The Barnes & Noble Review
This marvelous autobiographical tale is more about chemistry than the day-to-day doings of its subject, and that may be what gives it its considerable charm.
Evacuated from wartime London at the age of six, Sacks spent four years at a boarding school in the country, where he suffered deeply from neglect and the sadistic cruelty of the headmaster. What sustained him was a budding scientific sensibility, which distracted him from his own misery and focused his gaze on the immutable and minute mysteries of the natural world. After he was returned home, this incipient passion blossomed into a full-blown obsession with chemistry. And here the adventure begins.
Sacks writes: "My first taste was for the spectacular -- the frothings, the incandescences, the stinks and the bangs, which almost define a first entry into chemistry." With a few key texts in hand, the smitten boy sets out systematically to perform for himself all the experiments they describe, determined to live the history of chemistry in himself. He shares that history with us, from Lavoisier's conquest over phlogiston to Davy's elegant dissection of compounds by electrolysis to Dalton's stubborn insistence on the existence of the atom, which inspires in him "a sort of rapture, thinking that the mysterious proportionalities and numbers one saw on a gross scale in the lab might reflect an invisible, infinitesimal, inner world of atoms, dancing, touching, attracting, and combining" -- a glorious epiphany that every lover of chemistry gets to experience for himself.
Sacks is encouraged in his chemical pursuits by a cast of eccentric family members, each with his or her own brand of scientific obsession. The best is Uncle Dave, affectionately dubbed Uncle Tungsten, for he lives and breathes that versatile metal. Oddly, Sacks was not destined to become a chemist. For some reason never fully understood, he and his first love parted ways when he was about 14 or 15, and he ultimately went on to become a renowned neurologist. Nevertheless, we can take solace in knowing that the life-affirming intellectual passion that chemistry imparted to him was not to be wasted. (Amy Bianco)
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IntroductionA master at creating compassionate drama from the uncanny dysfunctions of the brain, Dr. Sacks is a world-renowned neurologist, humanist and best selling author of astonishing case histories.
Patients who are suddenly awakened after 40 years in a catatonic trance. A student whose drug use left him recognizing loved ones only by smell. An autistic Ph.D. who cannot perceive the simplest human emotions but prefers the mechanical "hug" of her squeeze machine. These are the real people who have become unforgettable characters in the life and works of Dr. Oliver Sacks.
In 1966, he first encountered the survivors of the great epidemic of sleeping sickness, which had killed millions in the 1920':s. With his administration of the new drug L-DOPA, he saw these patients - frozen for decades - awaken with "an explosive quality, as of corks released from a great depth." His bestselling book about their experiences, Awakenings, inspired Harold Pinter':s play, A Kind of Alaska (produced both in London and New York) and the Penny Marshall film Awakenings, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.
The bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat brought Sacks': work to even greater public attention with heartbreaking and inspiring tales of patients with perceptions remarkably altered by various neurological conditions. It was adapted into a play by Peter Brook and an opera by Michael Nyman, both produced worldwide.
"Oliver Sacks was truly wonderful. I was amazed that he could communicate so intimately with an audience of 800 people, which he did, and still talk so thoughtfully and intelligently about creativity, providing every person with something to think about."
Oklahoma Scholar-Leadership Enrichment Program
His more recent works include The Island of the Colorblind, which combines his fascination with medical mysteries with his love of botany and South Seas travel; and An Anthropologist on Mars, a collection of clinical tales. One of these tales inspired the feature film At First Sight, starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino. A multi-part BBC-TV series Oliver Sacks: The Mind Traveler, was featured in the United States on PBS.
In the fall of 2001, Dr. Sacks will publish Uncle Tungsten: Memories of A Chemical Boyhood, in which he looks back at his childhood in wartime London, revealing his boyhood love of chemistry as the source of his life long scientific curiosity. He is a member of the faculty at New York University Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.
Sacks celebrates the humanity of those whose minds are imprisoned by a different consciousness and applauds "the freedom and potential of the human spirit against a physiological fate." His warmth and wisdom have made him a beloved public speaker.