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The Island of the Colorblind

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  3,167 Ratings  ·  220 Reviews
From the bestselling author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars comes "a delightful inner and outer journey, destined to surprise and please the devoted Sacks reader" (Washington Post) - a work rich in curiosity and compassion and intellectual adventure.
Paperback, 311 pages
Published January 12th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
140th out of 1,058 books — 2,608 voters
Stiff by Mary RoachThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Medicine and Literature
142nd out of 1,150 books — 1,476 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sep 19, 2010 Rebecca rated it it was ok
As an admirer of Oliver Sacks’s clear, inquisitive articles on neurobiology, I was saddened to discover that his travelogue of Micronesia is both patronizing and exoticizing.

Throughout this book, Sacks employs the same tone he uses when discussing patients with debilitating medical ailments, a kind of sympathetic wonderment at the bizarre feats performed damaged brains. Here, this tone is applied to entire populations and cultures, as when he describes the ponderously fat islanders whose diets
Jul 09, 2012 Wanda rated it did not like it
This is mainly a more or less ill-informed travelogue by a person interested in neurological diseases. The core of the book is Sacks' visit to Guam in the 1990s to check out Lytico-Bodig disease, an ALS-like disease once endemic on this island.
Alas, there's not much to the book. Sacks relates a bit about the research of others and his visits to patients with the disease who are under the care of Dr. John C. Steele.
I say ill-informed travelogue because his knowledge of Guam and the other islands
May 01, 2011 Jessica rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I've loved Oliver Sacks for a long time, but up until now I'd only read and re-read The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars. The Island of the Colorblind seemed like a natural next choice for me, because it combines my interest in neuropsychology with my interest in island biogeography (the study of the way species on islands evolve to become very specialized, to the point where an extremely high percentage of the species on any given island may be endemic to that pa ...more
May 24, 2015 Travelin rated it did not like it
I KNEW, KNEW that Oliver Sacks wouldn't give me informative details on the epidemiology of islands. His chatty, superficial, and self-absorbed style made me drop both his Hat and Awakenings books and give it 4 stars anyway, out of what, charity? But this one I bought new, with high hopes anyway, and it quickly became apparent that there is something seriously wrong with this man. By page 30 he'd spent several pages talking about his prowess as a swimmer, being a Victorian reader who always picke ...more
Sep 24, 2014 Paola rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuroscienze
Sachs sa farti appassionare praticamente a tutto quanto scrive, la sua passione alla modalitá di (dis)funzionamento del cervello si trasmette prepotentemente ai suoi lettori. E intanto si impara. In questo suo si viaggia nel paese dei senza colore, (vedere solo in bianco e nero... non riesco nemmeno a immaginarmelo...) e in quella dove una pianta, o meglio un suo componente potrebbe essere alla base di una degenerazione neuronale importante.
Geraldine Sy
Nov 24, 2014 Geraldine Sy rated it really liked it
This is an absolutely fascinating book by Oliver Sacks. Really cool dude. See, he goes on this trip to the Pacific and there is an island there where a huge chunk of the population is Achromatropic (pure colorblindedness as in grayscale) and he sets out to that island with an achromatropic friend. Then he goes to Guam where there is also a huge density of people with a disease called lytico-bodig.
Oh man, the world is so FASCINATING!!! The Earth is ancient and cruel and beautiful! That's how it
Apr 23, 2016 Letz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: explorations
In molti hanno definito questo libro quello di un Sacks minore. In effetti è piuttosto disorganico. Non è da intendersi come libro di divulgazione scientifica, né come un trattato di medicina, botanica o etnologia. Lo spirito migliore con cui affrontarlo è forse questo: pensate di accingervi a leggere un diario di viaggio, perché di questo si tratta. Un taccuino con impressioni, racconti vissuti, descrizioni del paesaggio circostante, dialoghi e osservazioni di un uomo curioso. Non il Sacks a cu ...more
Apr 13, 2014 Conor rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non_fiction
I was about to give this one three stars because I got a bit bored in the late middle. Things are less cohesive and less to-the-point in the fifty pages before the conclusion then I thought they needed to be.

Then I remembered that I read Sacks because he's a powerful anecdote teller, and he makes Neurology a terrifically human and humane pursuit in the telling.

So maybe what I mean is that if I'm reading something off the non-fiction shelf, and I get a little choked up = Instant bonus star!

Daniel Gonçalves
Jun 25, 2015 Daniel Gonçalves rated it really liked it
As read here

“Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks might be regarded as one of the most poetic stories ever told. When brought to the corporate Hollywood screens, it caused an enormous impact on its audience, propelling the author’s name into the luminous aura of mainstream culture. In itself, “The Island of the Colorblind” serves as the logic continuation of the literary brilliance found in his previous works.

