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Awakenings

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  10,065 ratings  ·  461 reviews
Awakenings--which inspired the major motion picture--is the remarkable story of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen for decades in a trance-like state, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Oliver Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, ...more
Paperback, 464 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Vintage (first published 1973)
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  10,065 ratings  ·  461 reviews


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William2
The crux of the book is the work Sacks began in the mid-1960s with dozens of post-encephalitic patients at Bronx's Beth Abraham hospital, then called the Bronx Home for Incurables and disguised here as Mount Carmel. These patients were infected in 1918 by the encephalitis lethargica virus, or sleepy sickness. (Not to be confused with the worldwide influenza pandemic of that same year.) Those who survived were able afterwards to lead normal lives for years and sometimes decades until they were ...more
Megan
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading this makes me wish all doctors approached medical practice the way Dr. Sacks does. His clinical grasp of neurology is impressive, but his humanity, compassion, and philosophical approach lend him a more effective manner than other clinicians. His ability to present the conditions of his patients and their treatment as more than either/or, as more than a list of data points, is what makes this book a classic. A basic familiarity with neurology makes this an easier read; he uses a lot of ...more
Zanna
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers & carers
Shelves: stem, philosophy
The story is thrilling: the sleepy sickness epidemic that followed WWI left many people with profound Parkinsonian symptoms; some were hardly able to move, never spoke, seemed frozen in time for forty years. A large number of these patients were under Sacks' care at Mount Carmel hopital in New York in 1969 when he decided to try giving them the new drug L-DOPA, and witnessed many of them coming suddenly, vividly to life. But this blurb summary is a gross simplification! Sacks is at pains even in ...more
Joanne Annabannabobanna
Feb 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone still taking life for granted
Simply astonishing. My first experience with Oliver Sachs, long before any movie. Stumbled across it while browsing a tiny one room library located in the charming community of Vankleek Hill, Ontario where I lived at the time, and immediately became absorbed by the history of the so-called Spanish flu, its effects and the incredible results produced by Sachs' medical intervention. Not least affecting was the eloquence with which Sachs wrote about the patients in his care, provoking intense ...more
Ashley
Feb 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Eh, this book was somewhat of a let down I thought. There is a marvelous story here, but this book couldn't decide if it wanted to be a clinical write up of these patients, or appeal to the masses. It tried to walk the line between the two and failed. Just as I would get into the story about a patient, a bunch of medical terms about their condition would pop up, I'd have NO clue what they meant, and the enchantment would end. Three stars for the effort, and because the substance is pretty ...more
J.M. Hushour
Nov 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating and often very moving account of Sacks' famous experiments using a new-at-the-time dopamine medication to treat the "sleeping" victims of the encephalitis lethargica outbreak in the early 20th century. Excoriated at the time for cautioning on L-DOPA's "miraculous" nature, Sacks takes the reader on a case-by-case study detailing the medicine's effects on patients who had been virtually catatonic/comatose for decades. These case studies are startling, weird, disturbing, and ...more
Lyn Elliott
Aug 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This was the first of Sacks's books I read, and I had never read anything like it. The discovery that a chemical could bring 'frozen' people to consciousness again after an apparent sleep of years, was mind blowing to read about - and literally mind blowing for some of those who emerged for a time from the effects of their meningitis and then sank out of consciousness again. Sacks recorded the process as a scientist, and a man who is deeply concerned about the human condition and for his ...more
Kati
Sep 02, 2014 rated it it was ok
I’m going to try to limit my rating to the quality of the book itself and not the events it portrays. I’m afraid under that criteria I can’t rate Awakenings any better than a ‘2’ for the majority of it, although the portions added in 1982 and 1990 are better written than the original material from 1972. This book has an unfortunate quality of being neither here nor there. Much of the book is filled with highly technical terms and seems that it was not really written with the layman in mind, and ...more
Nourhan Elkafrawy
May 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
one of the most wonderful books I have ever read in my life and the movie for Robin Williams and Robert de Niro is a magnificent piece of art ...more
PJ Who Once Was Peejay
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is a true story about people who became prisoners of their own brains, their own brain chemistry. Just after World War I an epidemic of sleeping sickness froze these patients in a trance-like state. Long thought to be untreatable, they were suddenly brought back to life in 1969 when Dr. Oliver Sacks gave them the drug L-DOPA. They woke to a world that had changed utterly in the intervening years. Some of them were able to adjust, some could not deal with the changes in the world and in ...more
MrsJennyReads
Jan 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
My husband bought this book and he has great taste in books. I decided to read this for the challenge. I’ve noticed there are a lot of books out now about disease. Its like the new fad. I have a condition called papilledma. Its not deadly, which I am blessed by GOD for that. I don’t like reading about people suffering because I know how it feels. I have watched enough people be sick and I don’t want to read about it. That’s my personal choice. But this book was very insightful.

