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Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
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Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

3.95  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,771 Ratings  ·  414 Reviews
Oliver Sacks's luminous memoir charts the growth of a mind. Born in 1933 into a family of formidably intelligent London Jews, he discovered the wonders of the physical sciences early from his parents and their flock of brilliant siblings, most notably "Uncle Tungsten" (real name, Dave), who "manufactured lightbulbs with filaments of fine tungsten wire." Metals were the sub ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published September 17th 2002 by Vintage (first published 2001)
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Sarah I have some science background, as I am reading this for school, and I hand trouble with it, but I think you may have some trouble with the more…moreI have some science background, as I am reading this for school, and I hand trouble with it, but I think you may have some trouble with the more dense, science oriented parts. You can technically skim those parts with little affect to the story, but it may not be the best book for you.(less)

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karen
Jun 19, 2015 karen rated it really liked it
i do not understand science.

most phenomena i just dismiss with accusations of magic: the moon controls the tides?? but they are so far away!! oh, maaaagic!! leap year?? account for thyself!! magic?? got it. how did you make this pluot, sir?? ah, i see you are an alchemist!

much of it i have to blame on my high schooling because i have not studied any aspect of the sciences since then, but it's not like i have gone out of my way to do any research now that i am grown. i mean,they do make books af
...more
Liralen
May 09, 2012 Liralen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I read this, a chapter at a time, as bedtime reading for my 11-year-old son, who is very much into science, and said son is now fascinated with chemistry, its history, and all the people that were involved in many of the theories that have been proved.

I am struck by Sack's language throughout, the lyrical quality with which he describes a unique home life in London during the Second World War, the chemical explorations of his boyhood (my son was especially struck by the idea of another 11-year-o
...more
Anastasia Hobbet
Feb 02, 2010 Anastasia Hobbet rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
This is a five-star jealousy rating. Oh, to have had the intellectual riches of Oliver Sacks' childhood. It's not possible anymore, even if you have equally intelligent, indulgent, slightly disconnected parents, who let him do what he wished, when he wished, how he wished--allowing him, over years, to play in an under-the-stairs chemistry lab, where he nearly blew himself and the house sky-high many times. Safety glasses? Fire protection? Concerns about poisonous fumes? Never mind! And how pale ...more
Chrissie
Feb 20, 2012 Chrissie marked it as not-for-me  ·  review of another edition
I feel totally terrible on giving up on this book. It is a very good book, but I believe it will not be readable for many. Or maybe I should put it this way – it cannot be appreciated as it should be unless you either have a thorough knowledge of chemistry or are willing to read the book slowly and do the experiments, look at the pinecones and sunflowers and investigate alongside the author as he speaks of his childhood in London. His family is one of scholars. These people were those very few w ...more
Curtiss
Jul 05, 2015 Curtiss rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Everyone
This is the very personal memoir of Dr. Oliver Sacks, who is known as the author of numerous anecdotal stories involving case-studies of his patients' neurological disorders.

As a young boy he experienced a profound excitement over the study of chemistry, which helped him cope with his own neuroses which had their origins in the brutal treatment he and his brother Michael received at a boys' school that they attended during the early years of World War II.

This was a period which Oliver considered
...more
Timothy
Apr 08, 2008 Timothy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very vivid and poignant account of Oliver Sacks childhood fascination and love for chemistry. He makes us all feel sad for the loss of that childlike curiosity and attachment to science. he found delight in exploring the physical world. How many of us has the abillity to do experiments on chemicals during our childhood days?How many of us dream of chemistry?How many of us delight in travelling the journey of science;asking questions and given answers to satisfy our eager curiosity? These are w ...more
Fred Jacobson
Jun 22, 2008 Fred Jacobson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I went on a mini-Sacks "bender" this year, reading Uncle Tugsten, Musicophilia, and then dipping into one of his earlier books (An Anthropologist on Mars). What I have always loved about Sacks is his ability to present the scientific, social, personal and emotional aspects of his subject as a balanced entity. You can see, through his writings, how he develops a rapport with his patients.
Uncle Tungsten is a memoir of Sacks, growing up in Britain under the Blitz, a child of a remarkable family. P
...more
Ed
Aug 09, 2010 Ed rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an odd book--part autobiography, part history of chemistry. Sacks, a neurologist who writes beautifully about unusual people. In doing so he always reminds me not only of our common humanity, but of just how strange and wonderful our humanity is. In this book he is the subject of his narrative and he manages to depict himself with the same grace and wit that uses to characterize others. The heart of the book is his experience being evacuated Along with many other children from London dur ...more
Katya Epstein
Jul 26, 2011 Katya Epstein rated it liked it
I had a very strong personal reaction to this book (Sacks reminds me very much of my late father), so it's hard for me to judge whether it's a good book in any objective sense. It is not a standard memoir, in that you don't learn very much about Sacks' life or family outside of his explorations of chemistry. This can be frustrating. For instance, at one point he describes how as a teenager his brother Michael suffered from paranoid delusions (was he schizophrenic?), but then never goes on to say ...more
Laura
Jul 03, 2016 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Tungsteno è uno dei miei preferiti di Sacks. E' sia un bell'excursus autobiografico della sua infanzia e giovinezza, a tratti molto dolorosa ma il più delle volte ricca di affetti e interessi e conoscenze, sia un ripercorrere la storia della chimica attraverso il suo scoprire questo mondo nel mondo. Proprio per la parte centrale che la storia della chimica ha in questo libro non mi sento di consigliarlo a tutti indiscriminatamente: di chimica e della sua storia ce n'è davvero tanta, se non si co ...more
Darcy
Jul 25, 2009 Darcy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was great because you can really sense the boyhood excitement, and you pick up a lot of little chemistry trivia (which I, as a chemist, especially appreciate). I don't think it's too technical, however, and I hope its chemistry content does not deter non-chemists of any type from reading it.

