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The Island of the Colorblind

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  4,351 ratings  ·  305 reviews
From the bestselling author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars comes "a delightful inner and outer journey, destined to surprise and please the devoted Sacks reader" (Washington Post) - a work rich in curiosity and compassion and intellectual adventure. ...more
Paperback, 311 pages
Published January 12th 1998 by Vintage (first published 1996)
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Feb 22, 2010 rated it it was ok
As an admirer of Oliver Sacks’s clear, inquisitive articles on neurobiology, I was saddened to discover that his travelogue of Micronesia is both patronizing and exoticizing.

Throughout this book, Sacks employs the same tone he uses when discussing patients with debilitating medical ailments, a kind of sympathetic wonderment at the bizarre feats performed damaged brains. Here, this tone is applied to entire populations and cultures, as when he describes the ponderously fat islanders whose diets
1st book for 2020.

When I was studying psychology in the 1990s, I hung out with a lot of people studying clinical neuropsychology, where Sacks had a universally bad reputation—great words, terrible science—was the people smarter than me would always say. Because of this I have always sort of avoided reading him, but recently, just before Christmas I came across and read his book Hallucinations, which I really enjoyed and decided to slowly work my way through his works enjoying them as works of wr
Diane in Australia
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Diane in Australia by: Kay
Great book. Sacks is a superb writer, and his enthusiasm bubbles along at a pleasing pace. You'll learn about an island where a huge percentage of the folks are born totally colour-blind. He also checks into a neurological disease on another island ... again, huge percentage of folks affected ... which causes profound, progressive, and fatal muscular weakness.

When I find myself reading bits aloud to my hubby, I know it's a great book. We both learned a lot!

4 Stars = It touched my heart, and/or g
Jul 06, 2012 rated it did not like it
This is mainly a more or less ill-informed travelogue by a person interested in neurological diseases. The core of the book is Sacks' visit to Guam in the 1990s to check out Lytico-Bodig disease, an ALS-like disease once endemic on this island.
Alas, there's not much to the book. Sacks relates a bit about the research of others and his visits to patients with the disease who are under the care of Dr. John C. Steele.
I say ill-informed travelogue because his knowledge of Guam and the other islands
May 24, 2015 rated it did not like it
I KNEW, KNEW that Oliver Sacks wouldn't give me informative details on the epidemiology of islands. His chatty, superficial, and self-absorbed style made me drop both his Hat and Awakenings books and give it 4 stars anyway, out of what, charity? But this one I bought new, with high hopes anyway, and it quickly became apparent that there is something seriously wrong with this man. By page 30 he'd spent several pages talking about his prowess as a swimmer, being a Victorian reader who always picke ...more
May 01, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I've loved Oliver Sacks for a long time, but up until now I'd only read and re-read The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars. The Island of the Colorblind seemed like a natural next choice for me, because it combines my interest in neuropsychology with my interest in island biogeography (the study of the way species on islands evolve to become very specialized, to the point where an extremely high percentage of the species on any given island may be endemic to that pa ...more
Reading books by Oliver Sacks is so hit or miss. This one is a miss. I wanted to learn about colorblindness. Instead in this book I mostly find a travelogue with some acknowledgement of the colorblind children of various Oceania islands.

So far what I appreciate of Sacks' writing
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales
Seeing Voices

Both these books describe what happens when . . . . when a person forgets or misunderstands their world and what they do really really understan
Nov 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is an absolutely fascinating book by Oliver Sacks. Really cool dude. See, he goes on this trip to the Pacific and there is an island there where a huge chunk of the population is Achromatropic (pure colorblindedness as in grayscale) and he sets out to that island with an achromatropic friend. Then he goes to Guam where there is also a huge density of people with a disease called lytico-bodig.
Oh man, the world is so FASCINATING!!! The Earth is ancient and cruel and beautiful! That's how it
Jul 06, 2010 rated it liked it
There is a type of complete colorblindness, achromatopsia, where people do not have functional cones in their eyes and are almost blind in sunlight because of the sensitivity of the rods. Achromatopsia, unlike red-green colorblindness, is very rare. The island of Fuur and the island of Pingelap both had large numbers of people suffering from this congenital achromatopsia. Only Pingelap, in the south Pacific, still has large numbers of achromatopes. The author visited Pingelap with a physiologist ...more
Logan Hughes
Jul 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
Read for Boston Public Library Summer Reading Bingo 2020, "A true story."

