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Oliver Sacks' memoirs #2

On the Move: A Life

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When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.” It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction, and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.

With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions—weight lifting and swimming—also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists—Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick—who influenced him.

On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer—and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.

397 pages, Hardcover

First published April 1, 2015

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About the author

Oliver Sacks

110 books8,516 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 was six years old, he and his brother were evacuated from London to escape The Blitz, retreating to a boarding school in the Midlands, where he remained until 1943. During his youth, he was a keen amateur chemist, as recalled in his memoir Uncle Tungsten. He also learned to share his parents' enthusiasm for medicine and entered The Queen's College, Oxford University in 1951, from which he received a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in physiology and biology in 1954. At the same institution, he went on to earn in 1958, a Master of Arts (MA) and an MB ChB in chemistry, thereby qualifying to practice medicine.

After converting his British qualifications to American recognition (i.e., an MD as opposed to MB ChB), Sacks moved to New York, where he has lived since 1965, and taken twice weekly therapy sessions since 1966.

Sacks began consulting at chronic care facility Beth Abraham Hospital (now Beth Abraham Health Service) in 1966. At Beth Abraham, Sacks worked with a group of survivors of the 1920s sleeping sickness, encephalitis lethargica, who had been unable to move on their own for decades. These patients and his treatment of them were the basis of Sacks' book Awakenings.

His work at Beth Abraham helped provide the foundation on which the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF), where Sacks is currently an honorary medical advisor, is built. In 2000, IMNF honored Sacks, its founder, with its first Music Has Power Award. The IMNF again bestowed a Music Has Power Award on Sacks in 2006 to commemorate "his 40 years at Beth Abraham and honor his outstanding contributions in support of music therapy and the effect of music on the human brain and mind".

Sacks was formerly employed as a clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and at the New York University School of Medicine, serving the latter school for 42 years. On 1 July 2007, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons appointed Sacks to a position as professor of clinical neurology and clinical psychiatry, at the same time opening to him a new position as "artist", which the university hoped will help interconnect disciplines such as medicine, law, and economics. Sacks was a consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor, and maintained a practice in New York City.

Since 1996, Sacks was a member of The American Academy of Arts and Letters (Literature). In 1999, Sacks became a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences. Also in 1999, he became an Honorary Fellow at The Queen's College, Oxford. In 2002, he became Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Class IV—Humanities and Arts, Section 4—Literature).[38] and he was awarded the 2001 Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University. Sacks was awarded honorary doctorates from the College of Staten Island (1991), Tufts University (1991), New York Medical College (1991), Georgetown University (1992), Medical College of Pennsylvania (1992), Bard College (1992), Queen's University (Ontario) (2001), Gallaudet University (2005), University of Oxford (2005), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (2006). He was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2008 Birthday Honours. Asteroid 84928 Oliversacks, discovered in 2003 and 2 miles (3.2 km) in diameter, has been named in his honor.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,809 reviews
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
February 1, 2022
Oliver Sacks died today, 30th August 2015..

Back in the 50s/60s in California he was Dr. Sacks, a neurologist all week, but a gay, leatherclad biker called Wolf at weekends. That is when he wasn't on Muscle Beach going in for weightlifting competitions!

Oliver Sacks great accomplishment to me was to show us the people of the cases he describes as quite separate from their disorders. Not schizophrenics, but people with schizophrenia, not autistics or even autistic people, but people with autism and all of them appreciated by Sacks as suffering from their symptoms but not, in any basic way, being them. One of Sacks' brothers had schizophrenia and needed care almost his entire life so Sacks knew mental as well as neurological disordered thinking and never confused the person with the problem.

Essentially, Sacks was as interested in the person as he was the disorder and never thought of his patients as just 'cases'. He treated his patients as co-researchers into their symptoms and gave them a new perspective, one that, as might be said, was healthier than thinking they were sick and needed to find a doctor to cure them.

Sacks life was made more difficult by the fact he had prosopagnosia, face blindness. It's a terrible disorder. No one knows you have it when you don't recognise them in the street. They think you are snobbish and can't be bothered to acknowledge them. They talk to you and you are kind of cool because you don't know who they are. It didn't happen with everyone he met and it didn't happen all the time. It's a disorder that comes and goes and you have no idea when you have it and just not recognised someone. Add to that shyness, and this great author and neurologist had a lot to overcome with his patients himself. Probably it made him much more empathetic. I have prosopagnosia too, and I'm shy.

For most people Oliver Sacks will forever be Robin Williams who played him in the film Awakenings based on his book of the same name. His most famous book is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales. A brilliant book as a lot of his books were, but none as good as his last book, his autobiography On the Move.

I will miss Oliver. After reading this book I feel he is "Oliver" to me. He was truthful, vulnerable and didn't cover up either his faults, his rather unusual and only semi-legal hobbies - drugs for instance, or was falsely modest about his great achievements. I would like to have known him. A lovely man, an innovative scientist and doctor and an enjoyable author. This has been by a long way the best book of 2015.

Oliver, Alav haSholem, RIP.

Update This piece, Sabbath is the last piece Oliver Sacks wrote. It's an essay written just two weeks before he died. If you are a fan, you will enjoy this. If you come from an Orthodox Jewish community in the UK, you will identify with it, nodding your head perhaps at the traditions, perhaps at how he deserts it, perhaps at both, as I did. It is worth reading though.

Reading notes Just going to start this. So looking forward to it after the abridged version On the Move: A Life which I enjoyed but turned out to be the worst abridgement ever. This is much better. The story of a man who lived life to the full. The super-intellectual doctor full of humanity and love for people, disease processses and chickens in the week. But the gay leather man lifting weights on Shoal Bay high on amphetamines at weekends! What a life he lived.
Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
April 23, 2021
The print book, this one On the Move got 5* and a more extensive review. This review is for the BBC book and only gets 2*. Update But I have rerated it 5 star as for some reason, only this review shows. It is the worst abridgement of a book I have ever read. However I did enjoy reading it so much I bought the full book. The abridgement shows Sacks as this young man who liked motorbikes and drugs and grew up to become a genial doctor and best-selling author. A man who suppressed his homosexuality and lived alone, lonely all his life until he met his soul mate in his 70s. Nothing could be further from the truth! Absolutely nothing.

Whoever abridged this should be sent to work in a packing factory away forever from words, because they don't understand enough about books, writing or people to do anything but ruin them.


Original notes and review, all rubbish as it turns out. This was the BBC abridged version. I regard abridged books almost as a 'pilot' programme on the tv. If I like it I will buy the book or watch the show, and On the Move is amazingly good so I bought it and can't wait to read it, starting now.

I never knew he was gay and into drugs! This is very enjoyable. Sadly, he never fell in love until he was in his 70s, imagine waiting that long. And they are still in love.

His family home was in Mapesbury Road. My stamping ground! His house was solid Edwardian, mine older with 9'5" ceilings, 1852 Victoriana. I bet his house, like mine, is flats now though.
Profile Image for Glenn Sumi.
404 reviews1,587 followers
November 20, 2015
Neurologist. Doctor. Author. Pianist. Motorcycle enthusiast. Amateur weightlifter.

Oliver Sacks packed a lot of life into his 82 years (he died in August). And this incredible volume, the second part of his memoirs (the first is 2001’s Uncle Tungsten), chronicles his busy, fascinating adult life: Oxford, navigating his way through research and clinical studies (a trip to an Israeli kibbutz helped him focus on his career), his move to the U.S., his travels (“On The Move” indeed), discovering his passion for writing, finding his subjects, publication ups and downs, maintaining his deep friendships (among them the poets Thom Gunn, whose poem gives the book its title, and W.H. Auden), his family – both parents and two brothers were physicians, a third brother was schizophrenic – his battle with substance abuse and his late-in-life romantic partnership.

