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The Island of the Colour-blind and Cycad Island
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The Island of the Colour-blind and Cycad Island

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3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  2,573 ratings  ·  178 reviews
Always fascinated by islands, Oliver Sacks is drawn to the Pacific by reports of the tiny atoll of Pingelap, with its isolated community of islanders born totally colour-blind; and to Guam, where he investigates a puzzling paralysis endemic there for a century. Along the way, he re-encounters the beautiful, primitive island cycad trees - and these become the starting point ...more
Paperback, 361 pages
Published October 10th 1997 by Picador (first published 1993)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rebecca
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
...more
Wanda
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
...more
Jessica
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
Paola
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.
Travelin
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
Conor
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!

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
...more
Harry Rutherford
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
...more
Nola
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
Danna
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
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.
...more
Geraldine Sy
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
...more
Jamio
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
Jake
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.

A
...more
Jacklynn
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
Garrett Haynes
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Allison
Oct 15, 2014 Allison rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
ღ Carol jinx~☆~
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.
Hannah
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.
Britta
I read this book aloud to my father when he was in the hospital. It made a horrible experience bearable. When I think back, I have wonderful memories of the book. Sacks is such a wonderfully visual writer. He took us both to those tropical isles!
Courtney
I really enjoyed the first part, part two and three were meh.
Lisachan
Straordinario. Mi avessero detto anni fa che avrei provato tanta fascinazione nei confronti di un libro tanto specifico e tecnico come L'isola dei senza colore, non ci avrei creduto. Probabilmente non avrei neanche voluto leggerlo. E invece sono contenta di averlo fatto, perché il neurologo, botanico, naturalista, antropologo e chi più ne ha più ne metta Oliver Sacks è stato in grado, pur senza rinunciare a tecnicismi né a lunghissime, specifiche note in chiusura del suo saggio, di trasportarmi ...more
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 Naurologist, 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
...more
Holly
2009 #42: This book is by Oliver Sacks, a neurologist who also wrote the non-fiction book Awakenings that the Robert DeNiro & Robbin Williams book is based on. The first half of the book is a study of a group of natives to islands in the Pacific where around 10% of the population is colorblind. It is more than just a neurological picture of them, it is also a cultural picture of how these people cope with their sight issues. Sacks does a great job of drawing you into the story of this group ...more
Kurtbg
Drawn by an interest in studying the lives of people with complete color blindness and a love for cycads (flora dating back to "prehistoric times), Oliver Sacks recounts his visit to the islands of Micronesia.

Sacks delvers into how people with color (or for him being british, colour) blindness live. Full cases of color blindness (achromatopsia) are hard to come by, yet in some micronesian islands there are large percentages of full cases. He also recounts a mysterious illness on the islands that
...more
Joe Silber
Fairly different from other books by Sacks that I have read; it contains (in addition to the medical studies and mysteries that you would expect) island travelogue, botany, and a touch of autobiography, all written in Sacks' familiar warm, literate style. It is split into two main sections (plus a brief epilogue) both involving islands - the first half covers the titular Island of the Colorblind, Pingelap, while the second half discusses the mysterious lytico-bodig disease found among natives of ...more
Fred
good, though not great. he is a good writer, but a large part of the narrative is devoted to a fairly boring search for the etiology of a disorder. i like scientific and medical mysteries, but the journey for an answer is so dry and inconclusive i found myself skimming and skimming. other than that, it is nice travel writing with a nice memoir-ish tone. he is smart, observant dude.
Courtney
It's a mix of narrative and factual account, I mostly enjoyed it, but found that I wanted more information on somethings and less on others.

It's interesting (most of the time), yet dense, but I feel that it was misleading. Little time is spent on the actual colorblindness, which is the primary reason for picking up this book, the secondary reason was that is was by Oliver Sacks. It was misleading in that I thought that book was going to fixate on the colorblind, or at least their island, but it'
...more
Nora
Sacks writes a pretty scientific account of his Micronesian tour, which I guess I can't criticize. The guy's a neurologist. However, that being said, he does a phenomenal job describing the interactions he has with Pacific Islanders and how mystified he is by nature.

***

And in that first long moment, with the children coming out of the forest, some with their arms around each other, and the tropical luxuriance of vegetation in all directions - the beauty of the primitive, the human and the natura
...more
Cindy Hartner
I have great respect for the curiosity, love and wisdom the author pours into this book. This is the reason that I gave it two stars instead of one. However, for me this was a brutal snooze. This was a journal through nerdville that I only completed due to my devotion to my book club. Several times I considered offing myself, but reminded myself that it was, in fact, just a book.
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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
More about Oliver Sacks...
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