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An Anthropologist on Mars
 
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Oliver Sacks
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An Anthropologist on Mars

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4.18 of 5 stars 4.18  ·  rating details  ·  8,102 ratings  ·  477 reviews
The works of neurologist Oliver Sacks have a special place in the swarm of mind-brain studies. He has done as much as anyone to make nonspecialists aware of how much diversity gets lumped under the heading of "the human mind."

The stories in An Anthropologist on Mars are medical case reports not unlike the classic tales of Berton Roueché in The Medical Detectives. Sacks's

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Hardcover
Published April 12th 1997 by Random House Value Publishing (first published 1995)
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Manny
This book contains an extended, very sympathetic case-study of Temple Grandin, the world's most famous autistic person. I read it when my older son, Jonathan, was diagnosed autistic at age about 10. Obviously, given that it took so long to figure out why he was odd, he isn't that much like Grandin, but the book did give me some important insights.

If you're autistic, your fundamental problem is that you don't naturally understand how other people think and feel. Many women summarize this as "you...more
cathy
May 16, 2007 cathy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially those who want to learn how to write a case study.
Shelves: non-fiction-read
In An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks seamlessly weaves fascinating patient stories and lessons in neurology for the layperson. This may sound quite dry if you're not into reading about bizarre behavior from brain circuitry goes awry, but Sacks makes the science very palatable. He acts as our well-traveled tour guide as we explore the everyday lives and thinking processes of seven people who have made creative use of their cognitive hiccups.

Some of the patients featured in this collection o...more
Paul
Apr 21, 2013 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: voyeurs
Shelves: science
Confession time ! I must admit - friends, judge not lest ye be judged - that I boohooed my way through the last part of Awakenings The Movie, with all those frozen people coming back to life and catching tennis balls and (spoiler alerts) then living life to the FULL for one brief shining moment, and doing the hoochy coochy, which is the only dance they could remember from the 1920s which is when they all froze up, and then Mr De Niro doing the herky jerk dance which was one of his own invention,...more
David
This is a fascinating book about seven people with very special, mental conditions. Oliver Sacks is a neurologist, and he spent a lot of time with each of these people in their homes and in their environments. As a result, Sacks can go into great detail about each of the seven, and explains their histories, their mental conditions, and how they cope with their situations. He tells their stories with wonderful insight, and with empathy. The most interesting aspect is how Sacks, like a detective,...more
Cheryl in CC NV
I've known for many years I wanted to read something by Sacks - now I know I want to read everything by him. His focus is on the case histories, well, actually, on the people. Only by getting to know individuals well and comparing their stories to the literature does he bring together theories and share those ideas with us. He doesn't bang us over the head with an agenda. Nice selected bibliography.

A tidbit: "[W]aking consciousness is dreaming - but dreaming constrained by external reality."
Eleni
“He feels he has been given “a whole new world”, which the rest of us, distracted by color, are insensitive to. He no longer thinks of color, pines for it, grieves its loss. He has almost come to see his achromatopsia as a strange gift, one that has ushered him into a new state of sensibility and being.”

Oliver Sacks grabs my attention and holds it. He moves me and he keeps me enthralled in worlds of special personality and behavioural traits, where ambiguity of “communication”, “perception”, “m...more
Cindy
Fascinating reading of seven case histories of people with neurological disorders including Temple Grandin who is autistic and the author of Emergence, Labeled Autistic which I read several years ago and loved.

The case of the colorblind painter and to see and not to see were very interesting to me. People who had long term blindness, upon having sight restored have no visual memories to support a perception of what they are seeing. They cannot understand size or distance. Someone living their w...more
David
For some reason, the essays of Oliver Sacks don't rock my world. He's got the attention-grabbing title thing down pat, and each case study does have a kernel of interest. But generally, I'd be just as happy if each essay were cut by 50% - most chapters didn't really sustain my interest to the end.

Full disclosure: my faint generalized lack of enthusiasm for Dr S may stem from nothing more than guilt by association with Robin Williams. I have never denied being shallow.

If you're in the mood for fu...more
Ronald
I've been aware of the work of Dr. Oliver Sacks for many years, yet oddly I have just recently read one of his books.

This book is a collection of well written case studies of neurological disorder and creativity.

In one case study, an artist, after being in a car accident, obtained incredibly sharp vision--the artist said he could see a worm wriggling a block away--but could now only see in black and white.