A tougher editor could have tightened some of the prose – I lost count of the number of times Sacks refers to someone as “genial” – and the science gets pretty dense near the end. But this is quibbling.

Sacks gives you the backstory to all his books (including Awakenings, which was made into a film, and his breakthrough book of essays, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat), tells you about some brushes with death (including one example of road rage that’s like something out of a thriller), and a couple of times includes some of his earlier written sketches that recount experiences more accurately than memories can.

What emerges is a portrait of a deeply complex, private, brilliant man who seized hold of life and found a way to utilize and appreciate all the gifts he was given. I’ll return to this inspiring book many times.

A couple of observations:
• One of his best friends was… Carol Burnett! No, not the comic actress. This Carol Burnett is an African-American doctor. I chuckled whenever he mentioned her.
• I suppose this is Sacks’s “coming out” book. When, at 18, he told his father that he might be attracted to men (up til then he had never done anything), his mother told him he was “an abomination” and she wished he “had never been born.” Sacks never theorizes about how this affected him. After 40, he was celibate for more than 35 years. He doesn’t explain why this was, but also, tactfully, doesn’t say how, living in New York City at the time, this might have reduced his contact with certain diseases. His various affairs, and his finding love late in life, gives the book an emotional resonance without ever feeling maudlin. His love of his schizophrenic brother Michael also adds heft, and may have instilled in him a curiosity about science and the brain.
• Sacks lived on City Island in New York City. I had no idea this place existed! It also provides a wonderful metaphor for the man himself.
• He spent time in Canada, and may have ended up as a physician in Manitoulin Island.
• Two of his famous cousins are: Al Capp, the cartoonist, and Israeli politician Abba Eban!
• If you want to know where Sacks's love of footnotes comes from, it's explained here. Often, his books would mushroom in size after they were submitted for publication because he would keep adding notes.
Profile Image for HP Saucerer.
85 reviews31 followers
June 4, 2019
”I am a storyteller, for better and for worse. I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition.” — Oliver Sacks

On the Move is the second of two memoirs written by British neurologist Dr Oliver Sacks; the first book, Uncle Tungsten, is an account of Sacks’ childhood growing up in England before the Second World War, with this book a recollection of Sacks’ adulthood.

Throughout the book, Sacks writes with unflinching honesty, with openness and sincerity, recalling in detail his friendships and his falling-outs, his failings and misfortunes, his family, his experimentation with LSD, his bungled love affairs and his homosexuality.

From early on, we see how writing was an integral part of his mental life. How, from the age of fourteen, he kept journals (in all, he had close to a thousand), and how indispensable to him this was, for it facilitated his need to think on paper.

Sacks writes candidly about the many obstacles he faced in becoming a published author; we see how his motivation for writing wasn’t fueled by a desire for fame or fortune, but how it came from a sense of wonder and a yearning to bring his passion for the intricate and intriguing workings of the brain to the public consciousness.

Sacks’ passion for neuroscience shines through, as does his unadulterated joy in the natural world, but what I found most fascinating, were the numerous other (often surprising) pastimes he pursued: from botany and classical music, to swimming, motorcycling and powerlifting - from just the opening few chapters, you get the sense that his was truly a richly lived life.

This was an infinitely intriguing and deeply moving memoir recalled with unbridled honesty and humour and I, for one, am certainly glad I took the time to read it. 5*
Profile Image for Jane.
79 reviews
June 14, 2015
I love Oliver Sacks, so I was incredibly disappointed to realize more than halfway through that I couldn't stand this book. It made me sad as well, for these are the last words of a dying man whose accomplishments and writings have made this world a more enlightened and decent place. This memoir is rambling and tedious. It has some good moments, such as when he describes coming to terms with his brother's mental illness and his own homosexuality. But then he cuts off the discussion and moves on to something trivial. Pay tribute to Oliver Sacks by going back and reading his earlier books, or listening to him on Radio Lab, or re-watching "Awakenings."
Profile Image for Nicole~.
198 reviews252 followers
December 17, 2015
I am a storyteller, for better and for worse. I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition, going with our powers of language, consciousness of self, and autobiographical memory. (On The Move: A Life - Oliver Sacks)

Oliver Sacks was the youngest of four boys born in England to a family in which a medical career seemed to be a hereditary trait: his father, mother, older brother, uncle and three first cousins were all doctors. At age 6, he and his brother were sent to boarding school during the Blitz, where they were often severely punished by a sadistic headmaster. Such abuses could easily be interpreted as psychological scarring and the origin of the thinly developed self confidence and awkwardness of his teenage years and young adulthood; a reservedness exacerbated by the awakening of his homosexuality at a time when in the UK this was considered a sex crime mandatorily treated by chemical castration, the likes of which Alan Turing suffered. Sacks recalled his mother reacting terribly to the reality of it: “You are an abomination,” she said. “I wish you had never been born.”

Seeking their instinct, or their poise, or both,
One moves with an uncertain violence
Under the dust thrown by a baffled sense
Or the dull thunder of approximate words.*

At 22, vacationing in Amsterdam , he was determined and later successful in losing his virginity in a drunken one night stand, not remembering for a minute if he liked it or not. Though Sacks might have been disinclined to do anything impetuous while living in England, he transformed over the years since his move to America. He became fascinated by racy motorbikes, exchanging the professional physician's white coat by day to bikers' gear by night.

In goggles, donned impersonality
In gleaming jackets trophied with the dust,
They strap in doubt – by hiding it, robust –
And almost hear a meaning in their noise.*

He became drawn to the weightlifting crowd on Muscle Beach and trained almost obsessively, setting a record for squat lifting 600 pounds, earning him the nickname 'Dr. Squat.' Bodybuilding was just one of many ways of overcoming his timidity and fears; he challenged and experienced life's great bounty with gusto from experimentation with recreational drugs, or speeding perilously at 100 mph on his motorbike at night through Grand Canyon, exhilarated with freedom and the sense of being "poised motionless above the ground , the whole planet rotating silently beneath [him]," to creating a unique niche in the field of neuroscience by developing unorthodox clinical, analytical and documentary approaches to his patients' cases, which when coupled with a commendable gift for prose, have eruditely and harmoniously merged Science and Literature.

They scare a flight of birds across the field:
Much that is natural, to the will must yield.
Men manufacture both machine and soul,
And use what they imperfectly control
To dare a future from the taken routes.*

In his practice, Sacks showed anything but the disassociated, aloof manner a physician generally presents to his patients; genial and devoted was he to getting to know and understand them, to listen and process what they were experiencing into a cohesive picture. Information from clinical treatments, observations and conversations with patients burdened by some of the most unusual case histories were oriented and presented in narrative form with great care and sensitivity, yet still garnered from his critics harsh accusations of unethical behavior and exploitation. For the most part, his patients contributed generously, without reservation, and actually enjoyed their tales being told, in a sense, because someone compassionately took the time to listen.

Scene from Awakenings starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams as Dr. Oliver Sacks, courtesy independent.co.uk

Sacks's memoirs read in much the same way he took notes all his life: from feverishly scribbled sketches, vignettes and anecdotes jumping back and forth in time, to emerge into a coherently constructed self-examination, his life as a case history qualified by voluminous introspections, insights and the poignancies which tend to flash clearly into view upon approach to one's end. The book's photo illustrations at the end tell a satisfying story of family, friends and the newly found love in the last decade of his fully lived life.