In it, the renowned neurologist recounts his experiences during his summer visit to the Pacific
ღ Carol jinx~☆~
Jun 03, 2011 ღ Carol jinx~☆~ rated it really liked it
I love Oliver Sacks. He picks interesting things to write about. I first read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat a few years ago (now who could resist such a catchy title) and I loved it.
This book addresses a disease I didn't think was so prevalent, colorblindness. I just thought that was a good excuse for men who couldn't put their ties and shirts together properly but now I consider myself more informed on the disease,achromatopsia.
Sally Tarbox
"Islands were, so to speak, experiments of nature", August 7, 2014

This review is from: The Island of the Colour-blind (Hardcover)
An interesting account of two trips made by the author to the islands of Oceania, where the remoteness of the locations have led to two different illnesses among the locals.
The first section of the book - and to me, by far the most readable - was his visit to Pingelap atoll in Micronesia, where interbreeding of a small population has led to 1 person in 12 being totally
Harry Rutherford
Feb 09, 2009 Harry Rutherford rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I picked this up again because I was blogging about cycads. In this book Sacks visits a couple of Pacific islands where many of the locals have unusual neurological conditions; total colour-blindness on Pingelap and a degenerative disorder called lytico-bodig on Guam.

The neurology is interesting—the colour blindness isn’t typical red/green colour-blindness but a complete absence of colour perception, and lytico-bodig is a disease of unknown cause, with such varied presentation that it was origin
Esmeralda Rupp-Spangle

The first Oliver Sacks book I read was The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and since then have been a devotee of his work.
He is a Neurologist, yes- but he is also a poet, not in the literal sense, but his ability to make the interesting into fantastic and the pretty into the magnificently beautiful is unrivaled.
He is also an incredible humanitarian, and though generally he does not "gush" per se, he is so thoughtful, kind, and sympathetic in his descriptions that one cannot help but adore
Nov 14, 2010 Nola rated it liked it
There is a type of complete colorblindness, achromatopsia, where people do not have functional cones in their eyes and are almost blind in sunlight because of the sensitivity of the rods. Achromatopsia, unlike red-green colorblindness, is very rare. The island of Fuur and the island of Pingelap both had large numbers of people suffering from this congenital achromatopsia. Only Pingelap, in the south Pacific, still has large numbers of achromatopes. The author visited Pingelap with a physiologist ...more
Jan 16, 2015 Danna rated it it was amazing
This is the first time since using Goodreads that I've stepped beyond my stated purpose and logged a book I read before starting my Goodreads list but haven't re-read afresh prior to posting a review. Given the fascinating books I've been reading lately, I'm moved to share with fellow readers how glad I am of the serendipitous occasion back in the mid 1990s when I discovered this gem while clerking for the public library. Idle curiosity led me to check it out; little did I know at the time that ...more
Ryan Berkebile
Jan 26, 2008 Ryan Berkebile rated it liked it
In the first half of the book, Oliver Sacks goes to Micronesia to explore the high rate of colorblindness amongst the population of Pohnpei. One theory cites a terrible hurricane over two hundred years ago decimated over ninty percent of the island. In order to restock the island, inbreeding had to take place over numerous generations which would lead to genetic defects.
The second half of the book has Sacks going to Guam to look at a mysterous neurodegenerative paralysis similar to Parkinson's.
Davut Cikrikci
Kendim de başlangıç seviyesi renk körü olduğumdan kitabı kendime yakın hisseden bir ön yargı ile okumaya başladım. Prof. Sacks ın dili kitabın içerdiği bir sürü bilimsel ifadeye rağmen oldukça basit ve akıcı. Kitabın ismi konusunda oldukça önemli bir hata olduğunu düşündüm. Evet, başlangıç kısmı renk körlüğü araştırması içeren pasifik adaları ziyareti hakkında anılarla dolu. Fakat ikinci bölüm tamamen yine aynı adalardaki başka bir hastalık litiko-bodik araştırması ile ilgili. Bunun için kitabın ...more
Jun 16, 2011 Jamio rated it it was amazing
I knew I would enjoy this book, having thoroughly liked previous books by this author, but I did not expect to be enchanted. Perhaps because it narrates a journey through the Islands of the Pacific where I have never been though I am of the blood true. Perhaps because it is surprising, in the modern world of specialization, to come across a renaissance man of the same breed as Charles Darwin, people who don't distinguish between modes of science any more than they distinguish between science and ...more
Sep 14, 2016 Karen rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel-the-world
Oliver Sacks, a neurologist who is known for his books The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings (the movie with Robin Williams), wrote this very interesting book of two types of genetic diseases typically found on isolated Islands: Colorblindness (Pingelap) and Lytico-Bodig a type of Parkinson/Alzheimers (Guam).
May 01, 2009 Jake rated it liked it
Shelves: science, travel
A very good and unusual combination of travelogue and medical mystery-- this book would be an excellent choice for a vacation anywhere in the Pacific. As in his other books, Sacks has a talent for painting very vivid pictures of people and places-- and moreover, he brings a similar clarity to his descriptions of complex scientific and medical phenomena. One thing I love about him is that he never dumbs it down-- he speaks in the language of science and expects you to have the right vocabulary.

