Skip to main content

On the Move - Oliver Sacks ****

I’m rather ashamed to say that this is the first book that I have read by Oliver Sacks, despite being a regular consumer of popular science books. Sacks, now in his 80’s and suffering from terminal cancer, has written some classics of popular science, but I somehow have never gotten around to reading them. After reading On the Move, a memoir of his life and his life in science, more of his books will make their way on to my reading list.

Sacks has an engaging and fluid writing style and is a great storyteller. He is also refreshingly honest about his own conditions (for instance, Sacks suffers from prosopagnosia, known popularly as 'face blindness') and is as frank about his experimentation and subsequent drug addiction as he is about his shyness, a trait that has led him to live alone for much of his life. 

In On the Move he writes of his social awkwardness as a factor that led to his great interest in science, eventually becoming a keen amateur chemist as a child. He also refers to his parents careers in medicine as a spur to him and his siblings to pursue careers in science. The book has interesting and, in some parts, frightening stories about cruel headmasters during his time in the countryside during the war. Not all of the stories about his education are this way; his anecdote about the Oxford entry examination is entertaining and impressive. I also enjoyed his descriptions about how he made his way between clinical work and research and back again. An intriguing insight into how scientists sometimes struggle to find the right place for their interests and abilities.

While Sacks has been accused of turning his patient histories into bestselling books, and eventually into successful Hollywood films, I didn’t get the impression that he is a callous or unsympathetic person. He writes of the moral turmoil he felt about entering into the world of popular publishing and the pains he has taken during his career to get the stories of his patients afflictions right. He also discusses at length his goal of placing the focus on the maladies of his patients and presenting the afflicted person in the best light possible. His empathy for his patients, in my opinion, comes through clearly.

Sacks’ range of interests is also staggering, both cerebral and physical. He has certainly led a full and interesting life. I think many, like me, who have not read his previous works will find On the Move an excellent introduction to the man and his works. 

Hardback:  

Kindle:  
Review by Ian Bald

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Adam Roberts - Four Way Interview

Adam Roberts is commonly described as one of the UK's most important writers of SF. He is the author of numerous novels and literary parodies. He is Professor of 19th Century Literature at Royal Holloway, London University, and has written a number of critical works on both SF and 19th Century poetry. His latest novel is The Real-Town Murders.

Why science fiction?

Because it's the best thing in the world. I work for the University of London, which is to say: in effect, I'm paid to read books (and teach them, and write about them) and that means I read a lot of books; and that means you can believe me when I say that SF/Fantasy, and especially (even though it's not something I write) YA SF/Fantasy, is where all the most exciting writing is happening nowadays. You might wonder why I think so: but that's a whole other question, and you've already used up your four ...

Why this book?

So, I came across an account of one of Alfred Hitchcock's (many) unfinished projec…

UFO Drawings from the National Archives - David Clarke ***

This is a lovely little book that, sadly, not every reader will see the point of. If somebody’s anecdotal account of a presumed alien encounter is obviously a misperception of a mundane occurrence, or else too vague – or too far-fetched – to be taken seriously, then it’s all too easy to dismiss it as worthless. But that’s missing the point. The fact that so many incidents are reported in these terms makes the witnesses’ testimony worthy of serious study – to teach us, not about extraterrestrial civilisations, but about our own culture.

That was the core message of David Clarke’s excellent How UFOs Conquered the World published a couple of years ago. Now Clarke is back with another take on the same basic theme.  His day job is Reader and Principal Lecturer in Journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, but for the last ten years he’s also acted as consultant for the National Archives project to release all of Britain’s official Ministry of Defence (MoD) files on UFOs. Throughout the Cold…

Crashing Heaven (SF) - Al Robertson ****

There's an engaging mix of powerful thriller and science fiction in this impressive novel. After the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable, human life is limited to vast space station. Our central character, Jack, has a symbiotic artificial intelligence, Hugo Fist, designed to destroy other AIs in a mysterious collective that is said to have committed an atrocity - but with a kick in the tail that because of an unbreakable contract, Fist will take over Jack's body in a few weeks' time.

Al Robertson packs remarkable technology concepts into the cyber side of this story, from AI corporations that act as a pantheon of gods to the 'puppet' that is Fist (he usually come across as a virtual cross between Mr Punch and an evil ventriloquist's dummy). Robertson does all the cyber stuff so well that it's easy to miss that this is, in effect, a myth in electronic clothing - you could substitute the myths of 'real' Greek gods and magic for what happens here. Alt…