A minute holds them, who have come to go:
The self-defined, astride the created will
They burst away; the towns they travel through
Are home for neither bird nor holiness,
For birds and saints complete their purposes.
At worst, one is in motion; and at best,
Reaching no absolute, in which to rest,
One is always nearer by not keeping still.*

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015)

*Excerpts from the title-inspired poem On the Move by Thom Gunn - poet, writing mentor and friend ( 1929-2004); poem in its entirety @ http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/...

Works by Dr. Oliver Sacks:
Migraine (1970)
Awakenings (1973) ****
A Leg to Stand On (1984) ****
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) ****
Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (1989)
An Anthropologist on Mars (1995) *****
The Island of the Colorblind (1997)
Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001)
Oaxaca Journal (2002)
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007) ****
The Mind's Eye (2010) *****
Hallucinations (2012) *****
On the Move: A Life (2015)****
I've been exploring the world of neuroscience and all its unfathomable intricacies, wonders and anomalies through Dr. Oliver Sacks from a professional aspect since the 1980's, and in a more personal level since the 1990's as my son entered his toddler years showing delays in neurodevelopment. His books feature some of the most unusual cases in Neuropathology evidenced in the world, written in a readable way with empathy and understanding for the victims and their families. He wrote as he lived with heart and genuine concern for humanity, to live to one's fullest potential as he did... always on the move. He will be sorely missed. Rest in Peace.
Profile Image for B Schrodinger.
305 reviews672 followers
July 3, 2016
Inspired by 'Gratitude' and the feeling that I had ignored Oliver for far too long, I delved into 'On the Move' with enthusiasm and the feeling like I had remembered an old friend.

'Uncle Tungsten' takes care of his early life (it's been years since I have read that one too), and 'On the Move' picks up with an adult, recently graduated Dr. Sacks. Most of the book concentrates on his early career, through 'Awakenings' and into his further books, but it compresses his later life. It is a biography of what he did more than what he thought, but there are snippets of personal feelings and relationships. This may be representative of how he lived his life, though he does say that he was a loner. But it isn't impersonal. He just doesn't go in depth into the why of his actions too much.

I guess it feels a little rude saying he didn't open up enough. There are plenty of places where he opened up about his sexuality and his relationship with his family. But there were many more times when something intriguing was mentioned offhandedly and then never explored or explained.

But I feel I know the man a lot more than I did. And there were many wonderful stories of his friends in here. I did enjoy it, but not as much as his other writing.

Profile Image for João Barradas.
275 reviews32 followers
June 25, 2019
A concepção geral da sociedade sobre a classe médica baseia-se em dogmas fundados em generalizações brotadas de casos pontuais, estrumadas pelos mesquinhos media. Esquecidos do arcaico ideal de João Semana, o Zé Povinho acomoda-se em preconceitos mesquinhos, colocando os médicos num patamar deificante para, no momento seguinte, os criticarem, qual treinador que sofreu uma derrota ou santo que não atende as preces - a passagem de bestial a besta no país da fé e do futebol.

Somos seres humanos, como tal susceptíveis a errar, a perder, a ceder a tormentos... mas também ao entendimento. Quiçá por o trabalho implicar uma relação constante com o outro, num tempo de sofrimento, a empatia é trabalhada, no dia-a-dia, num casting sucessivo para assumir o papel de actor na vida de outrém. Sem estar livre de carregar uma escuridão corrosiva, essa capacidade leva à colecção de histórias de vidas, numa clara alusão às medicina narrativa, de que Sacks é um exemplo nato.

Para lá dos soberbos livros repletos de histórias-caso que deliciam quem queira conhecer (profissionais e leigos, a linguagem usada assim o permite) mais sobre esta massa cinzenta que carregamos na nossa calote, Sacks é um exímio narrador de outras histórias. Neste livro, conta a melhor delas todas - a sua própria. Com ela, desmistifica a ideia do primeiro parágrafo. Não foi uma vida idílica - sofreu e fez sofrer, chorou, transgrediu, sentiu-se impotente, foi abandonado, abandonou, questionou-se. Essa sua curiosidade premanente levou-o a querer trilhar outros caminhos além da neurologia, tornando-o, a meu ver, melhor ser, um escritor com experiência plena.

Sem conseguir explicar estas teorias probbilisticas (como aquelas que me fizeram cruzar novamente com o autor), não contenho uma estupefação quase pecaminosa ao descortinar cada ponto que partilho com esta prodigiosa mente: o gosto pela descoberta, o amor pelas viagens (Islândia, um dia), a incapacidade de síntese (se posso usar seis adjectivos para caracterizar algo porque não usá-los, numa enumeração infinita?), a curiosidade pela vida dos seus doentes, o interesse pelas mesmas referências literárias, a quase pecaminosa comparação na forma de escrever (tão bem descrita adiante), o receio da solidão, o medo do abandono.

Existem pontos menos positivos - a tradução de literal de "patient" por "paciente" ao invés de "doente" (como costumo dizer, paciência todos tenos, em maior ou menor grau). Ou mesmo divisão nem bem cronológica nem bem temática dos capítulos, que pode dificultar a experiência do leitor (mas, tal como a consciência, a existência pode ser comparada a um rio, com as seus caudais, rápidos, zonas mais profundas... e diferentes barcos em diferentes rumos).

Do sumo sorvido, sobrevalorece um mergulho numa vida que espero banhe o meu ser, active as minhas células nervosas em sinestesias prazerosas, não se contentando com nenhuma categorização imposta, me submerja numa curiosidade interminável,sempre a aguardar a próxima história. Após esta apneia deliciante, sempre com um livro na margem, deixarei secar esta água edificante ao sabor do vento desta viagem, permacendo sempre em movimento.

"Tenho a sensação de que descubro os meus pensamentos através do ato de escrever, durante a escrita. Por vezes o texto sai-me perfeito mas normalmente os meus textos requerem extensas podas e revisões porque sou capaz de exprimir a mesma ideia de muitas e diferentes maneiras. Acontece ser emboscado por ideias tangenciais ou associações a meio de uma frase, o que conduz a parêntesis, orações subordinadas ou frases do tamanho de parágrafos. (...) Às vezes fico embriagado com torrentes de pensamentos e sou demasiado impaciente para as colocar na ordem certa. Mas uma cabeça fria, e intervalos de sobriedade, são tão necessários como essa exuberância criativa."
Profile Image for Chris.
386 reviews150 followers
August 30, 2015
Note: I wrote this review in May, 2015, then let it sit until today when I heard that Oliver Sacks just passed away. I have not re-edited the text to reflect that sad fact.

This is a book that I could not put down until I finished it, save for six hours of sleep overnight.

For Dr. Oliver Sack's most personal and poignant work, which I believe is his best, I will provide a different perspective to what others on Goodreads and most respected newspaper reviewers have already said. The differences are mostly those of other reviewers' omissions.

Dr. Sacks is a very well known neurologist and a widely-read, successful author. He is greatly liked as a lovable "teddy bear" by his many hundreds of clinical patients. These are indisputable, well-deserved facts. Sadly, he was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly before this book was released, too late to be mentioned within. Certain issues I will mention have nothing to do with Dr. Sacks or the book's content, and don't reflect upon him in the slightest.

I enthusiastically agree with essentially every reviewer that this is a wonderful book. It's open and candid, inclusively covering every phase of his life after his earlier 2001 memoir of boyhood, Uncle Tungsten. It's written in the typical Sacks style: direct and logically organized for clarity, with repetitions here and there for reinforcement. If it sounds like I'm describing the usual "scientific" style as applied to a life story, that's exactly what it is, but without any overloading pedantics. The key characteristic is that you feel as if you are sitting with him at dinner, or at a bar, while he's talking one-on-one with you, describing his life. It's an excellent example of what must be his clinical style when dealing with patients. It reads effortlessly, almost automatically.

