And in a sense, Keyes was a thought leader. His field was stories, science fiction novels, or as I mentioned previously, fictions about science where future progress were imagined, together with their flaws and consequences.

The story

In ‘Flowers for Algernon’, Keyes tells the story of Charlie Gordon, a young man in his early thirties who happens to suffer from a significant mental disability.

But Charlie has an obsession. He wants to be smart. He needs to become smart.

So he joins a new type of scientific experiment that, he hopes, will make him smart. And in becoming smart, Charlie learns how to speak better and how to write, through tens of progress reports he is asked to produce as time goes. In other words, the book describes Charlie’s great smart adventure.

The characters

‘Flowers for Algernon’ mainly turns around a handful of characters who turn out to be the few people Charlie actually interacts with.

The main character is of course Charlie. What a surprise, right? Charlie also has a mother named Rose, a complex and tortured person who adds one of the story’s complexity layers. Then come various doctors and scientists – including Dr Strauss and Professor Nemur – who scrutinise Charlie’s various progresses throughout. Alice is another key person to Charlie. She is a literature (sort of) teacher for mentally retarded adults and supports him in various ways. Not to forget the baker who looks after Charlie.

Oh, and Algernon is a rat. Because every experiment needs a rat for progress benchmarking, right?

The writing is genius

Having said all this, let’s be clear. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ is a great book because the author’s writing is absolutely fantastic.

The whole thing lies in the reports that Charlie is asked to write as part of the scientific experiment. Simply put, basic Charlie can’t write much but does his best. Here is a short abstract from one of the early progress reports:

“Progris riport 6th Mar 8”
“Im skared. Lots of pepul who werk at the collidge and the pepul at the medicil schoolcame to wish me luk. Burt the tester brot me some flowers he said they were from the pepul at the psych departmint. He wished me luk. I hope I have luk. I got y rabits foot and my luky penny and my horshoe. Dr Strauss said dont be so superstishus Charlie…’

The style is a little bit difficult at first (wait, that’s made on purpose) but it soon becomes addictive. The character is very touching and his need for smartness makes him very real, very sensible, very committed.

As the story evolves, of course, his style changes. Charlie gains in confidence and his style improves, changes dramatically. His thinking changes too, to become very sophisticated.

While the original Charlie used to work in a bakery doing simple tasks and being mocked by the smarter guys, the new Charlie supersedes most people.

I’m not saying more, you’ll have to find out by yourself. But as Charlie becomes smarter, he also gets hold of what life is usually about for most people. Being recognised and estimated by your close ones, especially your mom. Being (often) scared of what mean people can say, being careful about friends who tend not to be friends. There is also the issue of love and relationship, the idea of approaching girls, the difficulty of handling people, of not hurting people.

There is, finally, the bigger issue of jealousy. How can one deal with people’s reactions? How can you handle their anxiety, especially when you can feel that they somehow fear that you can provide something they don’t have access to?

A science and fiction thought leader, unquestionably.

All in all, the book has clearly made the author one of the greatest literature thought leaders of the last century. His writing gave him the style that has appealed to the masses. And the innovative story, or should I actually say the futuristic story, gave the book a completely unseen perspective.

Hence, Keyes can (in my opinion) be considered as one of the major literature thought leaders of the past decades, with deeply innovative authors such as Asimov who clearly thought, invented and elaborated stories so precise, so relevant and so anticipatory that unaware readers would believe they were written and published recently. In two words: practical anticipation, that not only thinks about what surprises the future might provide but also anticipates and considers the consequences of future revolutions, for real.


So, if you are interested in revolutionary books, this is one. ‘Flowers for Algernon’ is an absolute must-read and a total must-have, and a true example of how the art of thorough thinking can help anticipating and innovating like no others.

The story is captivating, the characters are touching, the book deals with existential issues that every single person has to face one day or another. And the writing. Well, the writing is simply fabulous. What more can I say to convince you? Oh, yes, the book has been sold by millions and the 1500 comments on Amazon go in the same direction. What are you waiting for?

Get Flowers for Algernon now!

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I am a thirty-something PhD and I read a lot. GreatBooks&Coffee is my books blog! Because nowadays most people never finish the books they buy, I am sharing my reading experiences to help you pick the right books you will want to read up to the last page!

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Posted by:Antoine Martin (PhD)

Hey there, I’m Antoine, I’m a 30-something PhD and I read a lot. Politics, society, technology, business, self-development, you name it! This is my food-for-thought blog, and I bet I’ll Make You Think SMART, one book at a time! Read smart, think smart!

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