Book Review: Psychobiography of a Systemiser

Being a somewhat simple soul, the title of this book would have usually put me off. However, having read a previous book by this author, I was intrigued to read this one. Philip Wylie had always felt “different”, but didn’t really understand why until a late diagnosis of Aspergers syndrome made everything fall into place. Far from being a relief, this was a traumatic label for Philip to find himself with, and led to a breakdown.

This book is all you would expect of a “systemiser”, and so much more. There are many lists. In amongst the lists there is also much humour (for example, in a list of how to pass exams the final item is “If your school or educational institution is situated outside Cambodia, do not attach bank notes to your examination questions, otherwise you may be charged with bribery”.)

The book allows Philip to take the reader in a guided tour of his life, his relationships, his family, his work and his thoughts. It is an international story with many twists and turns and seems, at times, larger than life, and proves the saying that truth can be stranger than fiction. For example the time when Philip finally realised that his father approved of genocide (from his reaction to watching the film Schindler’s List and declaring whilst watching the killing of Jews, “That’s the way it should be done”.). Or the time when a Muslim girlfriend disappeared and Philip threatened with death if he tried to find her (and her reappearance having been married off, changing her into a somewhat arrogant character).

We follow Philip from a period of consulting in the Middle East to a time in Norway where he learned the joys of fatherhood. Except the joys were marred by the nature of his relationship with the mother of his daughters, and how he had been coerced into fatherhood. His love for his daughters is very genuine, and he was clearly distraught by being unable to be the father he wanted to be. Whilst he felt his own parents had been emotionally unavailable to him, he succeeded in being emotionally available to his own daughters, even whilst often living in different countries.

A myriad of problems bombarded Philip simultaneously – false allegations about abusing his daughter, financial hardship, problems finding work – and the cloud of depression was never far away. There are some fascinating tales about money laundering, Russian business and the Mafia. In amongst these are discoveries around healing, holistic medicine and psychology.

The book goes on to explore the links between Darwinism, psychiatry and Eugenics. The baffling truth about Philip’s family emerges, including lies perpetrated by his father about being a member of the aristocracy. It’s an easy book to read because the reader is drawn in and motivated to see what happens next. But a difficult book to read because the consequences of abuse, narcissism, lies, combined with the late and devastating (for Philip) diagnosis of Aspergers is heart rending.

If you wish to know the full story, you will need to buy the book (here), but one of the upsides of Philip’s rollercoaster life is that he created a developmental model for late diagnosis of Aspergers known as the Nine Degrees of Autism. This is described as his “legacy”, however I have a feeling that Philip, through systemising his own extraordinary life, still has much left to teach us.

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