Of course, Sacks is a man of science, as is plainly evident by examining his large output of books on various aspects of neuroscience. In a nutshell, these record his clinical observations, then synthesize these observations into general hypotheses, which often lead to the discovery and application of palliative treatments and sometimes outright cures.

However, all the science he presents is available in much more detail from his other books. What's here is a summary of those books, to which the reader should go if more depth is needed. His memoir is more valuable as a record of how Sacks' career evolved, how each subject area fitted into his larger life. Not all were successes: I found his honest acknowledgments of his failure as a research scientist a surprise, and he supplies ample amusing evidence of this. Thus, fortunately for his patients, and us, he was "forced" to become a clinician and writer.

If not the scientific details, then why do I think this is book so great? I could say it's in how it provides comfort to struggling writers. We sympathize with Sacks as he writes manuscript after manuscript, each being rejected by multiple publishers. He often wrote a long book, 50,000 words say, in just a few days, which was subsequently rejected. Then he would immediately start another one, shelving the rejected one for possible later rework, but most often it was forgotten. He gives us an inside view of the creative process.

More of a lesson to us, he lost several complete manuscripts, and some irreplaceable research data, due to carelessness. Again, rather than rewrite or redo, he either tackled another work or conveniently changed jobs. Genius? Assuredly. Absentmindedness? Certainly. Irresponsibility? Yes, he admits it. But these memories still are not why the book is so important.

What's left then? Only the most important part of anyone's life: his real life, his loves, his experiences which make him human—all of which are deliberately defined as apart from his career. What a life's treasure Dr. Sacks includes! Just by reading published reviews and advertising, we expect to read—and do—about his disturbing near-fatal drug addiction, his love for motorcycles, which also nearly killed him, and his wandering nearly penniless across tens of thousands of miles of American roads. The jacket copy gushes nicely and adds to the list of Sacks' enthusiasms:

With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions--weight lifting and swimming--also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists--Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick--who influenced him.

Embedded there is mention of "romantic love affairs." This, finally, is what On the Move delivers in a big way! The first four chapters, a full 132 pages out of a total of 384, deals predominantly with sex: his sexual shyness in college, his sexual awakening, his search for partners, his emotional devastation of being dumped, and the terror of dumping in turn. (Of course, nothing is pornographic.) I was nearly open-mouthed in amazement to see how his sexual urges drove him to risky behavior and fairly extreme promiscuity in San Francisco and New York City around 1960, when Sacks was in his late-20s, at the height of the Beat movement.

All this sex is interwoven with motorcycling, speed, adventuring, and eventually drugs. This is a raucous new voice for Sacks. It rounds out the person and brings his sometimes distant scientific expert persona closer to many, if not literally every, reader.

The remainder of the book, eight more chapters, are framed by—not his career—but by this same theme of sex and love. As he gets older into his 50s and 60s, his sexual experiences understandably recede: in his case, to almost nothing. Indeed, Sacks avows that he was celibate for several decades at this time. The story then is solely his growing career as a neurologist and writer, with occasional wistful imaginings as erotic subjects appear and disappear, almost as signposts to the narrative.

Sacks chooses to end his memoirs by revealing a late, new love affair he entered into at age 75. With this most moving section of the entire book, he closes his recollections. It's all very extraordinary, beautiful—this episode, and the entire book—it's so human, and unexpected.

I'm sure you've guessed it by now: Sacks is gay. All his sexual experiences have been with men, save for the usual unsuccessful experimentation driven by curiosity. He discloses this on page 9 and it is the central thread of the entire book all the way to the end.

Thus, Dr. Sacks comes out publicly, frankly, and with no apologies, at age 81. This is important. That is the real value of this book: it shows to his adoring reading public, and to politicians who literally control the fate of gay people around the world, that someone of his stature, popularity, intelligence—his "value" to society in short—can actually be gay. He can be sexual just like everyone else, and still help innumerable people with their neurological problems. Yet the world didn't end as a result. Amazing, yes?

There is a serious problem, though. Why is his homosexuality, which I show is so central to this book that gay sex, his relationships, and love affairs actually frame the narrative—why then is this missing from reviews and advertising? It's certainly no secret to all readers of the book, including all of its reviewers.

Why do respected reviewers from major book review publications and newspapers, and all Goodreads popular reviews, fail to mention the most important aspect of the book? We can assume they've read it, right? They probably didn't skip the first 132 pages, huh? And every reviewer on the planet, particularly if they don't have time to read a book in its entirety, will at least read the last chapter or two for its conclusions, where Sacks reveals with deeply moving prose, his new "love affair" (to use the book's oh, so gender-neutral advertising term) with author Billy Hayes. Surely any reviewer whose reviews are worth reading would consider the book as a whole, not just some filtered parts of it, excerpted to avoid inducing his, the reviewer's, queasiness.

If Sacks instead were straight, and had revealed his sexual history as he has done in these memoirs, every single reviewer would mention it, and some of them certainly would be negative given their general uncomfortableness with sex, period. So why the double standard?

I obviously love Sacks book, its intellectual content right along with its gay sex. This pairing of the "high" and the "low" is what makes it great. But not everyone, surely, would agree with me.

Reviewers, please, treat all writers equally, straight and gay, with respect and honesty. To do otherwise is to hide, through "covering," a normal aspect of the human behavior. Doing so perpetuates homophobia in social relations and politics.
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,922 reviews385 followers
June 11, 2015
This was a GoodReads first reads giveaway, which I won in April. The publisher provided an uncopy-edited proof.

I will admit that I have heard of Oliver Sacks, but have never read any of his other books and I entered this giveaway on a whim. (I did, however, see the Robin Williams film Awakenings based on Sacks’ work with postencephalitic patients.) So I have no points of comparison, to be able to judge Sacks’ writing in this book vs. his other works.

I was surprised at how little self-analysis went into this autobiography—for a man who was able to interpret the lives of people with major brain dysfunctions, he seems to be either unable or unwilling to observe his own life in the same way. For instance, he mentions repeatedly that he identifies people by their voices, rather than their faces, but he doesn’t connect this lack of facial recognition with his own fascination with neurology. It would seem to me that this would be a major motivator in his interests, to understand one of his own foibles.

Nevertheless, it is a fascinating story—Sacks’ parents were interesting people in their own right with thriving medical careers and he was obviously extremely fond of them and the rest of his family. It is a shame that he felt that his homosexuality separated him from them in important ways. The lack of acceptance of such a fundamental part of his being seems to have been the motivating force that kept him “on the move” for the majority of his life. I don’t think that it is coincidental that he has finally found a stable relationship after the death of his parents—it seems unlikely that his mother would ever have been accepting of such a situation. [This reminds me a bit of Canadian author Robertson Davies, who claimed he was unable to write novels until his parents were gone].

Sacks had adventurous interests—motorcycles and weight lifting, in addition to venturing into medical areas that others avoided. Also a swimmer and a walker, he seems to have had a very balanced life in the sense that he had a vigorous intellectual life with an equal emphasis on physical challenges. He also balanced science and the arts, with an acute appreciation of music and literature.

Although I enjoyed this memoir, I think I would probably have appreciated it more had I read some of his other books first. Still, it is an interesting life review by a man now facing his mortality due to cancer. Although he has not followed an easy path in life, he has achieved a great deal.
Profile Image for Hank Stuever.
Author 3 books2,015 followers
March 22, 2016
Maybe 2.5 stars.

