John Thorndike | The Last of His Mind |

The Last of His Mind by John Thorndike


My father, Joe Thorndike, was an independent New Englander, once the managing editor of Life and the founder of American Heritage and Horizon magazines. At 91, his one great desire was to remain in his own house, even as memory and language deserted him. He had once told me, after a visit to an old friend in a nursing home, “Don’t ever put me in a place like that.” So at the start of 2005, to allow him to stay at home, I left Ohio and moved into his house on Cape Cod. Slowly, in the months that followed, he lost the ability to carry on a conversation, to read a clock, to remember that his pants went on over his underwear.

His Alzheimer’s grew worse. Sometimes he confused day with night. This reserved and courteous man, who had written three books and edited dozens more, now forgot that he had a toilet and used the floor instead—or sometimes the water glass on his bedside table. It was a hard and troubling year. The book is grounded in my father’s decline, but my own memories often sweep in, allowing for a kind of impressionistic biography. Sometimes our days were so small I thought I’d come out of my skin. Other times I could see my father as a tragic figure, someone like Milton’s “blind giant,” now bereft of his youthful powers. The more he fell apart, the closer we grew, in ways that didn’t depend on words and memory.



The Washington Post: A Best Book of 2009

ForeWord Reviews: Best Book of the Year in Autobiography/Memoir

Publishers Weekly: An Indie Top 20

Ohioana: Book Award Finalist for 2010



In this engrossing memoir, author Thorndike tells a touching story of family, death, discovery and devotion… A beautiful book, this memoir reveals the painful chaos of Alzheimer’s, as well as the strength, faith and unexpected joys that come with caring for a loved one in his last days. —Publishers Weekly (Starred review)

A poignant memoir…dreadful and tender. –The Cleveland Plain Dealer

A brave, moving story of a son’s devotion to his dying father… Thorndike’s prose is serenely beautiful and his patience in caring for an Alzheimer’s patient is extremely admirable. An affecting work of emotional honesty and forgiveness. —Kirkus Reviews

The first few pages of The Last of His Mind are dynamite, in their quiet way. They open up a world that, if you’ve known it and lived in it, conks you on the head, bashes your memory, brings it all back in a rush. . . . This memoir is far too elegantly written to ever state it directly, but the reader is made aware of the high honor involved: The author honors his father in the most profound way and is blessed, in turn, by participating in the most taxing event in his father’s life. —The Washington Post

“A gorgeous, expansive book about families—particularly fathers and sons—about marriage, and about the influences that form us and against which we rebel.” —Ted Conover, author of Newjack, Coyotes, and The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today

“John Thorndike writes a beautiful sentence, a beautiful page, and describes his father’s last year with piercing clarity, but also great warmth. He opens a world we will all have to face.” —Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, Wild Mind, and Old Friend From Far Away

“This taut, clearp-eyed memoir of a son caring for his father in his final days is an act of consummate literary bravery.” —Rob Wilder, author of Daddy Needs a Drink and Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge

“Here in detail is a story we fear for our loved ones, a story we fear for ourselves… The Last of His Mind is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.” —Lady Borton, author of After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese

“A really important book: A Baedeker for a generation who,as people live longer and longer, find themselves on a journey they never dreamed of and so never prepared for, caring for elderly parents with deteriorating health and dwindling mental faculties.” —Nancy Mairs, author of Remembering the Bone House, Waist-High in the World, and A Troubled Guest: Life and Death Stories

Excerpts from The Last of His Mind.

You can buy the book from an independent bookstore near you

from Swallow Press

or from Amazon