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An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales

4.18  ·  Rating Details ·  11,873 Ratings  ·  720 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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Manny
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
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cathy
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
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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
Abdulrahman
Opening an Oliver Sacks book is like opening a door to the brain, where his words will guide you through the mysterious wondrous fatty maze that is the cerebrum.

In this book, Sacks will take you into a captivating journey, leading you through three different parts of the brain: starting with the visual cortex, where you'll meet the completely colorblind painter who had to radically reinvent his art to get through a life-changing catastrophe.

Then, on your way to the frontal lobe, you'll encount
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David
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
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
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Jarrah
May 23, 2016 Jarrah rated it liked it
An Anthropologist on Mars is an engaging collection of seven neurological case studies that illustrate a supposed paradox - that what is perceived as disability or neurological deficit can result in amazing adaptations that make it a kind of gift. For example, a painter sustains a brain injury that makes him unable to see colour, and after a period of initial depression and disorientation, begins to appreciate his new way of seeing, and to reproduce it in black and white art.

The most famous cas
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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
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Eleni
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”,
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Cindy
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
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Will
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 ...more
Sarah Al Qassimi
Sep 01, 2016 Sarah Al Qassimi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, medicine
I finished it.

I didn't want to finish it.

It was an accident, I swear.

blakeR
I expected more from this than a series of vignettes. Even the back cover says "seven paradoxical tales," the last word implying some sort of narrative or plot structure within each section. Yet there is little narrative and no resolution, with the conclusions to each section being abrupt and consistently unsatisfying. Each story is merely a glimpse into the lives of people experiencing extraordinary circumstances -- circumstances borne of what is generally thought of as illness or disease but ...more
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
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Ronald
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
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Matt
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 ...more
Jamie Collins
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
Pradeep Ck
Jun 11, 2016 Pradeep Ck rated it it was amazing
An extremely empathetic account of people afflicted with unusual neurological disorders - which offers a glimpse of how the brain works. Though Mr. Sacks stated aim is to analyse the functioning of the brain, he seems to be driven by the human stories behind the cases.

So he travels long distances to be with the famous artist who can no longer see color, the idiot savant who compulsively draws buildings in intricate detail, the blind person, whose eyes are restored, but sight stubbornly refuses
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Cheng
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 ...more
Marjorie
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 ...more
Natalia Belchi
Recomendado por mi profesora de procesos psicológicos básicos, no ha estado mal. El problema es que por cada anomalía que se presentaba en el libro duraba un montón de páginas que en muchos casos acababan por aburrirme, hasta que hacia el final opté por pasar las páginas rápidamente y no centrarme más que en la descripción de síntomas y alguna cosilla más.
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.
Patty
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.
Fernando
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.
Maria
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
Siobhan
Oct 26, 2016 Siobhan rated it liked it
An Anthropologist on Mars is one of those books that has been mentioned countless times across my academic career, with lectures and students alike constantly referencing it. It took me a long time to work around to it, but I can finally say I’ve given it a read.

For me, An Anthropologist on Mars was an interesting read. Considering how much people had enjoyed it, though, I had expected a little bit more. It covered seven interesting cases, allowing me to better understand the specific cases ment
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Robert
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
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Quo
Oct 20, 2014 Quo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Books by Dr. Oliver Sachs are not so easy to review 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 own ...more
Cici
Nov 05, 2014 Cici rated it it was amazing
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 being appropriated, without becoming part of him in the least. That though he might retain everything he saw, in a sense, it was retained as something external, unintegrated, never built on, connected, revised, never influencing or influenced by anything else ... as in the random-access memory of a computer
...more
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
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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
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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
“These then are tales of metamorphosis, brought about by neurological chance, but metamorphosis into alternative states of being, other forms of life, no less human for being so different.” 2 likes
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