I had mixed emotions about this book, especially the last half of it, which devolved from an interesting narrative of young manhood into a lot of tedious name-checking and humblebragging. It's worth mentioning up front that, while I've been a faithful reader of Oliver Sacks's fascinating articles over the years (mostly in the New Yorker), I've not read any of his other books. I don't think I've even seen the Robin Williams movie version of "Awakenings" all the way through. Yet I was moved to read this memoir by recent news that Sacks has a terminal illness. Also, of course, I'm intrigued by the revelation (at least it was news to me) that Sacks is gay. Score another for the long list of gay geniuses! (Also there's the cover photo of him as a young rogue on his motorbike: hubba-hubba!)

All that said, I found myself increasingly turned off by the personality type that comes through in the memoir. His intelligence and inquisitive/empathetic nature are what make him who he is, but I kept getting the feeling that he's sort of rudely oblivious to all the people, places, things and situations in life that don't interest him. If you're not on board with what he's interested in (or don't have an illness or disorder that interests him), then "On The Move" leaves you with the impression that you probably don't exist. The world utterly and totally revolves around him, yet he does a pretty good job of convincing his admirers that his empathy knows no bounds.

As the years go on, he makes his name as a clinician with a special gift for turning the suffering of his uniquely-afflicted patients into compelling non-fiction prose. I did a Google search and discovered I'm not alone in wondering if he exploited them. Or, at the very least, he glommed onto many of them, ostensibly to treat them, but mostly to write about them.

He does mention several times that he has social awkwardness (he doesn't give it any official diagnosis) and that he was in psychoanalysis for 45 years. I also wonder why he doesn't write more about the reasons he remained celibate from age 40 to 75 -- which may well have saved his life, concurrent with the AIDS epidemic.

This critique might come as a surprise to him; I just don't think he meant to write a book that paints a self-portrait that is this aloof and self-absorbed. Kind of a dick, really. I also can't remember a time when I read a memoir about a writer's life and the craft of writing and wound up relating not at all to the writer's description of his own processes.

I was surprised this book left me so cold. There were parts of it I quite enjoyed, mostly in the first 175 pages.
Profile Image for Jafar.
728 reviews250 followers
June 4, 2015
After writing many books, with great compassion and understanding, about his patients, Oliver Sacks reflects on his own life with humility and appreciation. What a wonderful human being, and what a fruitful life! He won't be with us for too long. Here is his recent article in The New York Times on learning that he has terminal cancer.

I would never have guessed that this gentle soul was a biker and a body builder.
Profile Image for Ana.
Author 14 books198 followers
March 29, 2019
(Review provisória)
Quando um livro nos emociona e nos ensina, se funde em nós levando-nos numa viagem de descoberta e de transformação, como se as palavras de Sacks se ligassem aos meus receptores, provocando metabolismos únicos e anabólicos...
Quando um livro nos toca a este nível tão "celular" tudo o resto que se costuma falar como estrutura, estilo narrativo, ritmo, etc...ficam num nível inferior...já se passou essa fase...
Literatura, ciência, vida(s). Estou em casa :D. Obrigada Sacks. Estava a precisar de um livro assim :).
Profile Image for Cathy.
439 reviews33 followers
October 27, 2020
I am heartbroken on hearing that Oliver Sacks died. I have read and enjoyed his books for more than thirty years. I even had a pleasant conversation with him once at a book awards ceremony, completely unaware of his identity. This book is the most personal yet and immensely satisfying. I am struck again by prejudice, irrational laws, and homophobia that has ruined so many lives. He had a ferocious intellect and imagination, and he could see connections where others could not. I am glad that he was a prodigious writer, and we have his books.
Profile Image for Will Ansbacher.
315 reviews88 followers
October 14, 2015
What a surprising, intriguing, brilliant, compassionate and thoughtful man! I thought I knew Oliver Sacks fairly well through his fascinating books drawn from his neurological practice, through Awakenings and his earlier autobiography Uncle Tungsten. How wrong I was.

This was a physician whose compassion and humanity separated him from the usual run of doctors, and he certainly had run-ins and violent disagreements on principle with many of them, in particular his superiors. He writes with disarming honesty and candour: when he was 12, a perceptive teacher wrote
“Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far”.
And later, as he realized he was not cut out to be a research scientist, he was told
“Sacks, you are a menace in the lab. Why don’t you go and see patients – you’ll do less harm”.

It was fortunate he did. In all his works, and here, he comes across with intensity and passion, larger than life even, and he seemed to be such an outgoing and genial personality; he mixed with the most interesting people – from Francis Crick to Jonathan Miller to W.H. Auden. But he says he was a classic introvert and extremely shy, tracing it back to his wartime experience of being abandoned to a brutal boarding school: “Timid and inhibited all my life ...” is almost impossible to believe, so there’s hope for all of us introverts then!

And although I knew he was very fit I would not have guessed that he was a champion weightlifter, an avid motorcyclist and experimented with hard drugs.

One thing I particularly enjoyed discovering: he was so fluid and fluent at writing (he wrote pages of case notes every day) yet he was obsessed with fine-tuning everything he wrote. Every revision produced more observations, more insights For one of his early books, his aunt finally said
“Don’t, don’t, don’t, tamper with it or add any more footnotes!”
and his publisher,
“the footnotes are fascinating but they come to three times the length of the book”, it was perfect as it was.
Perhaps the extreme example is his later work Musicophilia, where even the footnotes have footnotes. (I think I will have to return to that book and not read any of them)

And yet, there seemed to be something missing in this joyous account of his life. I thought he would have said more about his last years (he finished writing just before he learnt that his ocular cancer had spread), when so much happened to him, and he published so much, in such a short period. In the last pages of the final chapter, he says,
“It sometimes seemed to me that I have lived at a certain distance from life. This changed when Billy and I fell in love.”
This in his last five years, after revealing that he had been celibate for nearly half his life. And,
“I am a storyteller, for better or worse. I suspect that a feeling for stories, for narrative, is a universal human disposition, going with our powers of language, consciousness of self and autobiographical memory.”
There the chapter ends, quite abruptly; I thought there had to be more, but the final 30-odd pages are photographs.
Perhaps that is the way to go though – leaving your audience yearning for more.
But then I found what I felt was missing, in a kind of coda he later wrote in the NY Times. In My Own Life, he says
“I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”

Such a moving account of a life.
Profile Image for Matt Quann.
652 reviews385 followers
September 12, 2016
[3.5 Stars]

I read Oliver Sacks' memoir as I was studying neurology.

It may seem at first an insignificant fact, but the combination of unraveling the clinical complexities of the human nervous system with Sacks' account of his life as a neurologist helped to personally enrich both endeavours. This isn't to say that a sophisticated or even rudimentary understanding of neurology is required to enjoy this book; on the contrary, going in blind is the experience I believe Sacks had in mind for his audience. For me, I was able to ground facts from class in Sacks' history, and Sacks was able to bring to life diseases through the experiences of his patients.

With all that said, I did find the opening half of this book to be much more compelling than its second half. The book begins with a Sacks as a young man as he comes out to his parents and, as a consequence of the times, is shamed by his sexuality. This first part of the book reads rather like an adventure story as Sacks moves from the UK to Canada, and then spends years alternating between a career as a neurologist and a biker on the highways of the US. Along the way Sacks encounters many colourful, but entirely believable, people that shape his writing or his thoughts about his practice. It's hard to say what makes a good physician, but most would doubtfully include drug dependence. Nonetheless, Sacks elucidates how his experiences with a veritable pharmacy of drugs, both positive and negative, impacted his understanding of patients with whom he could never have understood otherwise.

