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Nothing Becomes Something

Thomas Laqueur: Pathography, 22 September 2016

When Breath Becomes Air 
by Paul Kalanithi.
Bodley Head, 228 pp., £12.99, February 2016, 978 1 84792 367 7
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... feel, a pathos in how little he seems to learn about life in the course of his illness. In 1973 Oliver Sacks sent his friend Thom Gunn a copy of Awakenings. Gunn wrote back to say he remembered that in the 1960s Sacks had wanted to write a book that was both well written and scientifically sound. ‘You have ...

Bound for the bad

Mary Beard, 14 September 1989

Loss of the Good Authority: The Cause of Delinquency 
by Tom Pitt-Aikens and Alice Thomas Ellis.
Viking, 264 pp., £14.95, July 1989, 0 670 82493 3
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... things to say on delinquency, become involved in this project? Why did the usually perceptive Oliver Sacks claim that the book is ‘of fundamental importance, and relevance, to our time’? Why, as seems already likely to be the case, will the book enjoy some considerable vogue? The answer to all these questions is given by ATE in the introduction ...

Wizard Contrivances

Jon Day: Will Self, 27 September 2012

by Will Self.
Bloomsbury, 397 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 1 4088 2014 8
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... of Self’s prose. The plot of Umbrella is a fictional reworking of the events described by Oliver Sacks in Awakenings, when patients who had spent decades in a catatonic state after contracting a virus after the First World War were temporarily woken up by a new drug, L-Dopa. In Self’s version of events, the administrator of the wonder drug is ...

An Ecology of Ecstasy

Nicholas Humphrey, 17 April 1980

The Spiritual Nature of Man 
by Alister Hardy.
Oxford, 162 pp., £6.95, December 1979, 0 19 824618 8
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... being turned into black coals ... and cast into the abyss so that I could see them no more.’ As Oliver Sacks writes in his book on Migraine, ‘our literal interpretation would be that she experienced a shower of phosphenes in transit across the visual field, their passage being succeeded by a negative scotoma.’ But for Hildegard: ‘The visions ...


Harry Strawson: D, L, O, R, W, 5 October 2017

... it is a nonsense to sit at the foot of a bed or to thread the eye of a needle. In 1985, Oliver Sacks investigated the response of patients with left-hemisphere and right-hemisphere damage to a speech given by Ronald Reagan. Most of the aphasic patients burst out laughing. Their left hemispheres were damaged; for them, Reagan’s words collapsed ...


Sheila Hale: Dysphasia, 5 March 1998

... Stroke: A Diary of a Recovery, published in 1960. But no populariser has done for dysphasia what Oliver Sacks has for other neurological disorders, doubtless because dysphasics rarely have enough language to convey the fascination of their disability. Talking about Aphasia* is based on interviews with 50 dysphasics between the ages of 26 and 91. It is ...

You would not want to be him

Colin McGinn, 19 November 1992

Bertrand Russell: A Life 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 596 pp., £20, September 1992, 9781856191807
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... and too great a weight for a mere mortal to bear. He was like one of those people described by Oliver Sacks – someone with an abnormally enhanced mental faculty who must somehow find a way to accommodate their affliction of riches. In pictures of him you can see it raging uncontrollably behind his eyes, as if he were a man possessed. He was ...

Dozing at His Desk

Simon Schaffer: The Genius of the Periodic Table, 7 July 2005

A Well-Ordered Thing: Dmitrii Mendeleev and the Shadow of the Periodic Table 
by Michael Gordin.
Basic Books, 364 pp., $30, May 2004, 9780465027750
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... had a reputation to match’. In an autobiographical passage entitled ‘Mendeleev’s Garden’, Oliver Sacks recalls the photograph on show in London’s Science Museum just after the Second World War: ‘He looked like a cross between Fagin and Svengali, a wild, extravagant, barbaric figure.’ What Gordin impressively attempts in his book takes us ...

Who’ll be last?

Jenny Diski, 19 November 2015

... a race, the first man home – except for Iain Banks who won the trophy by a mile – would be Oliver Sacks (announced 19 February – died 30 August), with Henning Mankell (announced 17 January – died 5 October) a close second. Lisa Jardine won a race of her own, staying shtum publicly, her death a surprise except to the few who knew. So Clive ...

His Father The Engineer

Ian Hacking, 28 May 1992

Understanding the present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man 
by Bryan Appleyard.
Picador, 272 pp., £14.95, May 1992, 0 330 32012 2
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... and two men who say kind things in the advance publicity for the book: James Lovelock and Oliver Sacks. Be as cynical as you please about Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis or Sacks’s romanticised neurology – they are writers whose best books deserve their enormous readership. They have changed the way countless ...


Sylvia Lawson, 24 November 1988

Games with Shadows 
by Neal Ascherson.
Radius, 354 pp., £18, April 1988, 0 09 173019 8
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... to find larger readerships. Thus Ascherson joins the oddly-assorted, lively company of Primo Levi, Oliver Sacks, John Berger, Edward Said and Germaine Greer – but from a slippery starting-point: the journalist is a specialist in nothing. Sometimes he seems to know that only too well, and to underrate his own contribution. Calling for work on the growing ...

A New Interpretation of Dreams

Jeffrey Saver, 4 August 1988

The Dreaming Brain 
by Allan Hobson.
Basic Books, 319 pp., $22.95, March 1988, 0 465 01703 7
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... Building Dream’. Hobson here proves himself a practitioner of the art which A.R. Luria and Oliver Sacks have called ‘romantic science’, forging a rigorously scientific vision of man that retains the full richness of living reality. I do have a few quibbles with The Dreaming Brain. A firmer editorial hand would have elided the redundant ...

Call a kid a zebra

Daniel Smith: On the Spectrum, 19 May 2016

In a Different Key: The Story of Autism 
by John Donvan and Caren Zucker.
Allen Lane, 670 pp., £25, January 2016, 978 1 84614 566 7
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NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and How to Think Smarter about People Who Think Differently 
by Steve Silberman.
Allen and Unwin, 534 pp., £9.99, February 2016, 978 1 76011 364 3
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... with others and the world. Autism was seen as outside the realm of regular human functioning. When Oliver Sacks read Temple Grandin’s 1986 memoir, Emergence: Labelled Autistic, he thought Grandin’s co-author, Margaret Scariano, must have written it. ‘The autistic mind, it was supposed at that time, was incapable of self-understanding and ...


Alan Bennett: What I Did in 2015, 7 January 2016

... Riding and probably not even in the country. No wonder Corbyn is ahead of the rest.1 September. Oliver Sacks dies, my first memory of whom was as an undergraduate in his digs in Keble Road in Oxford when I was with Eric Korn and possibly, over from Cambridge, Michael Frayn. Oliver said that he had fried and eaten a ...

Even Immortality

Thomas Laqueur: Medicomania, 29 July 1999

The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present 
by Roy Porter.
HarperCollins, 833 pp., £24.99, February 1999, 0 00 637454 9
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... impulsive tics and Korsakoff’s (Sergei, that is) amnesia, both recently made famous again by Oliver Sacks; Creutzfeld-Jacob disease, just to bring us right up to the mad cow. (No woman – at least at this level – seems to have had anything named after her.) A name announces only the dénouement, however: it does not convey the extraordinary ...

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