I am very blessed
...more
Charlie
Jul 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is the astonishing true story of a group of people aflicted with a severe 'sleeping' sickness who were awakened for a while by a drug called L Dopa. It is full of personal moments of extreem grief and happiness and wonder. It is a story of clinical experimentation and individual care and understanding.

A very good film of it has also been made with Robin Williams as Oliver Sacks. I think, as usual, the book is better than the film, but the film gives a good feel for the story line if not
...more
Laurel
Jun 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A couple quotes that deeply resonated with me:

"Some of these patients had achieved a state of icy hopelessness akin to serenity: a realistic hopelessness, in those pre-dopa days: they knew they were doomed, and they accepted this with all the courage and equanimity they could muster. Other patients (and, perhaps, to some extent, all of these patients, whatever their surface serenity) had a fierce and impotent sense of outrage: they had been swindled out of the best years of life; they were
...more
Ian
I am struggling to find words to describe my feelings of amazement at the case histories set out in this book, and my wonderment at what a strange place the mind can be. For anyone unaware of the background, in the sixties Dr. Sacks worked with survivors of an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica that began in Central Europe in 1916 and lasted for about 10 years, affecting an estimated 5 million people worldwide. In the severest cases, such as Dr. Sacks’ patients, survivors were left in a near ...more
Jean Cole
After the flu epidemic of the 1920s there was another epidemic which I was not aware of. It was called "sleeping sickness", technical term "encephalitis lethargica". Literally millions of people fell to this disease, whose main symptoms are absolute loss of motion and speech. This condition is related in some way to Parkinson's Disease. A good number of these people were hospitalized in Mount Carmel hospital in New York for decades with no change in their condition. Then in the 1960s Dr. Oliver ...more
Erik Graff
Sep 24, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: psychology
For viewers of the motion picture of the same name or those only familiar with Sacks' collections such as The Man Who Mistood His Wife for a Hat (1985), this book may come as a bit of a surprise. Published in 1973, Sacks was still very much writing as a professional neurologist and had not yet fully found his authorial voice. While still an interesting and thought-provoking tale, this book has much more the dryness, and critical apparati, of the academy.
Cain S.
Oct 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Movement and Sleep in Parkinsonians

The idea that our bodies and minds are totally separate in their functioning and existence is a rather simplistic and erroneous view. The two are connected in several uncanny ways and influence the functioning of each other very profoundly. The object of this paper’s study is the book Awakenings by Oliver Sacks. We will concern ourselves with the way the biological and psychological processes of movement which correlate with Parkinson’s general symptoms. Our
...more
April Helms
Feb 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
This completes my "read a book then watch the movie" fulfillment for the Book Riot challenge, so this is actually two reviews. I hadn't planned to use this one- I've actually seen the movie before (albeit some years ago). I was just on a science kick and had read Sacks' Musicophelia and really enjoyed it. But I really wanted to watch the movie again after reading this. I really wish I would have read the book first; usually I don't feel that strongly whether I read the novel or watch the movie ...more
Claudia
Sacks must be brilliant...allusions from science (of course), but also art, literature, philosophy...he connects them all.

Summer of '69 was a busy one: Woodstock, Apollo 11 to the moon, and L-dopa tried on Parkinson's patients in a small eastern hospital. Patients whose Parkinsons was brought on by flu epidemics in the 20's and 30's, and who had lived as prisoners of their bodies since then.

He tells the story of each patient...his or her past, and the course on L-dopa...in the epilogue he
...more
Kenneth Rathburn
Sep 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Oliver Sacks' book about a group of mental patients who undergo an experiment goes through a wide variety of emotions, all of which contribute feeling and power to one of the greatest stories I've ever had the pleasure of reading. What we're provided is a tale that begins with mild interest, shortly becomes heart-warming and, before long, entrancing before the last chapters conclude a read that's just too great to spoil. This is one of those few books that honestly made me look at life and the ...more
Donna
Jul 20, 2015 rated it did not like it
I really wanted to like this book, but I found it to be overly technical, the writing style to be kind of grandiose, and the story of what appeared to be experimentation on patients that would not fly today pretty horrifying. There were few success stories here.
Aaron Wolfson
(This analysis also appears on my blog, Profound Reading.)

