While studying at medical school, I have fond memories of reading Oliver Sacks works. His writing left a lasting impression on me. Sacks connected with the inner experiences of his patients and found joy in doing so. He was comfortable in discussing medicine and psychology and could explain unusual experiences in terms of the subtleties of the brain. He was both inspiring and inspired. Vintage Sacks is a collection of excerpts from his published works, ‘Uncle Tungsten’, ‘Awakenings’, ‘Seeing Voices’, ‘An Anthropologist on Mars’, ‘Migraine’ and ‘The Island of the Colorblind’. In ‘Uncle Tungsten’, Sacks revisits his childhood and how his uncle’s work with Tungsten influenced his childhood. He also describes other events in his childhood. For instance he writes about how as a child he watched as the Crystal Palace (a place familiar to me from my own childhood) on the outskirts of London had caught fire and lit up the night sky. In this excerpt we see Sack’s precocious talents as a scientist in his increasingly elaborate chemical ‘experiments’. In ‘Awakenings’, Sacks talks about his important discovery of the effects of L-Dopa in a group of patients with Encephalitis Lethargica and the challenges he met when he described his later findings in this group which were eventually confirmed by the community much later. At this point he ‘connected’ with an important figure Luria who wrote supportingly to him and related his own experiences. This meeting of the minds was an historic event and Sacks has written frequently about Luria. In ‘Seeing Voices’, Sacks looks at experiences of deaf people and in the excerpt in the book focuses on the principles of education – whether deaf people should learn to speak or to use sign language. In ‘An Anthropologist on Mars’ Sacks covers a number of different cases and in the excerpt in this book, we accompany a surgeon with Tourettes Syndrome in his work. In ‘Migraine’ we see the possible religious interpretations of Migraines and in ‘The Island of the Colorblind’ Sacks takes us on a journey to an island where ten percent of the population have achromotopsia and an accompanying mythology to explain their genetic heritage. This collection of works captures some of the magic of Sacks and made me want to read his other works (again!). Oliver Sacks is an exemplary guide for many extraordinairy journeys into the endless wilderness of the brain.
Oliver Sacks. Vintage Sacks. Vintage Books. 2004.
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