Book review "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes


Hi, I’m Jinta from Japan. This time I am writing a review of the science fiction novel “Flowers for Algernon” by American author Daniel Keyes.

When you hear the term “Science Fiction novel,” you may get the impression that it is a novel about the distant future or the universe, but that is not the subject of this book. The science part is medicine, and the spotlight is on brain surgery in clinical trials.

The main character, Charlie, who is mentally handicapped, underwent this brain surgery as a clinical trial. The goal was, of course, to improve brain function. How does this change Charlie’s life and what does he feel in this transition?

After reading the book, here are my thoughts. (I will try not to give away any essential spoilers.)

Book review "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes



Story Outline

The main character, Charlie Gordon, is a mentally handicapped person who was born with an inability to read and write, as well as a memory impairment. Charlie is already 32 years old, but at the recommendation of his school teacher, researcher, and doctor, he undergoes brain surgery. It was a major project for the researchers to apply it to humans for the first time, as the surgery had been successfully performed on laboratory mice (Algernon) beforehand.

The book is told in the form of a reader’s reading of Charlie’s diary. Through his diary, Charlie documents how his IQ increased and his life changed as a result of the surgery.

As the surgery took effect, Charlie’s intelligence developed and improved significantly. His abilities would surpass even the intelligence of the doctors who designed his transformation. He acquires multiple languages and is even able to write papers on the progress of his brain function.

On the other hand, Algernon’s (a laboratory mouse) remarkable intelligence, the result of the surgery, gradually began to decline. Will the same decline occur in Charlie, a human being? What will Charlie and the people around him think as the trial progresses?

Thoughts on reading

I felt that there are two issues that this novel poses to the reader. The first is the issue of “ethics” and the second is the issue of life “what is happiness?”.


Needless to say, the question of “ethics” is one that is common to modern science and technology: while we accept the development of artificial science and medicine, is it permissible to allow it to exceed natural phenomena? Charlie’s brain surgery clearly changed his life.

Moreover, the surgery has raised Charlie’s level of intelligence beyond that of a doctor or researcher. What does it mean to nature and to man that artificial surgery can produce a higher level of intelligence?

It is not only a physical (hard) change, but also a soft change in the human personality. It is difficult to say that this surgery is natural, but it seems to me that the scientific development we are striving for every day means the same thing.


The second is the question of what happiness means to humans. As Charlie’s intelligence increases, so does his suffering. Knowing more and more information may seem like a good thing, but is it?

For example, Charlie learns that laughing is not only an emotional expression of joy or happiness. When you see the sentence, “Everyone laughed at me,” what kind of situation do you think of? In this case, the situation would be “I was made fun of”. Charlie realizes that the people who were laughing at him were not happy, but rather making fun of him. Charlie learns to read the subtleties of other people’s facial expressions and words, but this gradually causes him to lose his “sense of happiness”.

On the other hand, there are some gains. Charlie also has experience in satisfying his intellectual curiosity and in falling in love.


In the above, we have picked up a few scenes from Charlie’s diary. In this novel, Charlie’s diary, kept before his brain surgery, describes his daily new experiences and feelings, and as the reader feels each event as it applies to us, we gradually become more and more emotionally involved with Charlie.  You will find yourself reading one after another, wondering what will happen the next day in his diary. 

How does the friendship between Charlie and Algernon take shape? What does the “Flowers” in the novel’s title mean? Through Charlie’s diary, this is a very interesting work that makes us think about the relationship between intelligence and emotion, and the purpose of life.



In this issue, I have written about my reading of the science fiction novel “Flowers for Algernon” by American author Daniel Keyes. This is a masterpiece that won numerous awards and made the whole world weep. What do you feel through Charlie Gordon’s rare life? It is a deeply moving work that is innovative in that it is composed of Charlie’s diary and gradually draws you into the story.


These books are also recommended.

Book Review “Tuesdays with Morrie” / Breaking free from stereotypes.

Book Review 『The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto (Mitch Albom)』