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An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (1995)

by Oliver Sacks

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3,749512,591 (4.11)1 / 101
The author profiles seven neurological patients, including a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome and an artist whose color sense is destroyed in an accident but finds new creative power in black and white.
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English (44)  Finnish (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  Spanish (1)  Catalan (1)  French (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  All languages (51)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
Well written. But meh. ( )
  marzagao | Jun 1, 2021 |
I can't seem to focus on reading these days, though I'm supposed to be reading brothers karamazov for a book club. I plowed through, this, however, which is a testament to how fascinating these case studies are. It was my first experience with Oliver Sacks, and a wonderful one. I get the feeling I'll be reading his other books in the years to come.

In a way, reading Sacks is like taking a hallucinogen: you realize how many complex mental faculties are required for us to constitute our world. What we perceive as reality is an illusion generated by the coordination of sensory input with higher brain functions like memory. Somewhere along the line you develop something of a sense of self, which, reading these case studies of people whose brains work differently from most, is more tenuous than we like to imagine. I didn't actually hallucinate while sitting down with this book, though, unless you consider reading one.

I loved the fable-like quality of some of the scenarios: a painter who becomes colorblind, a surgeon with Tourettic physical tics, another painter who can only make images of his childhood village, so possessed is he by memories of it.

Sacks is a generous observer. He brings to bear great scientific understanding, but also great human empathy for his subjects. The mixture never seems out of balance. His methods are kind of a throwback to a time when science was less cordoned off from humanistic inquiry like philosophy and the arts. Literary and philosophical allusions, as well as constant reference to centuries-old accounts of neurological conditions are only the most obvious evidence of this sensibility. It is a welcome point of view, as his subjects' stories get to some pretty fundamental questions about human existence, which questions, if not explored fully here, are at least evoked with requisite wonder and care. A more strictly scientific or medical approach would not be able to take this more holistic view.

(I want to note that the proliferation of footnotes in this book is outrageous, something I would never normally tolerate. And yet... they were by and large fascinating, each like the best Wikipedia page you've ever stumbled upon.)
  trotta | Mar 4, 2021 |
Una serie di casi umani e clinici ci portano a capire meglio certe sindromi fisiche e mentali ( )
  Drusetta | Dec 30, 2020 |
His writing is quite interesting because of his empathy for and appreciation of those who are vastly different from most of us.

Especially the last chapter, actually the last several chapters, it is clear that he strives to understand those he is writing about, to understand what emotions they feel or what their inner life is like. In many cases of autism it seems that the feel little or no emotion, but he leaves the question open. Oliver Sacks occasionally had glimpses that the autistic people he dealt with had some level of comprehension of what they were missing.

Another thing that came through clearly as I read this book, is that people with severe disabilities, such as blindness, when the disability is removed, will have great difficulty adapting to life. There are perhaps 20 cases of people with long term blindness who gained sight again. Ones that were described in detail all had difficulty, adapting to sight. It is only when young that the brain is plastic enough to learn new skills. Later on in life the areas of brain have already been claimed, plasticity is less, and learning new skills, such as sight, become extremely difficult, if not impossible.

( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
uh oh: "Many high-functioning autistic people describe a great fondness for, almost an addiction to, alternative worlds, imaginary worlds such as those of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien, or worlds they imagine themselves. Thus both the B.'s and their oldest son have spent years constructing an imaginary world with its own landscapes and geography (endlessly mapped and drawn), its own languages, currencies, laws, and customs- a world in which fantasy and rigidity play equal parts. Thus days might be spent computing the total grain production or silver reserves in Leutheria, or designing a new flag, or calculating the complex factors determining the value of a thog- this occupies hours of the B's leisure time at home together, Mrs. B. providing the science and technology; Mr. B the politics, languages, and social customs; and their son the natural features of the often-warring countries." ( )
  uncleflannery | May 16, 2020 |
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Epigraph
The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, but queerer than we can imagine.
J. B. S. Haldane
Ask not what disease the person has, but rather what person the disease has.
(attributed to) William Osler
Dedication
To the seven whose stories are related here
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Preface
I am writing this with my left hand, although I am strongly right-handed.
Early in March 1986 I received the following letter:
I am a rather successful artist just past 65 years of age.
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The author profiles seven neurological patients, including a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome and an artist whose color sense is destroyed in an accident but finds new creative power in black and white.

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