By the time the second half of the book rolled around, Sacks is more the man with whom the world at large is acquainted: a burgeoning neurological writer conveying the plight of his patients in an effort to explain the truly exotic to the world at large. This was also where the book started to drag for me. I'll admit to being pretty unfamiliar with memoirs in general, so I find it difficult to know exactly what to expect. Even so, I hadn't expected the book to turn into the origin story of each of Sacks' books that he published. For many readers I suspect that this will be compelling, especially if you are familiar with Sacks' other works. Yet, as this is my first Sacks' book, I found the deluge of writing about writing books to become tiresome.

What does not lag throughout the book is Sacks' eloquent writing. His prose evokes the form of a novelist rather than stiff scientific nonfiction. What's more, it is obvious that writing was one of Sacks' greatest passions, and it shows throughout. He conveys knowledge with the immediacy of an excited child, and keeps the book moving at a quick pace. Though I may not have enjoyed reading the genesis of each book Sacks wrote, I did appreciate the passages taken from his old journals entries contrasted with his interpretation at the time of writing this book.

Sacks' death in 2015 was marked with an outpouring of sympathy and loss from both the scientific and literary communities. Undoubtedly, Sacks' was a giant in both fields who contributed riches to his patients and readers. Reading of his many accomplishments and varied experiences conveys a life lived to the fullest. I imagine that longtime readers of Sacks will find this book bittersweet, as did I, but for the Sacks newbies, this is the story of a man who left an impact on the world in the time he spent living on it.
Profile Image for Jessie.
6 reviews
April 14, 2020
I was very fortunate to have received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from GoodReads First Reads contest, not least because I am a massive fan of Dr. Sacks.

Among his many gifts and abilities two are displayed beautifully in this memoir: Sacks' intellectual prowess and the ability to translate his amazing experiences into beautiful prose.

Having read much of Dr. Sacks' work I had always known that he continues to lead an incredible life. I did not know how incredible until I was able to read this book. Throughout, he draws together snapshots, vignettes and vivid descriptions of his life and relates them to the development of his skills as a neuroscientist - a particular sort of neuroscientist, in fact.

I couldn't put the book down, truly. I was struck especially by his honesty and candour. Despite his relatively privileged upbringing (his mother was one of the very first gynecological surgeons in Great Britain, for instance) Sacks faced many challenges throughout the whole of his life. It was both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

If you've been stimulated and entertained by Sacks' past work, you'll not be disappointed by this one.
Profile Image for Don.
151 reviews15 followers
June 11, 2015
My initial reaction was that this book needed better editing, that it tended to jump from subject to subject with no clear direction. But I've decided that I'm simply claiming that Sacks's life itself needed better "editing."

And I'm not sure that would have been a good thing.

The first half of the book is Sacks's almost embarrassingly candid discussion of the ups and downs of his early life. He appears to have compensated for extreme shyness by exposing himself to every physical challenge and danger that crossed his path.

The second half of the book focuses more on his intellectual growth and his evolving discovery that medicine -- and especially neurology -- was or should be the study of the entire person, not simply the study of cells and organs and systems. His shyness did not prevent him from clashing repeatedly with the medical orthodoxies of his time, or with the prestigious supporters of those orthodoxies.

Nor did his shyness stand in the way of his developing close collegial relationships with other scientists and physicians who shared his enthusiasms and his approach to medicine.

Sacks's life is fascinating on many levels. At times, he seems almost crazed in his reactions to events and by his pursuit of his many enthusiasms. He would be the first to admit that the events of his youth strongly suggest an addictive personality. All in all, however, his "craziness" was productive and led him to one accomplishment after another, both personal and professional.

The book is an inspiring account of one person's ability to overcome significant personality defects by sheer force of will and intellectual enthusiasm.
Profile Image for George Ilsley.
Author 12 books237 followers
March 31, 2023
A prolific writer, neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks published the surprise bestseller, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, and many other books.

Not until he published this memoir of his adult years did most people know that Dr. Sacks was gay. This book discloses his attraction to other men, but it is much more forthcoming about his interest in motorcycles, weightlifting, scuba diving, swimming, and writing. And of course he nourished an enduring and passionate curiosity for people and the practice of medicine, especially neurology—which covers much territory, some of it uncharted.

Dr. Sacks is a fascinating character and this memoir is, at times, quite in depth in terms of neurology and the origins of consciousness and self-awareness. However, specialists in that field may consider the same material to be superficial—I have no idea what a specialist might think.

I've read some of his earlier works, but have been impressed most recently by his late-in-life collection of four essays, Gratitude.

By his own account, Dr. Sacks was a mercurial writer who frustrated editors with endless changes and late additions. One can sense in this volume, and in the acknowledgements, how it was shaped out of shifting ground.
Profile Image for Kasia.
289 reviews48 followers
February 21, 2016
Thank you for your brilliance Oliver Sacks. I want to know what you knew and travel where you traveled.
Profile Image for Cristians⚜️.
258 reviews73 followers
January 11, 2022
Exprimare curată și limpede, ritm alert al scriiturii, acest ușor surâs (al autorului) - ițindu-se dintre rânduri - ce pare să persiste pe tot întinsul celor peste 300 de pagini (chiar și-n episoadele triste), surâsul omului înțelept, care n-a trăit degeaba (cum trăiește majoritatea oamenilor pe Terra). Talent indiscutabil de scriitor, ar face să roșească mulți prozatori de profesie hiperinteligentul domn Sacks.

Simt nevoia să compar această bogată și inteligent scrisă autobiografie cu cea a lui Yalom, prea mult prizatul “Coelho al psihoterapiei”. Autobiografia lui Yalom nici nu chițăie, pusă lângă a lui Sacks. De fapt, “În mișcare…” este cea mai cuprinzătoare carte de acest soi citită de mine în acest deceniu.

Îmi aduc aminte de aroganța autosuficientă a lui Yalom, anunțând ritos că el s-a oprit din a ține pasul cu avansul terapiei și se mulțumește cu a aplica numai ceea ce învățase până atunci. Disprețul lui prost disimulat pentru cercetătorii-confrați contemporani din domeniu - o invidie abia mascată.

În general, îmi displace Yalom și mi se pare cu totul supraevaluat. Atât literar, cât și terapeutic. Doar pentru că scrie accesibil, populist, este consumat cu polonicul de orice exaltat(ă) care, astfel, își spune sieși că, mamă, încep să pricep cum devine treaba cu psihoterapia asta!

Spre deosebire de Yalom, care e “doar” cineva faimos (consolarea mediocrilor), Sacks este, fără a exagera, un savant. Curiozitatea sa științifică, foamea lui (compulsivă) de a învăța, de a descoperi & de a împărtăși cu publicul revelațiile sale ancorate într-o genială intuiție, dar mereu verificate și-n practica spitalicească concretă nu s-au stins până-n ultima clipă.

Revenind la cartea lui Sacks: un etalon de autobiografie!
Profile Image for Bruno.
251 reviews112 followers
November 5, 2015
Oliver Sacks era un gran figo! Chi l'avrebbe mai detto guardando quel signore ormai ottantenne dall'aspetto tanto compito? Invece ha girato per gli Stati Uniti e il Canada in sella a una moto, dormendo dove capitava e facendo ampio uso di droghe - un Kerouac neurologo in motocicletta. Per non parlare del fatto che questo nonnetto da giovane raggiunse un record nello squat frontale sollevando un bilanciere di appena 260 chilogrammi!