Another artist, after having an feverish illness, became obsessed with painting his hometo...more
Caitlin Constantine
The theme of this book can be summed up in one single idea, about the plasticity of the human brain, and the way the deficit of disability can be turned into the benefit of compensation. Isn't that such a cool thought? What seems like a disability may ultimately end up a gift.

That's what this whole book is about. Sacks is a neurologist with a bit of Sherlock Holmes mixed in, and he finds himself drawn to some of the most inexplicable cases, like a painter who goes completely colorblind after a c...more
Matt
As someone who thinks a fair amount about memory, consciousness, intelligence, etc, I have developed a minor obsession with Oliver Sacks. "The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat" probably taught me more about the way our brains work than all of the psychology classes I took in school - if for no other reason than the fact that the neurology is always seen through Sacks' humanistic lens. "Anthropologist" is another collection of case studies - much longer than their counterparts in "Man", since t...more
Cheng
Apr 04, 2008 Cheng rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone.
This is a fascinating book for scientists and non-scientists alike. Dr. Sacks is a very interesting essayist and while he does use medical terms from time to time, he keeps it relatively simple most of the time, even when talking about complex processes of the brain. You will be so amazed at all the things we take for granted because our brain processes the information before we even realized what we perceive as reality has already been processed by our brains, but the patients in these 7 parado...more
Will
After a couple of Sacks’s books that were a little disappointing, this is one that I really enjoyed and was totally absorbed in. Perhaps because there are only a few (seven) stories, rather than the reams of case notes that Sacks normally uses to illustrate anything, and they are fleshed out enough so that you do actually care about the subjects. They are all obsessive in one way or another – an artist who only draws perfectly remembered scenes from his childhood village, a surgeon with Tourette...more
Marjorie
This Oliver Sachs book depicts the lives of real people whose brains work differently from the norm. Rather than focusing on the limitations they face, Sachs highlights human adaptability to an alien reality. The story that really impressed me was the artist involved in a traffic accident that left him unable to see color. Rather than hampering him, he turned it into an advantage. Blacks, whites and grays became a new way of seeing and his work richer and more nuanced. These stories illustrate h...more
Derek Davis
Sacks is engaging and deeply concerned about his subject/patients—autistic, Tourette's and brain-damaged in various ways—treating them all with immense humane consideration. He thinks long, hard and deeply about the problems of brain function and its lapses. He is also encyclopedic in his interests and reading. He seems to have devoured virtually every book ever written, and he brings them into his discussions not with personal pride or showiness, but because he thinks they are relevant and you...more
C. McKenzie
Sacks explores disease or affliction as it encourages or requires adaptation and by extension, growth. Each case study (there are seven) in the book details the manner in which patients were transformed by what he calls, "neurological chance." The most interesting to me were the blind man who is given sight, but can't perceive the world around him using his eyes. The painter who suddenly becomes colorblind goes through a period of denial, then rejection of his life's work. Finally, he re imagine...more
Robert
If I were to generalize about Oliver Sacks’s collection of essays entitled, An Anthropologist on Mars, I suppose I would say it confronts the astonishing range of human phenomena that are considered abnormal...but may not be.

Most people experience some form of obsessional thinking or compulsive behavior at some point in their lives; most people are inexplicably “good” at certain things and “bad” at others; most people have emotional blind spots and insensitivities; and most people think they see...more
Selena
Good riddance, I say. Unless forced against my will, I'll never read another book by this guy again.

You see, he had the nasty habbit of referring to his other books, but not saying a word about how they were really related or how they helped his argument. It seemed more to me that he was advertising his books and expected you either to have already read his other books or to run out and buy them to understand why it was important.

I ignored most of his footnotes after the first chapter. I found t...more
Sophia Diggs-galligan
This book is much like a lot of Oliver Sacks' work: it tells scintillating story that piques your interest, and has more than enough content. However, while it does reach more personal and philosophical feel at times, this always seems a bit contrived.

For the most part though, this book was plenty fascinating.

