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The Last of His Mind
A Year in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s

By John Thorndike

ForeWord Book of the Year Award winner · A Publishers Weekly “Indie Top 20”  · The Washington Post: A Best Book of 2009 · 2010 Ohioana Book Award Finalist

“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

“Written in a journal-like style, The Last of His Mind is an insightful, forthright and open-hearted dive into the ravages of rapid onset dementia…. One of the shining glories of this moving father-son portrait is that it squashes the fear conjured by Alzheimer’s and shows us how the debilitating process suffered by a loved one can be accepted and embraced.”

Kassie Rose, The Longest Chapter

“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.”

Washington Post Book World

“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

NEW EDITIONS AVAILABLE: Paperback ISBN 978–0804012362 / Electronic ISBN 978–0804041201

Joe Thorndike was managing editor of Life at the height of its popularity immediately following World War II. He was the founder of American Heritage and Horizon magazines, the author of three books, and the editor of a dozen more. But at age 92, in the space of six months he stopped reading or writing or carrying on detailed conversations. He could no longer tell time or make a phone call. He was convinced that the governor of Massachusetts had come to visit and was in the refrigerator.

Five million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s, and like many of them, Joe Thorndike’s one great desire was to remain in his own house. To honor his wish, his son John left his own home and moved into his father’s upstairs bedroom on Cape Cod. For a year, in a house filled with file cabinets, photos, and letters, John explored his father’s mind, his parents’ divorce, and his mother’s secrets. The Last of His Mind is the bittersweet account of a son’s final year with his father, and a candid portrait of an implacable disease.

It’s the ordeal of Alzheimer’s that draws father and son close, closer than they have been since John was a boy. At the end, when Joe’s heart stops beating, John’s hand is on his chest, and a story of painful decline has become a portrait of deep family ties, caregiving, and love.

John Thorndike is the author of three novels: Anna Delaney’s Child, The Potato Baron, and A Hundred Fires in Cuba, as well as a previous memoir, Another Way Home. He lives in Athens, Ohio.   More info →


Ch. 1: “December”

This is an old edition of The Last of His Mind. To order this book, please see our newest edition.
Cover of The Last of His Mind

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Retail price: $35.00, S.
Release date: September 2009
256 pages · 5¼ × 8¼ in.
Rights:  World


Additional Praise for The Last of His Mind

“(O)ne has to admire the honesty of the author who sets forth all his feelings, whatever light they may shine on his character…. One comes away from this book impressed by the author’s devotion to his father, and the art he displays in organizing and writing this poignant memoir.”

Ohioana Quarterly

“Thorndike combines an elegant, expressive prose line with an unsparing honesty and a willingness to plumb the depths of his experiences—even those that are frightening or ugly.”


“What's unusual about this memoir is that it is written by a man describing his experience caring for his father. It’s also exceptionally well-written, making it stand out from the pack of memoirs that often are written as part of a personal process of healing by a caregiver.”

Growth House

“John Thorndike’s wrenching, detailed and affecting memoir chronicling the year he cared for his Alzheimer’s-beset father is at its core a story about touch…. Readers will respond to the touch of his daring, deft embrace.”

America: The National Catholic Weekly

“Time and again, the author proves to us that he possesses the rarest and most readable of qualities, true empathy.”

Stone’s Throw Magazine

“John Thorndike’s memoir is a wonderfully detailed episodic account of his father’s ordeal with Alzheimer’s…. an honest and powerful portrayal of the effects of the combination of old age and Alzheimer’s disease and the love between a son and his father.”

ForeWord Reviews

“The value of this book is in its engagement with the demon, bringing it to recognizable size and letting us know how one man met his father’s diminishing abilities. The fact that his father had abilities of considerable strength is important. The loss is not trivial, and the contrast between then and now is immense.”

Cincinnati CityBeat

“(A) harrowing, quietly moving account of the last year of Joe Thorndike’s life, and the discoveries of his son.”

The Athens News

“(Thorndike‘s) journey is recounted with great descriptive power and compassion.”

Cape Cod Times

“One would not think a book about Alzheimer’s disease could be so lovely and inspiring, heart-warming even, but John Thorndike’s The Last of His Mind somehow manages to be all that…. The Last of His Mind proves an enlightening, profound, beautifully written book about an ugly subject.”

Mansfield News Journal

“The frankness of this haunting memoir is totally disarming. Thorndike addresses the banalities and small tragedies that attend the great event of a lifetime with an unblinking eye. Told in his luminously clear prose, the plain story of the unraveling of a mind and a life find its way into the heart like our own blood. An important, beautiful book.”

Henry Shukman, author of The Lost City

The Last of His Mind is 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. Not only has Thorndike performed this task with admirable composure, delineating honestly the feelings of conflict and affection aroused, but he has written about the process with humility and grace.”

Nancy Mairs, author of A Dynamic God: Living an Unconventional Catholic Faith

“What could have been a sad journey down a cul-de-sac becomes, in John Thorndike's hands, a gorgeous, expansive book about families—particularly fathers and sons—about marriage, and about the influences that form us and against which we rebel. As Thorndike is a sensualist, The Last of His Mind is also about touch, a little-considered side of those relationships. I found myself thinking about my own father and son throughout, but most of all I found myself unexpectedly caring a lot about old Joe Thorndike, and grateful for the words of the son as the father’s slipped away.”

Ted Conover, author of Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing and Coyotes

“This book tells a hard story, the relentless decline of a father's memory and self-awareness. 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, Writing Down the Bones

“In The Last of his Mind, John Thorndike has given us far more than a book on dealing with Alzheimer’s. This taut, clear-eyed memoir of a son caring for his father in his final days is an act of consummate literary bravery, allowing us to witness the final dance between two flawed and admirable men.”

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. Yet Thorndike also conveys the humor and joy, the contemplation and compassion, and the reconciliation and healing that were part of this journey. The result: The Last of His Mind is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming.”

Lady Borton, author of After Sorrow: An American Among the Vietnamese

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