In Movimento è l'autobiografia che Sacks pubblica dopo aver rivelato sul New York Times, lo scorso febbraio, di avere un cancro al fegato (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/19/opi...). Il libro mescola la vita privata dell'autore alla scienza e ripercorre abbastanza esaustivamente tutte le opere finora pubblicate, dalla prima Emicrania, ai Risvegli, a L'uomo che scambiò sua moglie per un cappello. Un libro molto intimo che mi ha permesso di conoscere, o almeno l'impressione è stata questa, il sensibile e timido Oliver che si nascondeva dietro il Dottor Sacks.

Bellissimo e commovente l'articolo di Sacks pubblicato sul New York Times qualche settimana prima della sua morte, avvenuta lo scorso 30 agosto - http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/16/opi....

L'articolo tradotto lo trovate pubblicato da La Repubblica qui: http://www.repubblica.it/cultura/2015...
Profile Image for Isabel.
313 reviews42 followers
October 25, 2016
Alimentando o desejo de me debruçar sobre a leitura das obras de Oliver Sacks, decidi começar pela sua autobiografia.
Neurologista aclamado, Sacks partilha connosco neste livro, não só alguns episódios mais íntimos, quotidianos, pessoais, bem como o relato do seu trabalho, estudos de caso com os seus pacientes, muitos deles deram origem aos seus livros, teorias suas e de outros colegas, amizades com escritores.
Um livro fascinante...

P. 319- "(...) regra geral, raramente abro os diários que mantive durante a maior parte da minha vida- Em si , o ato de escrever é suficiente; serve para me clarificar as ideias e os sentimentos. O ato de escrever é parte integrante da minha vida mental; as ideias emergem, e tomam forma, durante o ato de escrever."

P. 320-"Sou um contador de histórias, para o melhor e para o pior. Suspeito que a sensibilidade para histórias, para narrativas, é uma predisposição universal dos seres humanos, tão universal como a capacidade linguística, a consciência de si próprio e a memória autobiográfica."
Profile Image for Ludmilla.
356 reviews182 followers
June 21, 2016
İyi başlasa da gittikçe dağılan bir kitap. Bunu Sacks'in son zamanlarına gelmiş olmasına ve dolayısıyla anlatılacak bir çok şeyi kısıtlı bir zaman dilimine sıkıştırmış olmasına bağlıyorum. Sacks hakkında çok şey öğrendim, yazma süreçleri hakkında bilgi aldım, bir çok kuram hakkında ufak tefek bilgiler kaptım. En ilginç kısımları - bana göre- Uyanışlar'ın çekim sürecine değindiği ve genç yetişkinlik yıllarını anlattığı yerlerdi. Okunur mu, Sacks'i seviyorsanız evet; yaşamöykülerinin bilimsel bilgiler içermesinden hoşlanıyorsanız, evet.
Eski kitaplarının hatrına 3.5tan 4 :)
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,723 followers
April 26, 2016
I'm so lucky to have won an Advance Reader Copy of this book from Goodreads' First Reads contest. I'm eager to learn more about Oliver Sacks, as it sounds like he has fascinating stories to tell. Thank you to Random House of Canada and Goodreads.

* * * * *

Having never read any of Oliver Sacks' books before, this was my first introduction to him. I only knew him as the doctor that Robin Williams played in the movie "Awakenings".

The book began on a quite personal note; I loved that. I loved learning about him as a human being, perhaps more than about his writing/scientific career. That may be unfair, as writing and medicine figure hugely in his life. But I found myself lapping up all his personal anecdotes. Who knew this man was once a drug addict, a painfully shy gay man, a motorcycle and weight lifting enthusiast?

The rest was interesting. He has an amazing recollection. He has a very generous and nonjudgmental way of seeing people. His autobiography spans over 7 decades - he records how many of his friends and colleagues have died. He details his friendships/collaborations with many interesting people from the entertainment world (Dustin Hoffman, Robert De Niro) to the scientific. There were many fascinating stories and facts that I would never have read anywhere else. For example, I never knew that Dr. Tourette (of Tourette's Syndrome) was shot by one of his patients!

It took me a little while to get through the book - it's a bit of a departure from the books I normally enjoy. If there were half stars I would rate it 3.5... but I'm rating it a 4 because it was so thoughtful, and also inspiring, especially knowing that Oliver Sacks has been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. What a flawed yet full and beautiful life!
Profile Image for Dov Zeller.
Author 2 books108 followers
March 4, 2017
Yesterday a friend sent me a Radiolab podcast "Alpha Gal" about a person who, well into adulthood, suddenly develops an intense allergy to red meat.


In fact, she's not alone in this, but doctors, rather than being curious, tell her, and a significant number of other people with similar complaints, that they're "making it up in their heads."

Not only is her allergy real, but it's profoundly dangerous--yet another under-appreciated tick-born medical condition that most western doctors are ill-equipped to handle, in large part, from what I can tell, because they are dangerously uncurious automatons. In my experience, the first thing doctors do when they come across an illness, symptom or complaint that doesn't make immediate sense to them, is shut the patient down and tell them they're crazy--even more so if the patient is not a white person who was designated male at birth. Doctors, at least the ones I've come in contact with, don't look at things they don't understand as an opportunity to learn and explore. They see things they don't understand as an opportunity to abuse their power and privilege.

Or, as a reasonably embittered friend with CFS/ME whose father was a doctor and who grew up reading a lot about medicine (who is deeply intelligent and learned, but does not have a medical degree) once said, "My father wasn't like this. But doctors today are trades-people in the most unsophisticated manner they can be. They run inefficient biomarker tests and if the results don't come out in a way that fits easily into their understanding of an illness, they blame it on the patient and refuse to look at the matter again."

Our mainstream biomarker tests are equal parts poor and invasive and I've seen a lot of doctors get real mean real fast when these tests don't tell them a story they want to hear/immediately understand.

Andrew Solomon opens his review of "On the Move" in the NYT by talking about this phenomenon in slightly different terms.

"Medicine is dominated by the quants. We learn about human health from facts, and facts are measurable. A disease is present or not present; a reckonable proportion of people respond to a particular drug; the inability to predict gene-­environment interactions reflects only a failure to map facts we will eventually be able to determine; and if the observable phenotype varies for an established genotype, the differences must be caused by calculable issues. In this version of things, the case histories that constituted most of medical literature up to the early 20th century reflect a lack of empirical sophistication. Only if we can’t compute something are we reduced to storytelling, which is inherently subjective and often inaccurate. Science trades in facts, not anecdotes.

"No one has done more to shift this arithmetical naïveté than Oliver Sacks, whose career as a clinician and writer has been devoted to charting the unfathomable complexity of human lives."


I wish I believed that Sacks's compassion, curiosity, intelligence, and humanity has influenced our medical system in meaningful ways. Maybe in certain places, or in certain areas, it has. But in my experience, well, as a reasonably embittered person with a chronic illness that is serious, disabling, and barely acknowledged by most doctors and medical communities, I see an institution, that, like many of our U.S. institutions, cares little about actual people and their quality of experience.

But, back to Sacks. I was thinking this morning of Sacks vs. Keroack. On the Move vs. On the Road. And I thought, what if Kerouac actually cared about something outside of his existential pain and experience of experience? Both Sacks and Kerouac have written books that are about movement and sensory and emotional experience. Both write about connections with writers of their times (Kerouac with Ginsberg etc., Sacks with Auden and Gunn, etc.) Both write, to some degree, about music. About travel and meeting people on the road. About moving back and forth between New York and California. I am not saying their books are trying to do similar things and that Sacks does it better. But Sacks does have something in his book that I find much more compelling. Maybe it's his more complex, broad-ranging, sense of connection to people. Maybe it's his love of science and his sense of connection through time to medical work (his connection to his parents' medical work, and his sense of belonging and continuity in terms of being both a doctor and a community member. His belief in community engagement adn service that comes from his parents, and seems to be in some way a part of his larger familial narrative).

