Review — THE LAST OF HIS MIND by John Thorndike (El Salvador)



The Last of His Mind: A Year In The Shadow Of Alzheimer’s
by John Thorndike (El Salvador 1966-68)
Swallow Press
264 pages
$18.82 (paperback), $27.94 (hardcover), $7.99 (Kindle)

Reviewed by: D.W. Jefferson (El Salvador 1974–76; Costa Rica 1976–77)

This is a moving story of a son’s devotion to his dying father who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. His determination to help his father fulfill his desire to die at home is admirable. Of interest as well is the author’s recounting of the details of how he arranged for others, including his two brothers, to spell him, giving him needed breaks from his around the clock care for his father.

Beyond being a memoir of spending his father’s last year caring for him, the book also covers much of the elder Thorndike’s professional life, marriage, and personal life. It also discusses the author’s raising of his son as a single parent.

One thing the author does not discuss is his time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in El Salvador. He does mention spending two years in Chile with his Salvadoran wife immediately after Peace Corps, but as a Peace Corps El Salvador Volunteer myself, I would have enjoyed hearing about his time in El Salvador (Just a selfish wish on my part.).

This is the second, expanded edition of Thorndike’s book. It includes an introduction that gives the reader a great deal of background information about Alzheimer’s and the current state of research and treatment of this condition.

The author recognizes that many care givers face more difficult challenges than he did: “Yes, I gave up most of my life for a year. But when I moved into my dad’s house, he was ninety-one and frail. Millions of caregivers are looking after dementia patients who might live for five more years, for ten, for fifteen.”

This book is especially valuable for anyone facing a situation similar to that faced by John Thorndike and his father. As someone who has experienced dementia in my family, and is at risk of it myself, I have found the book invaluable.

Reviewer Dean Jefferson was a Peace Corps agriculture volunteer in El Salvador (1974-76) and Costa Rica (1976-77). A blog about his Peace Corps years is at  He is currently retired from a career in computer software engineering.


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  • I’ve now read three books by John Thorndike in as many months: THE WORLD AGAINST HER SKIN, A HUNDRED FIRES IN CUBA, and ANOTHER WAY HOME: A SINGLE FATHER’S STORY. I’m hooked on his work. So, I guess THE LAST OF HIS MIND is the next on my list for November.

  • I connected with the author through a shared appreciation of the author of Living Poor, Moritz Thomsen. He also reviewed Thomsen’s book Bad News from a Black Coast, and it was so good I asked to include it in a novel I’m working on about the influence of Moritz Thomsen on other writers, and he agreed.

    I reviewed “The World Against Her Skin,” which was a challenge as the author writes about things I don’t even think about—touchy things like his mother’s addictions and sexuality but in an understated and elegant way.

    But it was definitely worth the effort, and as someone who also moved around Latin America, it was a joy to follow him on his journey. I’m definitely a fan as well.

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