What most struck me about reading Awakenings was how little I knew about Parkinsonism. I thought it was just a shaking disease, a “fact” I “learned” from the two most famous people with Parkinson’s, Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox.

In truth Parkinson’s is so much more; it’s probably among the most variable, elusive disorders known to man. Common symptoms include rigidity, catatonia, masking (expressionless face, voice, or posture),
...more
Bob
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Summary: Chronicles the experience of post-encephalitis patients existing as prisoners in their own bodies in a trance-like state, who, when treated with L-DOPA, experienced dramatic "awakenings" nearly always followed by debilitating side effects, often resulting with withdrawal of the drug, and a return to their former state.

From 1916 to 1927, there was an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica, or "sleeping sickness." The sickness often resulted in a period of profound lethargy, sometimes ending
...more
Ann
Jan 17, 2018 rated it liked it
It was not at all what I expected. While the subject matter could interest a lay reader, it was written in extremely technical medical language, and there were times where I was sure I would give this book only 1 star, if I ever managed to finish it. My eyes would glaze over page after page of words that I didn't recognize and were not in the Kindle's built-in dictionary. The glossary in the back is not easy to access in an e-book. Dr. Oliver Sacks writes about his experience treating patients ...more
belva hullp
Jun 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is fascinating stuff!

I am not nor was I ever a medical student nor have I ever worked in the medical field. But I am so thankful that I read this book & must say, even at the beginning of my thoughts & comments, that I highly recommend this work of Sacks. The man has a brilliant mind, very worthy of our appreciation.
I could not have read this book, had I not read ALL of the preliminary notes which take the reader well into the book and give one such as myself a very good background
...more
Andreea
Oct 29, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I started to read “Awakenings” I was prepared to discover a number of medical cases of patients that suffered from the post-encephalitic syndrome. I was acquainted with the opinion of Dr. Sacks regarding the presentation of medical results not only in a pure mathematical form, but also as individual cases. Because you can not reduce someone’s context and being to just numbers.

However, this book is so much more. It is a book of discovery from several points of view. We discover Dr. Sacks
...more
Kathryn Jacoby
Awakenings relates the neurologist Oliver Sacks’ experience in a NYC clinic working with resident patients who were affected by an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica (called “sleeping sickness”) that lasted from 1915-1926 and killed millions in Europe and America. Forty years later and imprisoned in Parkinson’s-like immobility and stupor, survivors are offered the experimental drug L-DOPA. Following decades-long slumbers, patients come back to life and out of their frozen states, awakening to a ...more
Abbi
Dec 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Favorite tidbits:

A third of those affected died in the acute stages of the sleeping-sickness, in states of coma so deep as to preclude arousal, or in states of sleeplessness so intense as to preclude sedation...One thing, and one alone was (usually) spared amid the ravages of this otherwise engulfing disease: the “higher faculties” – intelligence, imagination, judgment, and humor.

As sickness is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sickness is solitude...solitude is a torment which is
...more
Rose
May 22, 2017 rated it it was ok
I was excited when my book group selected this book, as I remembered loving the feature film it inspired. However, my enthusiasm was quickly dampened within the first several pages -- not because of the content, but because of the writing style I encountered. The text is so full of medical jargon and clinical explanations (including footnoted expansions of the text which often take up close to or more than half of the printed page) that reading it was WORK, not pleasure. After the introductory ...more
Jared Gillins
Aug 28, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jared by: Amy Reid
Shelves: science
I watched the film version of "Awakenings" when I was 10 or 11. It was the first movie I cried in--a profound moment in my development. Now, over 20 years later, I've finally read the book that inspired Penny Marshall's adaptation.

Oliver Sacks is a remarkable writer, especially for a physician and scientist; his prose makes his real-life characters vividly alive in my mind. His approach to this book was unique, especially in 1973 when it was first published. It is essentially a series of medical
...more
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6,376 followers
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
...more
“One must drop all presuppositions and dogmas and rules - for there only lead to stalemate or disaster; one must cease to regard all patients as replicas, and honor each one with individual reactions and propensities; and, in this way, with the patient as one's equal, one's co-explorer, not one's puppet, one may find therapeutic ways which are better than other ways, tactics which can be modified as occasion requires.” 15 likes
“As Sicknes is the greatest misery, so the greatest misery of sicknes, is solitude...Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itselfe.
-DONNE”
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