Oliver Sacks writes beautiful prose and inspires curiosity about the wonders of the human brain through descriptions of neurology problems. This is true in all his writing and here, too, as he describes rare disorders that are concentrated in Pacific Island populations: achromatic colorblindness in Pingelap, and lytico-bodig (a degenerative paralysis similar to parkinsonism or ALS) in Guam.

What makes me uncomfortable abou
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-non_fiction
I was about to give this one three stars because I got a bit bored in the late middle. Things are less cohesive and less to-the-point in the fifty pages before the conclusion then I thought they needed to be.

Then I remembered that I read Sacks because he's a powerful anecdote teller, and he makes Neurology a terrifically human and humane pursuit in the telling.

So maybe what I mean is that if I'm reading something off the non-fiction shelf, and I get a little choked up = Instant bonus star!

ღ Carol jinx~☆~☔
I love Oliver Sacks. He picks interesting things to write about. I first read The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat a few years ago (now who could resist such a catchy title) and I loved it.
This book addresses a disease I didn't think was so prevalent, colorblindness. I just thought that was a good excuse for men who couldn't put their ties and shirts together properly but now I consider myself more informed on the disease,achromatopsia.
Apr 12, 2014 rated it did not like it
Ugh. I love Oliver Sacks normally. This was painful and would have been more educational boiled down to three sentences:
1. There are a huge number of colorblind folks in Micronesia.
2. There is a weird disease that runs through clans/families in Guam. It may be caused by eating ancient plants, but nobody really knows.
The end.
Apr 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: book-club
I really enjoyed the first part, part two and three were meh.
Charles Dee Mitchell
Nov 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
In his autobiography, Oliver Sacks writes that this is the favorite of his books. He must be so close to it that he finds something here most readers don't. I liked the part about cycads. ...more
Mark Conrad
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd give quite a lot to have 1/8 of his life. He puts humanity into every little drop off the world. This book gave me wanderlust like I haven't felt in a long time. ...more
Aug 04, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Islands were, so to speak, experiments of nature", August 7, 2014

This review is from: The Island of the Colour-blind (Hardcover)
An interesting account of two trips made by the author to the islands of Oceania, where the remoteness of the locations have led to two different illnesses among the locals.
The first section of the book - and to me, by far the most readable - was his visit to Pingelap atoll in Micronesia, where interbreeding of a small population has led to 1 person in 12 being totall
Daniel Gonçalves
Jun 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
As read here

“Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks might be regarded as one of the most poetic stories ever told. When brought to the corporate Hollywood screens, it caused an enormous impact on its audience, propelling the author’s name into the luminous aura of mainstream culture. In itself, “The Island of the Colorblind” serves as the logic continuation of the literary brilliance found in his previous works.

In it, the renowned neurologist recounts his experiences during his summer visit to the Pacific
Esmeralda Rupp-Spangle

The first Oliver Sacks book I read was The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and since then have been a devotee of his work.
He is a Neurologist, yes- but he is also a poet, not in the literal sense, but his ability to make the interesting into fantastic and the pretty into the magnificently beautiful is unrivaled.
He is also an incredible humanitarian, and though generally he does not "gush" per se, he is so thoughtful, kind, and sympathetic in his descriptions that one cannot help but adore
Jun 02, 2017 rated it liked it
First notes: I read the Dutch version of this book. Backcover is a bit misleading when a quote from NRC Handelsblad states that our author solves a the mystery in the first story and that he investigates a second mystery in the second story which is a bunch of baloney. First 'mystery' has a genetic component to it so no mystery there to solve because the reason behind it is explained. For the second mystery he is invited by another doctor to help him with research for a brain disease. The reason ...more
Harry Rutherford
Jul 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
I picked this up again because I was blogging about cycads. In this book Sacks visits a couple of Pacific islands where many of the locals have unusual neurological conditions; total colour-blindness on Pingelap and a degenerative disorder called lytico-bodig on Guam.