I especially enjoyed such chapters like "Prodigies", those dealing with autistic savants, because they really illustrate the idea of a deficit becoming a strength, you are blind, so your...more
Qi
In the story of the idiot savant artist Stephen Wiltshire, the author wrote this following line:
... the whole visible world flowed through STephen like a river, without making sense, without beining appropriated, without becoming part of him n the least. That though he might retain everthing he saw, in a sense, it was retained as something external, unintegrated, never built on, connected, revised, never influencing or influenced by anthing else ... as in the random-access memory of a computer ....more
Jamie
While reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, I felt as if Sacks wasn't spending enough time with each of his subjects; in this book I felt like he was spending too much time with each one. The details he gave of their lives were often not the details I wanted to know, and I found myself skimming through some of this. However, the people profiled have undeniably fascinating neurological conditions: an artist who suffers sudden-onset colorblindness; a man whose vision is restored after de...more
Leandro Ribeiro
O que é maravilhoso em Oliver Sacks é que ele fala de pessoas. Sim, pessoas com "doenças", doenças neurológicas que, sem dúvida, passamos a conhecer com enorme profundidade e detalhe, mas sempre através da presença da doença numa pessoa. Nota-se que ele se apaixona pelos seus casos, não só por cada pessoa no caso, mas também pelas características do caso. Ou seja: apaixona-se pela pessoa com a doença, pela vida da pessoa, pela rotina da pessoa, pelo modo como os outros interagem com a pessoa, pe...more
lori
This book is truly fascinating in its exploration of the human mind and how it deals with (and deals with the lack of) visual and cognitive perception and memory. The author delves into case studies of individuals with such conditions as Tourette's, autism, as well as various losses and/or impairments and how the brain re-wires and adapts itself in order to succeed in life. I like Oliver Sacks' ability to recognize the 'loss' in the impairment, but focus instead on what the individual GAINS from...more
Rhonda
Every time I read Oliver Sacks, I'm struck by how his somewhat folksy tone, with a British sensibility, meshes with his technical/medical sensibility to create his very distinctive voice. Sacks wants us to realize that the neurologically-impaired amongst us have real crosses to bear and yet, often, live lives they themselves feel whole in. One of the people we meet in this book is a surgeon with Tourettes. Another is a painter who obsesses, through his art, over the village in Italy where he was...more
Deanna
This book is absolutely fascinating to me! Oliver Stack takes a look at some very intellectual material, but, because of his compassion, is able to help the average person grasp what it all means. He looks at different neurological disorder cases he's studied, such as a surgeon with tourrette's syndrome and discusses what that means to the person, his peers, or to us trying to relate to others like him. The general idea that stood out to me with this book is that our brains are amazing. When som...more
Cheri
Having just written the review for Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, you would think that I would have a similar critique for this text, but I don't. Though I often read to my students from this book, the stories in Anthropologist are of a much different quality and organization. Here there are common themes woven throughout the book that the reader can ponder: intelligence, communication/language, plasticity of the brain, disease, etc. This is an excellent book written by a brilliant neurolog...more
Sophia
so, this is my "first Sacks book." i didn't know what to expect; it was on the living room table. it seemed interesting enough. the supposed project of this book isn't supposed to be implied -- Sacks decides he needs to devise a theme to this curation of comparably humanised case studies, that they are about the human power to adjust to extreme changes. and this is apt -- at first. the stories begin with several tales of people who suddenly go through total, profound neurological change, only to...more
Quo
Books by Dr. Oliver Sachs are not so easy to review to or to recommend, at least not without knowing one's fellow reader fairly well. To suggest that the author's books deal in case studies of people with neurological deficits would not normally seem a very compelling inducement for a non-clinician to read them, except that Dr. Sachs makes these case studies and the people who manifest the conditions detailed within them seem very compelling indeed. Oliver Sachs writes in manner that makes his o...more
Dana Quadri
As usual Oliver Sacks amazes me in this one. How he turns such complex scientific knowledge into beautifully woven short stories, I just don't know. This book is no different. Travel into the world of a painter who has gone color blind and one of the most highly functioning and successful women with aspergers. Fascinating, moving, and opens your perspectives on life ten fold. Not to mention an amazing lesson in neurological sciences.
Brie
The case studies make the psychological disorders much more interesting and accessible. My favorites were the chapters about the turretic surgeon and the blind man who regains his vision. Reading about his inability to conceive of sight made me think about the likelihood that there are other senses that we might not be able to conceive of. Also I found Temporal Lobe Epilepsy to be so interesting that I bought another book on it.
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Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE (born July 9, 1933, London), is 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 E...more
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“Some people with Tourette's have flinging tics- sudden, seemingly motiveless urges or compulsions to throw objects..... (I see somewhat similar flinging behaviors- though not tics- in my two year old godson, now in a stage of primal antinomianism and anarchy)” 3 likes
“Cualquier enfermedad introduce una duplicidad en la vida: un "ello", con sus propias necesidades, exigencias y limitaciones.” 0 likes
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