An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales

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Overview

Neurological patients, Oliver Sacks once wrote, are travellers to unimaginable lands. An Anthropologist on Mars offers portraits of seven such travellers - including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's syndrome unless he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who cannot decipher the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive ...
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Overview

Neurological patients, Oliver Sacks once wrote, are travellers to unimaginable lands. An Anthropologist on Mars offers portraits of seven such travellers - including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's syndrome unless he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who cannot decipher the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior. These are paradoxical tales, for neurological disease can conduct one to other modes of being that - however abnormal they may be to our way of thinking - may develop virtues and beauties of their own. The exploration of these individual lives is not one that can be made in a consulting room or office, and Sacks has taken off his white coat and deserted the hospital, by and large, to join his subjects in their own environments. He feels, he says, in part like a neuroanthropologist, but most of all like a physician, called here and there to make house calls, house calls at the far border of experience. Along the way, he shows us a new perspective on the way our brains construct our individual worlds. In his lucid and compelling reconstructions of the mental acts we take for granted - the act of seeing, the transport of memory, the notion of color - Oliver Sacks provokes anew a sense of wonder at who we are.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Among doctors who write with acuity and grace, Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) takes a higher place with each successive book. In this provocative collection of previously published essays, the noted neurologist describes his meetings with seven people whose ``abnormalities'' in brain function generate new perspectives on the workings of that organ, the nature of experience and concepts of personality and consciousness. ``It's not gentle,'' notes Canadian surgeon Carl Bennett of Tourette's syndrome; Bennett's compulsive lungings, tics and speech patterns are stilled when he is in the operating room and moderated, Sacks observes firsthand from the passenger seat, while Bennett is flying his Cessna Cardinal. The broad effects and differing degrees of autism are probed in his conversations and observations, over many years, with Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic British artist-prodigy, and his visit with Temple Grandin, an animal behavior specialist. Writing with eloquent particularity and compassionate respect, Sacks enlarges our view of the nature of human experience. Illustrations. 100,000 first printing; BOMC selection; author tour; Random House AudioBook (ISBN 0-679-43956-0, $17). (Feb.)
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Paradoxical portraits of seven neurological patients, including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's syndrome unless he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds new creative power in black & white; others.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781480530386
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 6/28/2013
  • Format: CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 6.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks
Awakenings author and famed neurologist Oliver Sacks once described the secret to his signature style: "For me, writing and medicine, writing and science, are not separate: they entail each other."

Biography

"I think writing and language are not just to articulate or communicate, but they are also to investigate," the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks once said. "For me, writing and medicine, writing and science, are not separate: they entail each other." Sacks grew up in a large and prodigiously gifted family of scientists; with their encouragement, he set up his own chemistry lab and spent his days in a swirl of sulfurous fumes and smoke. He was also fascinated by biographies, and spent hours poring over the lives of great scientists like Dmitri Mendeleev, Humphrey Davy,and Marie Curie. When the chaos of World War II and traumatic experiences at boarding school intruded on the "lyrical, mystical perceptions" of Sacks' childhood, he clung to scientific knowledge as a means of ordering and understanding the universe.

After his medical training at Oxford, Sacks migrated to the States to pursue a career in neurology research. But he made a clumsy lab researcher. "I was always dropping things or breaking things," he explained in a lecture, "and eventually they said: 'Get out! Go work with patients. They're less important.'" Sacks went to work at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, where he was struck by the sight of patients who had survived encephalitis lethargica, the "sleeping sickness." The patients were nearly immobile, but the nurses who cared for them insisted that there were living personalities behind the frozen masks, and Sacks believed the nurses. The story of his work with these patients is told in Sacks' 1973 book Awakenings, which inspired a movie starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro and also formed the basis of a play by Harold Pinter.

But Sacks is perhaps best known for his collections of case histories (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars et al.), which probe the experiences of people with disorders and rare neurological conditions. In telling their stories, he often questions our assumptions about the nature of human consciousness. Part what distinguishes Sacks' work from the traditional case study is his interest in how a patient functions with a disorder, not just how he or she is impaired by it.

Sacks has also drawn on personal experience for wonderfully resonant scientific memoirs that recall his remarkable family, people who have influenced and inspired him, and his lifelong love of medicine and physical science. Meanwhile, he continues to work with patients, to understand them through writing about them, and to point his readers toward new ways of understanding themselves. As Thomas P. Sakmar, interim president of Rockefeller University, said in awarding Sacks the Lewis Thomas Prize: "Sacks presses us to follow him into uncharted regions of human experience -- and compels us to realize, once there, that we are confronting only ourselves."

Good To Know

As a child, Sacks was fascinated by the periodic table of the elements at the Science Museum in London. His boyhood love of chemistry hasn't waned: according to an article in Wired, Sacks owns half a dozen T-shirts with the periodic table printed on them, along with periodic-table coffee mugs, tote bags and mousepads.

Sacks's memoir Uncle Tungsten inspired the creation of Theodore Gray's Periodic Table Table, a wooden table representing Mendeleev's table of the elements and containing samples of each element. Sacks later paid a visit to see the Periodic Table Table -- wearing, of course, one of his periodic-table T-shirts.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      B.M., B.Ch., Queen's College, Oxford, 1958

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface
The Case of the Colorblind Painter 3
The Last Hippie 42
A Surgeon's Life 77
To See and Not See 108
The Landscape of His Dreams 153
Prodigies 188
An Anthropologist on Mars 244
Selected Bibliography 297
References 305
Index 317
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Customer Reviews

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