Mike Shultz's Reviews > Uncle Tungsten

Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks
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's review
Sep 18, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: non-fiction
Read from February 12 to 27, 2011

This is one of the best books of nonfiction I've read in a while, although I feel like I'm the perfect target audience and I'm not sure if it will be quite as magical to a non-chemist. It's not often that I can read a book about general chemistry and encounter so many things that I didn't know before. There are a dozen or so experiments that Sacks describes doing as a boy that I didn't know about and would love to run out and do (although some would be difficult or dangerous.) I didn't know that I was going to get a concise history of chemistry/science at the same time, which again may be boring for others but was fascinating to me. Sacks picks out the most interesting (and human) bits as he tells it, adding lots of color to the basic brush-strokes that I already knew.

The personal story through which the science came out was equally engaging. Some of the stuff that happened to him as a boy--from being abused at boarding school to being forced by his mother to participate in abortions--is appalling and certainly far beyond anything I've experienced, and it gets me thinking about the extraordinary histories that many extraordinary people seem to have lived.

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