While reading, I was frequently reminded that the world has changed significantly in the past ~60 years. Oliver Sacks grew up in a time where you could essentially run down to the store and buy som
...more
Z
Jan 14, 2008 Z rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2007, own
I enjoyed this considerably more than The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, which partly just reflects my relative levels of interest in chemistry and neuroscience, but also reflects the way this book interleaves scientific and wartime memoir -- the Second World War being a topic which interests me more than either of the above, at least from a pleasure-reading point of view. (Plus, I learned a few more obnoxious chemistry trivia facts, the better to torment family and friends.)
Kimberly Lightle
As a kid I really liked my chemistry set - maybe that is why I grew up to teach high school chemistry. I'm also a really good cook. The stories in this book really spoke to me - the relationship of the author and his uncle and that science is really cool!
Juan Hidalgo
Feb 08, 2016 Juan Hidalgo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Siempre es emocionante descubrir a un autor que te impacta y te hace pensar y replantearte las cosas, y este es el caso de Oliver Sacks, acreditado neurólogo (por desgracia fallecido en agosto de 2015) que en su infancia superó algunos de sus traumas e inseguridades gracias a la pasión por la ciencia, y por la química en particular.
Aunque con anotaciones biográficas, el libro es también una amena y detallada historia de los descubrimientos y avances químicos que, personalmente, me ha hecho enten
...more
Chris
This is Sacks' inspiring memoir of his early teenage years, when his growing scientific mind recapitulated the history of chemistry through reading and his own hands-on experiments. It can be read either as a record of one person's education, or as a high-level history of chemistry. The magic of this book is how Sacks combined the two into an engaging narrative.