May 05, 2013 Jacklynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I love Oliver Sacks' books. This one was about his travels to various island/island groups to study interesting medical conditions occurring in higher numbers than in other places. His books are always fascinating and are easy to read even though their non-fiction and typically deal with medical conditions. They are more like a sympathetic narrative of his patients than a medical journal. He travels to island were there is a large number of colorblind people. And another where people are affecte ...more
Oct 17, 2015 Jovis rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is very informative and as someone who is fascinated by research, I liked it. The islands, the people, the sickness were wonders. I came to ponder, "What could it be like to never know colors?" And I was also quite stirred by the mysteriously caused lytico-bodig. A disease such as it exists and affects a lot of families and yet no one knows how it chooses its victims.
Apr 18, 2015 Regan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medicine, 2013
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this book is the curiosity of Sacks. The way he writes makes one a bit envious of his opportunity to find something of interest (the disease known as lytico bodig) and track down the patients who have it and the physicians who treat them. He does this while giving a compelling description of the vegetation and other history of the islands. At times I felt I could feel the same excitement as Sacks in reading his description of various plants but overall I fee ...more
Aug 14, 2016 Casey rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
I'm always a fan of his work. What a brilliant mind.
Olga Werby
Sep 23, 2015 Olga Werby rated it it was amazing
In the book “The Island of the Colorblind,” Dr. Oliver Sacks describes his adventures through a series of islands in Micronesia, which have an unusually high percentage of congenital achromatopsia (sever colorblindness) among the population. One of his traveling companions was a Norwegian scientist, Knut Nordby, an achromatope himself. Dr. Nordby described how his rather rare condition affected his early education. In addition to complete color blindness, congenital achromatopsia causes extreme ...more
Garrett Haynes
Feb 28, 2015 Garrett Haynes rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Oct 15, 2014 Allison rated it it was ok
Recommended to Allison by: My Biology Teacher
“The Island of the Colorblind” by Oliver Sacks (1996)

Oliver Sacks takes the reader along with him on a journey to the Micronesian island of Pingelap to research congenital achromatopsia, a genetic disorder that causes complete colorblindness. What was supposed to be a scientific novel turned out to be an elongated story about Sacks' vacation. The actual worth while scientific information is buried between unnecessary descriptions of the scenery and random scientific facts that had no correlation
Mar 20, 2016 Jeroen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
About a third of my copy of The Island of the Colour-blind is taken up by notes and the index - I think that might be a record in my collection, apart from academic works. It's tempting to say this tells us something about the writer, Oliver Sacks. In the preface he writes that after writing the book in one fell swoop, it ended up growing "like an unruly cycad." To keep the pristinity of the main narrative, as it were, the notes were used, and one note can sometimes go on for three or four pages ...more
Sarah Beth
In this work of non-fiction, neurologist Oliver Sacks describes his visits to the Micronesian island of Pingelap and later to Guam to investigate the effects of isolation on the incidence of neurological disorders in the small, island communities. In Pingelap, he investigates the large percentage of the population who suffer from total colorblindness, relying instead on pattern and shadows. In Guam, he visits patients suffering from a mysterious neurodegenerative paralysis whose cause has not be ...more
Apr 13, 2014 Hannah rated it did not like it
Ugh. I love Oliver Sacks normally. This was painful and would have been more educational boiled down to three sentences:
1. There are a huge number of colorblind folks in Micronesia.
2. There is a weird disease that runs through clans/families in Guam. It may be caused by eating ancient plants, but nobody really knows.
The end.
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Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks was the youngest of four children born to a prosperous North London Jewish couple: Sam, a physician, and Elsie, a surgeon. When he wa
More about Oliver Sacks...

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“Might they indeed see us as peculiar, distracted by trivial or irrelevant aspects of the visual world, and insufficiently sensitive to its real visual essence?” 0 likes
“If the students were taught about shuttle flights, plate tectonics and submarine volcanoes, they were also immersed in the traditional myths of their culture—the ancient story, for example, of how the island of Pohnpei had been built under the direction of a mystical octopus, Lidakika. (I was fascinated by this, for it was the only cephalopod creation myth I had ever heard.” 0 likes
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