"On the Move" starts out when Sacks is quie young and sent away to a boarding school during World War II evacuations. He takes us through his school years, is open about his love of horses, motorbikes, science, his attraction to other men, his drug explorations, his love of his aunts and other family lore, his relationship with writing, travel, photography, and his work in medical communities. His injuries, relocations, losses, and new loves. He has so many ups and downs and he worked and struggled a long time before he became the "successful" man I think he is known as today.

And throughout it all, he seems to have a curiosity and a willingness to observe carefully and compassionately his own journey, including his "mistakes" and "imperfections" and other people's experiences and journeys through health and illness and life's tossing and turning. (I am thinking of an ocean--it seems apt given Sack's love of the ocean, and of swimming.)

Another GR reviewer says this book could have been tightened up a bit, used some extra editing, and mentioned, as an example, that Sacks says the word genial quite a few times. I thought, "oh, I hadn't noticed that" and did a search for genial. Funny, he only uses the word about men (I wonder why), but he does use it nine or so times. I thought I would quote them here. Perhaps together they make an interesting mosaic.

“Gilliatt was preeminently a scientist, a neurophysiologist by training and temperament. He seemed to regret having to deal with patients (or housemen), though he was, I was later to learn, a completely different person—genial and supportive—when he was with his research students.”

“By day I would be the genial, white-coats Dr. Oliver Sacks, but at nightfall, I would exchange my white coat for my motorbike leathers and, anonymous, wolf-like, slip out of the hospital to rove the streets or mount the sinuous curves of sinuous curves of Mount Tamalpais.”

“Grant Levin, my genial and generous boss, had procured tickets for all of us in the neurosurgical unit to attend a conference called 'The Control of Mind' and he frequently distributed tickets to musical, theatrical, and other cultural events in San Francisco, a rich diet which made me love the city more and more."

“The Central YMCA in San Francisco had particularly good weight-lifting facilities. The first time I went there, my eye was caught by a bench-press bar loaded with nearly 400 pounds. No one at the Maccabi could bench-press anything like this, and when I looked around, I saw no one in the Y who looked up to such a weight. No one, at least, until a short but hugely broad and thick-chested man, a white-haired gorilla, hobbled into the gym -- he was slightly bowlegged -- lay down on the bench, and, by way of warmup, did a dozen easy reps with the bench-press bar. He added weights for subsequent sets, going to nearly 500 pounds. I had a Polaroid camera with me and took a picture as he rested between sets. I got talking to him later; he was very genial. He told me that his name was Karl Norberg, that he was Swedish, that he had worked all his life as a longshoreman, and that he was now seventy years old. His phenomenal strength had come to him naturally; his only exercise had been hefting boxes and barrels at the docks, often one on each shoulder, boxes and barrels which no 'normal' person could even lift off the ground. /I felt inspired by Karl and determined to lift greater poundages myself..."

“He had ben appointed a visiting professor of poetry at Oxford, and when he was there, he would go to the Cadena Cafe every morning to chat with anyone who wanted to drop by. He was very genial, but I felt too shy to approach him.”

“Previously genial the passport officer suddenly became very stern and serious. Why was I coming to Australia? Was there anyone who could vouch for me? I said hat my brother and his family were in the airport awaiting me. I was told to sit..."

“Leon Salzman (a very genial man who had written an excellent book on the obsessional personality), invited me to work half-time in the hospital. He thought I would be particularly interested in Ward 23, a ward where young adults…”

(about his cousin the cartoonist Al Capp) “I saw quite a lot of Al, who was a strange figure when I met him in the mid-1960s. All of the brothers had been communitsts or fellow travelers in the 1930s, but Al went through a strange political reversal in the 1960s, when he became a friend of Nixon's and Agnew's (though not entirely trusted by them, I suspect, because his wit and satire might be aimed at anyone in power.)/ Al had lost his leg in a traffic accident as a boy of nine, and he sported a very massive wooden leg (it made me think of Captain Ahab's whalebone ivory leg). It may be that some of his aggressiveness, some of his competitiveness, some of his blatant sexuality, had to do with having been maimed, feeling that he had to show he was not a cripple but a sort of superman, but I never encountered this aspect of Al. He was always friendly and genial with me, and I grew fond of him and thought him full of creative vitally and charm.”

“…The neurological unit, where my chiefs were Michael Kremer and Roger Gilliatt, a brilliant but almost comically incongruous pair. Kremer was genial, affable, suave. He had an odd, slightly twisted smile, whether from a habitually ironical..."

There is so much I wanted to write about this book, it's a bit overwhelming and for now this is the best I can do. I will, however, post a few cartoons I drew while listening to it. I am not an artist or cartoonist, more someone who doodles. But as I've been doodling while listening to audiobooks (I listened to this one) and often write down quotes, I thought I would start posting some of them in my reviews.

When Sacks went to visit his brother in Australia he had a run-in with a bull and injured his leg quite seriously. For a bit of time he couldn't feel his leg at all and couldn't walk.


After the accident with the bull, Sacks decided to write a story about it. Colin was his editor (and Sacks had a habit of going a bit overboard with footnotes.)  "When Colin heard that I was in hospital—I was still there when the proofs of the Leg book arrived—he said, 'Oliver, you'd do anything for a footnote!'"



Sacks had three beloved aunts (at least.) Aunt Lennie, Aunt Birdie, and Aunt Carmel. Aunt Carmel was not perhaps as beloved by other family members.




When Sacks was living near the ocean in New York (City Island?) they were told to evacuate, but Skip, a friend with a lot of experience living by the sea, said there was no need to leave.


Sacks speaks fondly of time spent with his cousins, including Al Capp and Abba (Aubrey) Eban.



Eban told the story of visiting Einstein. Einstein asked if he wanted coffee. Eban said yes, but didn't realize Einstein would make it himself. He felt embarrassed that the great Einstein was making coffee for him. Also, Einstein was quite clumsy and broke, it seems, a few mugs in the process.


Sacks loved swimming off the coast of NY, but an invasion of lions mane Jellyfish soon convinced him maybe to stick with fresh water...

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930 reviews42 followers
October 2, 2016
I had not read anything by Oliver Sacks before. It took only a moment to realise that he was a great writer. I always thought of his profession as being what he is best known for through his writings, rather than the writing itself. I didn't know that he was English, or that he was gay. Both things endeared him even more to me, and along with his quite amazing life, I found myself reading a fascinating book.

Moving effortlessly between his family life and early education, his love of motorbikes and travelling, his training and aspirations in his chosen field of neurology, and the many wonderful stories of his case studies and publishing, Oliver Sacks presents his life as an exciting and meaningful experience. His friends include Jonathan Miller, W.H. Auden, Thom Gunn and Stephen Jay Gould, and he relates many entertaining stories involving them and others who had the luck to encounter him in their lives. His work involving Tourettes Syndrome sufferers yielded two hilarious stories, and it is this humorous attitude towards the conditions that he studied and tried to alleviate as much as the serious and caring approach he had to his patients that make him come across as such a warm and humane person.

The writing itself is always clear and accessible - indeed I felt that he could easily have had just as successful a career if this had been his only outlet. His variety of interests, his achievements and own personal hurdles all provided him with a rich source of subjects to write about, and it would seem to give each book he produced a unique individuality. I am now looking forward to reading many more of his writings, saddened as I am that his recent passing means that there will likely be no more (although with apparently over a thousand diary notebooks there is still the possibility of something else to read by this wonderful man).
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