In Hyper: A Personal History of ADHD, author Timothy Denevi writes, “One of my goals, here, has been to examine the mountains of material on ADHD from the point of view of a patient; to retell a narrative that in the past has been the exclusive province of the people prescribing, as opposed to the people receiving, treatment.” After finishing this riveting and monumental book, I’m happy to report that Denevi has achieved his goal.
There’s something spectacularly eerie about the juxtaposition of Denevi’s story and the larger cultural discussion of the condition we now call Attention DefIcit Hyperactivity Disorder. Denevi takes us back to early-19th-century discussions about hyperactive children, which largely decried their behavior as a moral failure and a byproduct of bad parenting. From there, we see how our understanding of the condition was shaped and reshaped by prevailing psychological paradigms.
Denevi experienced this with his doctors. Some wanted to talk it out. Others were quick to prescribe drugs. Through it all, the author emerges as a fully human and sympathetic subject. His early childhood recollections of participating in research studies at Stanford are as heartbreaking as his positive relationship with his second grade teacher is cheer-inducing. As Denevi bumped around between schools and classrooms, conflicts and obsessions, we see how his parents sided with him every step of the way.
The book becomes more engrossing when Denevi reaches high school, a competitive all-boy’s environment where he finds a duo of like-minded friends, and sets the unlikely goal of attending college. There’s much to be learned in this book about ADHD, about pushing boundaries and respecting them, about parenting, and about the special kind of triumph that can come as a result of hard-earned self-knowledge. Denevi has written a book about a condition that has been studied for a long time, but, truly, it hasn’t been talked about like this.