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An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales

4.18  ·  Rating Details  ·  10,972 Ratings  ·  640 Reviews
Paradoxical portraits of seven neurological patients, including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's syndrome unless he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds new creative power in black & white; & others.
Paperback, 318 pages
Published 1995 by Picador
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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
63rd out of 1,129 books — 1,418 voters
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca SklootThe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver SacksOutliers by Malcolm GladwellBlink by Malcolm GladwellThe Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Radiolab Suggested Readings
18th out of 180 books — 207 voters

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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Apr 11, 2009 Manny rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
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
May 16, 2007 cathy rated it it was amazing
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
Paul Bryant
Apr 21, 2013 Paul Bryant rated it liked it
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
Jun 26, 2013 David rated it it was amazing
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
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
May 21, 2014 Eleni rated it liked it
“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”,
Jun 01, 2012 Cindy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, medical
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
Nov 05, 2013 Will rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, biography, ebook
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
James Klagge
This is a paradigm of a good Oliver Sacks book--several essays allowing him to move from topic to topic, occasionally returning to earlier topics, not calling for any grand theory, but noting similarities and differences. He treated autism in several places.
But the most interesting essay to me was the 4th one: "To See and Not to See." Here he studies a man who is essentially given sight in adulthood after a cataract operation. The man did not have a great desire for this operation, but his fian
Jun 20, 2013 Ronald rated it it was amazing
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
Caitlin Constantine
Mar 22, 2010 Caitlin Constantine rated it it was amazing
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
May 08, 2007 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian Kovesci
Mar 13, 2016 Brian Kovesci rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: psychology
It's interesting how political correctness has changed in just 20 years. Oliver seems like he was a professional and sweet man, but every once and a while would use a term or label that would now be considered awkward and incorrect. Otherwise, this book was incredible and I am definitely going to read his other works.
Apr 04, 2008 Cheng rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 28, 2011 Marjorie rated it really liked it
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
Dec 31, 2015 Patty rated it it was amazing
My love affair with the writings of Oliver Sacks continues. Every one of the seven case histories in this book were fascinating!

And that makes 42 books read in 2015—probably twice as many as I read the year before! For 2016: more books, more faces, less Facebook.
Dec 02, 2015 Fernando rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When we open our eyes each morning, it is upon a world we have spent a lifetime learning to see. We are not given the world: we make our world through incessant experience, categorization, memory, reconnection.
Mar 27, 2016 Superheltemor rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
Simpelthen en af de mest fascinerende ikke-fiktions bøger jeg nogensinde har læst! Forfatteren er klog og god til at gøre disse cases levende og tankevækkende.
Charlene Lewis- Estornell
Oliver sacks provides entertaining and informative stories of people living with various brain abnormalities. In this book, sacks focused on abnormalities that often compelled the individual to record their environment in extreme ways. For example, Sacks suggest maybe we are all hardwired for recording history, since our only tools for millions of years were our brains and voices, and we handed down an oral history of human existence, throughout the generations. However, in some individuals, the ...more
Dec 14, 2015 Maria rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
aunque algunos casos me parecieron más interesantes que otros, en general todos son curiosos y las reflexiones fabulosas. Muy recomendable si tienes una mínima curiosidad sobre cómo funciona el cerebro
Emily Brooks
Jun 01, 2015 Emily Brooks rated it really liked it
An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks tells the stories of seven people with anomalies of the mind and body. This book separates the stories into the seven different tales and it goes through each of the stories in great detail. Sacks not only tells about the person's anomaly, but writes about his interactions with them and his own thoughts about the person's disability or disease.
I found this book to be very interesting. All of the weird and strange things that Sacks wrote about in his book
Nov 24, 2014 Наталія rated it it was amazing
"як антрополог на Марсі" - так описала свою емоційну неспроможність зрозуміти інших неймовірна Темпл Грандінг (чи не найвідоміша особа з аутизмом Аспергера). її розповідь - тільки одна з семи інших (що ввійшли в книжку) історій людей, які живуть з неврологічними проблемами. І ці історії просто неймовірні. Для мене вони щось на кшталт філософських трактатів. Навіть більше, бо демонструють зворотний бік буття, змушують задуматися над кордонами між душею, тілом, соціальними конструктами. Ще раз зад ...more
Easton Smith
Apr 11, 2016 Easton Smith rated it really liked it
Oliver Sachs seems to actually believe that everyone he encounters is a full, interesting human being who is worthy of his empathy, but also his time as an academic researcher and a friend. Sachs frequently inserts small asides into his stories about his relationship with his subjects: the habit he created of visiting a severely mentally unstable man in the neglected back ward on a mental hospital "whenever he was passing through the state," the way that he takes his subjects out to lunch before ...more
Stefany GG
Oct 28, 2014 Stefany GG rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Creo que todos podemos coincidir con la frase "cada cabeza es un mundo". La diversidad, que tanto nos distingue en nuestra especie, no sólo depende de la apariencia o de dónde somos sino también de lo que está nuestra mente. Un tema muy interesante a evaluar es la plasticidad del cerebro humano expuesto en este libro sobre 7 casos clínicos neurológicos. Profundiza en la teoría sobre lo que damos por sentado, cosas como el color, la emoción, la memoria y la perspectiva. Cosas que sin ellas pareci ...more
Derek Davis
Oct 05, 2011 Derek Davis rated it really liked it
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
Apr 02, 2012 C. McKenzie rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 23, 2013 Robert rated it really liked it
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
If this book ended after the first five case studies, I would have given this four stars, but the last two studies really seemed to drag for me. Actually, I really enjoyed reading about Stephen Wiltshire, as well, and I wish Sacks had confined that study to just him. In fact, I highly recommend googling Stephen Wiltshire, and catching a glimpse of him and his work on the documentary tv show Extraordinary People. Sacks is good at describing Wiltshire's extraordinary talent, but not as good at ill ...more
Jan 30, 2012 Selena rated it did not like it
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
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
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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
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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
“This sense of the brain’s remarkable plasticity, its capacity for the most striking adaptations, not least in the special (and often desperate) circumstances of neural or sensory mishap, has come to dominate my own perception of my patients and their lives. So much so, indeed, that I am sometimes moved to wonder whether it may not be necessary to redefine the very concepts of “health” and “disease,” to see these in terms of the ability of the organism to create a new organization and order, one that fits its special, altered disposition and needs, rather than in the terms of a rigidly defined “norm.” 1 likes
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