The neurology is interesting—the colour blindness isn’t typical red/green colour-blindness but a complete absence of colour perception, and lytico-bodig is a disease of unknown cause, with such varied presentation that it was origin
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is the first time since using Goodreads that I've stepped beyond my stated purpose and logged a book I read before starting my Goodreads list but haven't re-read afresh prior to posting a review. Given the fascinating books I've been reading lately, I'm moved to share with fellow readers how glad I am of the serendipitous occasion back in the mid 1990s when I discovered this gem while clerking for the public library. Idle curiosity led me to check it out; little did I know at the time that ...more
Jan 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Another great read by Oliver Sacks who combines my favorite genres, travel memoir and science into entertaining, educational sojourns. Although trained as a forester/ecologist I would have loved to be a neurologist as the human brain fascinates me to no end, thus I always enjoy Oliver, the neurologist/naturalist and his travels, musings and case studies.

The book is broken up into 3 chapters or books, each with its own unique theme and all followed by an extensive notes section which I found to
Ryan Berkebile
Jan 26, 2008 rated it liked it
In the first half of the book, Oliver Sacks goes to Micronesia to explore the high rate of colorblindness amongst the population of Pohnpei. One theory cites a terrible hurricane over two hundred years ago decimated over ninty percent of the island. In order to restock the island, inbreeding had to take place over numerous generations which would lead to genetic defects.
The second half of the book has Sacks going to Guam to look at a mysterous neurodegenerative paralysis similar to Parkinson's.
Dec 16, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I took this book to Hawaii and read it most of the way home. So reading about island travel (and he was going A LOT farther into the Pacific than Hawaii) resonated.

Beyond that, I think I understand why I didn't like The Mapmaker's Wife as much as this. For science writing to reach a wide audience, it has to be about more than science, and it has to be written with emotion as well as scientific accuracy. Sacks is a compassionate, curious man, eager to collaborate, to note the work of another scho
Apr 28, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, travel
A very good and unusual combination of travelogue and medical mystery-- this book would be an excellent choice for a vacation anywhere in the Pacific. As in his other books, Sacks has a talent for painting very vivid pictures of people and places-- and moreover, he brings a similar clarity to his descriptions of complex scientific and medical phenomena. One thing I love about him is that he never dumbs it down-- he speaks in the language of science and expects you to have the right vocabulary.

Jun 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I knew I would enjoy this book, having thoroughly liked previous books by this author, but I did not expect to be enchanted. Perhaps because it narrates a journey through the Islands of the Pacific where I have never been though I am of the blood true. Perhaps because it is surprising, in the modern world of specialization, to come across a renaissance man of the same breed as Charles Darwin, people who don't distinguish between modes of science any more than they distinguish between science and ...more
I love Oliver Sacks' books. This one was about his travels to various island/island groups to study interesting medical conditions occurring in higher numbers than in other places. His books are always fascinating and are easy to read even though their non-fiction and typically deal with medical conditions. They are more like a sympathetic narrative of his patients than a medical journal. He travels to island were there is a large number of colorblind people. And another where people are affecte ...more
Another winner by Oliver Sachs. This time he's combining neurology with naturalist, anthropologist, and and even archaeologist in his journey to two islands in Micronesia to investigate two strange conditions among the inhabitants. This is a terrific read for 'armchair explorers' as well as the scientifically curious. Sachs' intellectual curiosity and spirit of adventure are at the forefront in this book. ...more
Sep 26, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is very informative and as someone who is fascinated by research, I liked it. The islands, the people, the sickness were wonders. I came to ponder, "What could it be like to never know colors?" And I was also quite stirred by the mysteriously caused lytico-bodig. A disease such as it exists and affects a lot of families and yet no one knows how it chooses its victims. ...more
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Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks was the youngest of four children born to a prosperous North London Jewish couple: Sam, a physician, and Elsie, a surgeon. When he wa

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