He begins by telling of his earliest observations, when not yet ten years old, of simple material categories. This grew into differentia
...more
Steve Smits
Sep 09, 2013 Steve Smits rated it liked it
I enjoy Oliver Sack's works. For one who is such an accomplished scientific figure in the medical world, his prose writing is so good. "Uncle Tungsten", published first in 2001, is his memoir of his life and times in pre and immediately post war England. Sack's family were Jews who had immigrated to England around the turn of the 20th century. His parents were physicians and his uncles (he came from quite a large family) were scientists and entrepreneurs. Uncle "Tungsten" owned and ran a factory ...more
Rūta
Mar 20, 2013 Rūta rated it it was amazing
Wonderfully inspiring, even more so because the book revolves around the great love of mine - chemistry.
Through his memories of childhood/adolescence Oliver Sacks tells the simplified (short?) version of the history of chemistry. I've come to realize that his "reasons" for chemical curiosity are rather similar to my own - to find certainty in this world, to understand the origins and reactions of things all around me, and so I was not enthralled to read the last chapter, "The End of the Affair",
...more
Tim Weakley
I think this is the most personal of Sacks' books. The premise is an autobiographic one. It's the story of his boyhood during wartime Britain, and his experiences with both his multi-talented family, and his youthful love of science and chemistry. It also becomes woven in with the history of chemistry and the periodic table. I love history of science books, and biography so to get both in one book was a surprise and a treat! It made me think of the best works by John Gribbin that I had read many ...more
S.M. Johnson
Mar 16, 2014 S.M. Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
This book was just as great on my second readthrough as it was on my first. Sacks has the rare talent to combine science, art, and humanity, and the result is a beautifully written account of both his childhood and the early science of chemistry and the people that were involved. These days it's easy for us to take things like the modern-day conception of a quantum atom for granted, but this book brings you back to a time when this was an amazing discovery and, more than that, tells you exactly ...more
Sid Johnson
May 26, 2015 Sid Johnson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've had several of Oliver Sacks' books on my to-read list for quite awhile, but this one roped me in first. It reminded me of my own adventures with chemistry sets, but I had nothing like the intellectual environment and support that the author had. Sacks brilliantly describes his ecstatic immersion in the still fast-developing world of chemistry during and after WWII. What he learned before the age of 14 was incredible. His fascination with all things chemical is infectious, and it provides a ...more
Justin
Feb 04, 2008 Justin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a memoir of a brilliant man's curious evolution as an inquiring mind. His family is super-brainy and it's no wonder that he is too, since they gave him his own chemistry-lab at age 10 to start blowing shit up. This book is also a superb primer for anyone interested in the history of chemistry, from alchemy to the most recent discoveries.
Lyn Elliott
I enjoyed this memoir of the young Oliver, able to explore 'what happens if...' in his home laboratory and the natural world around him. Here you see the brilliant family that produced the extraordinary man Sacks became.
Tonya
Mar 26, 2009 Tonya rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this autobiography. Sacks is such an engaging writer. I got to go listen to him speak a few years ago at Mayo - he was just as delightful in person as in print.
Self-propelled
Mar 08, 2016 Self-propelled rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Oliver Sacks' childhood memoirs are, like everything he wrote, infused with humanism, passion, and the kind of delicate sensibility that allowed him to become a unique chronicler of human nature. This and Primo Levi's The Periodic Table are surely the two greatest books ever written on chemistry - as well as two of the greatest memoirs, and two of the greatest books on science of any kind. I enjoyed Uncle Tungsten more than The Periodic Table, perhaps because the insights it offered into its str ...more
Denise
Jan 14, 2012 Denise rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book in spite of the fact that I am not too educated about chemistry and the elements - just the basic high school classes I took. There were lots of parts that I skimmed over - just too much detailed science for me. But I learned so many new things about the discovery of the elements and about so many scientists that laid the groundwork for what we know as the periodical table of elements. I also gained an appreciation for the order in the universe and marveled at the patterns foun ...more
Cailean
Apr 29, 2012 Cailean rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Oliver Sacks has such an engaging style of writing! He is clearly very intelligent and absolutely fascinated with the world. This book focuses on the early years of his childhood and the influence of his relatives, who were primarily in the science and medical fields. He grew up in England during WWII and was deeply affected by his experiences due to the war. Most of the chapters focus on Chemistry and his obsession with investigating the world around him -- doing his own experiments, visiting h ...more
Ornella Riquelme
The story that the Oliver Sacks begins in the 1930’s, before World War II. He tell us about his childhood and his curiosity in science, specifically, chemicals. He explains how since he was a child he was interested in, metals and their properties. For example, when he was little he would ask his mom about chemicals, and sometimes his mom wouldn't know how to answer it, but his uncle will answer the questions. His uncle was known as Uncle Tungsten, and it was because he form lightbulb out of tun ...more
Kressel Housman
Several GR friends recommended The Disappearing Spoon as a narrative approach to chemistry for the science-challenged like myself. I thought Dr. Sacks' memoir might be the same. Unfortunately, I think I should have read The Disappearing Spoon first because I did not have the background for this memoir. It's one thing to push myself through the dull sections of a history book, but with science, I might as well be reading a foreign language. That's not to say I got nothing out of the book, but I c ...more
Julie
Sep 24, 2015 Julie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great fun romping inside the mind of Oliver Sacks as he reminisces of childhood days. Insightful, funny, sometimes somber, sometimes lighthearted, always engaging. What strikes me as its most important quality is that it bears a restorative effect on those minds seeking to explain their own childhoods.

A great story-teller, of course, and he has produced a well-crafted literary work.

Everything that I would write would be a spoiler, of course, because it is a memoir so I'm just adding my voice to
...more
Jordan
For those you enjoy well written autobiographies, this will not fail to disappoint. If you have studied chemistry and/or the history of scientific discovery, you will be more well-placed to understand the scientific language in the book. If not, it is still a very good read. You may also need to be a fan of footnotes to enjoy this book, as some pages are more footnotes than writing. However you look at it, the tale of this man's upbringing, his fascination with science, with the unknown and his ...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
More about Oliver Sacks...

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“I liked numbers because they were solid, invariant; they stood unmoved in a chaotic world.

There was in numbers and their relation something absolute, certain, not to be questioned, beyond doubt.”
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“I sought for (and sometimes achieved) an intense concentration, a complete absorption in the worlds of mineralogy and chemistry and physics, in science – focusing on them, holding myself together in the chaos...create my own world from the neutrality and beauty of nature, so that I would not be swept into the chaos, the madness, the seduction,” 0 likes
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