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Paperback The Diagnosis Book

ISBN: 0375725504

ISBN13: 9780375725500

The Diagnosis

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Book Overview

From the bestselling author of Einstein's Dreams comes this harrowing tale of one man's struggle to cope in a wired world, even as his own biological wiring short-circuits. As Boston's Red Line shuttles Bill Chalmers to work one summer morning, something extraordinary happens. Suddenly, he can't remember which stop is his, where he works, or even who he is. The only thing he can remember is his corporate motto: the maximum information in the minimum...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

a disturbing masterpiece

A profoundly beautiful book of masterful detail and nuance, "The Diagnosis" is nonethless painful and disturbing in its relentless candor about the absurdities of modern life. The mental and physical decline of Bill Chalmers and his world is haunting in its vivid sadness. Alan Lightman is a masterful writer of the greatest skill. This is a truly memorable book.

Lightman sees the light

This is a rare accomplishment indeed. A surreal, at times mystical, revelation of modern times. A man witnesses his growing helplessness within the framework of a society which not only fails to discover his "illness," but is smug, self-satisfied, and all but divorced from their own humanity. Lightman's visual portrayals and his incredibly delicate imagery are profound indications of his sensitivity to the dehumanizing influences that surround us. He has no quick fixes, even though in one passage his character, Bill Chalmers, strikes out at the crass materialism which tempts his teen-age son. This is far from being an unrealized novel--it is most certainly one of the most honest and cogent portraits of our society that I have read.

The unexamined life is hardly worth living.

I received this book as a Christmas present and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you like Don DeLillo (White Noise), you'll love Lightman's new style. In contrast to the rarefied atmosphere of his highly successful Einstein's Dreams, Lightman's Diagnosis is pulsing with blood, sweat, tears and laughter. Long story short, this is a darkly humorous look at our modern predicament, a view that reminds us of the wisdom of that ancient philosopher, Socrates, who warned us that the unexamined life is hardly worth living. And so it is with the main character of the story, Bill Chalmers, whose desperate need for a proper diagnosis is thwarted by modern forces so common in our lives - office politics, urban inhumanity, suburban paranoia, and at every turn a technology that precludes with ubiquitous urgency any chance of our snatching a single moment for much needed contemplation. Overwhelmed by an environment of cell phones and the complex systems that make our modern lives possible, the main character temporarily loses his mind. By itself, the early scene of his going insane in the Boston subway is well worth the price of admission. The main character's own failings resonate with the failings of the very institutions that are in place, theoretically, to save his sanity - his doctors, his therapist, even man's best friend, his family's pedigree dog, nothing seems to provide much help. Only his young son seems to be reaching out with any real line back to life. By reading to his (by now) crippled father some scenes from the death of Socrates, the son provides the only clue to the source of his father's bizarre deterioration. Yet, despite his son's (unconscious?) efforts to impart some ancient wisdom, Bill Chalmers asymptotically approaches a platonic pinpoint in the backwater of his brain, a sense-less isolation, confinement to a bedroom bedazzled with strange artwork, shadowy images on the walls and floor. Can such a collapse lead to revelation, a look beyond the shadows of our modern cave? Can a paralysis of this sort lead to the self examination necessary for psychological salvation? Read Lightman's Diagnosis of our society and decide for yourself.

The Dialectics of Knowing

This is a very important book. When 2100 comes along and people want to know what the turn of the century was like, this is the book that people will recommend. This book is at once funny, insightful and deeply moving. While a wonderful novel, it is essentailly a meditation on our obsession with knowing and the limits of knowing. While the characters are bombarded with information and information devices what is most important escapes them all. To underscore the tension between knowing and not knowing is the story of Anytus the Athenian general who desperately wants to kill Socrates, and succeeds. Socrates whose claim to wisdom was that he knew he did not know,was too dangerous to the youth of Athens and had to be destroyed. Anytus and his son were estranged. The characters in the main story are as well, yet they clumsily seem to love each other. I'm not sure they know this either. This book will make you think and think again.

Changing Nature of the American Dream

It could happen to anybody, anytime, anywhere. You take the same train to the office as you have done every working day for the past nine years. Then suddenly you lose it. Your mind becomes a blank. You cannot remember which stop to get off at, or even where you work. Then the panic attack starts. You begin to sweat, imagining all the other commuters are looking at you. Finally reduced to a gibbering, naked wreck crouched on the floor of the train carriage, you are escorted by police out of the station to the nearest psychiatric hospital. What happens next to Bill Chalmers, the protagonist of Alan Lightman's brilliant new novel, is even more frightening. Mistaken for a worthless vagrant headcase, he is subjected to illegal, invasive experiments, from which his brain emerges irreparably altered. He escapes, only to be mugged. Somehow he finds his way back home and picks up the pieces of his life, his experiences a fractured, elusive memory. Like Lester Burnham in the film American Beauty, Chalmers goes into free fall from society as he knows it. Unlike Burnham, he is not given a chance to re-invent himself. He has it all, or so he thinks: nice house in an affluent area of Boston, swish car, good job, loving family. But the price of his success means communicating with his son via e-mail - even when they are both home. It also means long hours at the office, which pushes his wife into a cyber love affair. The similarities to American Beauty don't end there, though Lightman adds an unusual twist by cleverly working into the story the fate of Greek philosopher Socrates, a paragon of virtue in a corrupt society. Chalmers loses his job as he degenerates physically and mentally, but comes to realise there is more to life than trying to live the dream. This is a dark story about the erosion of moral values and the high cost individuals pay for information overload in the workplace today. Erudite and philosophical, Lightman is also a skilful storyteller who captures the reader's attention from the opening paragraph. Provocative and challenging, The Diagnosis shows the fallibility of humans in the pursuit of greed and ambition. Socrates reasoned that to "know thyself" was the key to existence in society. For Bill Chalmers, it's a voyage of discovery that proves to be a tragedy waiting to happen.
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