I won't lie, I saw how thick this book was and over the years I hesitated as to whether I should read it. Sometimes books like this can be a bit too much for me: the sciences/medicine is not my strength and I wondered if maybe my background in these areas was not at all up to snuff. I am happy to say that I was very wrong and this book was far more approachable than I thought it would be.
Author Silberman takes the reader through the stories of autism. How it was discovered, how patients were treated in history, how modern day families cope, how research, organizations, etc all developed, etc. It's an interesting look at what a family goes through, what science/medicine has said and done, how autism is viewed in the media and so forth. As someone who had about zilch knowledge about any of this I found myself reading only a few chapters a night because of both real life commitments and wanting to sit and absorb the stories Silberman tells.
That said, the book is not without problems. As someone who is (I believe) not on the spectrum as with little experience with it, I'm not sure how to rate the book. I'd read the negative reviews and take everything (the reviews and the book) with a grain of salt. I personally thought it was a good primer but of course should not be the only book one reads on this subject. Sometimes his writing can be quite riveting and interesting but not everyone is going to want to know the minute details of what a researcher went through.
However, there are bits of those stories that might seem like they're really off-topic but perhaps not so much. The stories of how the "feeble-minded" and how they were treated were awful and the discussions of what some of the researchers went through in order to escape Nazi Germany were harrowing reads. This ended up being highly relevant and topical of a read although I can understand why some people wouldn't care for this information or see it as extraneous.
Overall, though, I'd recommend it. It somewhat reminded me of 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' in that it had a heavy focus on the people and was not as technical as I had thought they would be. Some chapters and sections are quite tedious and weren't as interesting as others but I think this would be a great read if you've got a long journey and need something to occupy your time. I suppose my final writing is a 3.5 but I'm bumping it up.
I bought this one as a bargain book which was right for me. I would expect you could easily find it readily available at the library or as a used book. At $19 USD it might be a bit expensive as a purchase but might be worth it for research or if it's a book you might set aside for long periods of time.