Book review: Don't Be So Sensitive

A book cover featuring an illustrated man covering his ears with his hands and closing his eyes

STAMMA volunteer Bill McMillan reviews the autobiography 'Don't Be So Sensitive: Surviving a Broken Boyhood in a Foolish Era', by Daniel Kupfermann.

'Don't Be So Sensitive...' is a marvellous book. It's a well written — notably sad but often hilarious — no-holds-barred coming of age story that follows the life of a young boy born into a dysfunctional but fairly well-to-do family.

Kupfermann writes so well about his childhood. His mother was far too fond of alcohol and her third husband was an alcoholic who had no time for his stepson, whom he bullied relentlessly. He would often mock Kupfermann's stammer in front of others or say "Spit it out!".

This would be enough to give a growing boy enough issues to last a lifetime but there was a lot more to come. At 10 years old, Kupfermann received a severe shock when his mother and her husband left him in London to be looked after by his half brothers, both of whom he barely knew.

Kupfermann's pen portraits of his drunken mother and her equally drunken partner are well drawn and are sad but humorous. Even at a young age, he could sense things were not good for him. He refers to himself as a highly sensitive person (HSP) and his description of the characteristics of these types of people is superb. His mother avoided anything that would upset her and didn't address her son's worries, neither did his father, which is something I can relate to. 

To me, at any rate, it includes the fullest and clearest descriptions of stammering I have ever read, all written without a shred of self pity.

Being a bright lad in spite of everything, Kupfermann was sent to Dulwich college, a completely inappropriate area of London for a half-Jewish boy with a stammer. There he faced anti-semitism and stammering-related abuse on a daily basis, with no compassion from teachers — when he asked for help, the answer was "What can we do about it? Don't be so sensitive!". 

A whole chapter is devoted to his stammer, and I found it very, very powerful. To me, at any rate, it includes the fullest and clearest descriptions of stammering I have ever read, all written without a shred of self pity. One memorable phrase is "Stammering is when you are trying not to stammer. It's a cruel trick we play on ourselves". Then there's "The stammerer is not a worthless person but is one who is excessively mindful of others' reactions".

Sadly, but not surprisingly, Kupfermann himself took to alcohol at age 20, falling into depression and loneliness around the time his father, a quiet man who the author describes as an extremely sensitive person, committed suicide. Kupfermann was seldom sober for many years but gradually came to his senses, realising that "My love affair with drink stemmed from my fear of speaking".

There's a great deal about stammering in the book after his alcohol period, particularly centred on his time volunteering for the Association for Stammerers (which became the British Stammering Association and then STAMMA). He liked it there, made friends and talks about the help he got simply by being surrounded by people who stammer. It seems Kupfermann doesn't have much truck with therapy and says the best thing that came out of that period was realising he should stop trying to aim for fluency but just accept he had a stammer (which was NOT easy).

There is much, much more to the book and even without the stammering part it is a very good read. As I said, I have never read a clearer description of stammering and the inner turmoil it brings, something most stammerers can relate to.

Kupfermann has thankfully settled down and now lives in Bulgaria with his wife and two sons. I wish him well and I cannot rate his book highly enough.

'Don't Be So Sensitive: Surviving a Broken Boyhood in a Foolish Era' by Daniel Kupfermann is available to buy now on paperback and Kindle from Amazon.

Thank you very much to Bill McMillan for reviewing this book for STAMMA. If you would like to become a volunteer reviewer, pleas email 

Read more book and theatre reviews.

Two women in running outfits holding flags and looking at the camera
Tayo & Bhupinder
A speaker on stage at STAMMAFest 2023

Become a member

It's free

Join the movement to change how people understand and react to stammering.

Sign up

Campaign. Fundraise. Connect. Meet. Vote. Talk.