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An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  15,717 ratings  ·  922 reviews
Paradoxical portraits of seven neurological patients, including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's syndrome unless he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds new creative power in black & white; & others.
Paperback, 318 pages
Published 1995 by Picador
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4.19  · 
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 ·  15,717 ratings  ·  922 reviews


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Pouting Always
Jul 09, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read about neurologist Oliver Sacks in other books but I'm pretty sure this was my first experience reading one of his books and I actually really enjoyed it. Sacks writes up narratives for patients he works with or people he meets with neurological conditions in a way that makes it much easier to step into the perspective of the person and gives them a story. I personally don't enjoy reading case studies in academia because they do tend to stay detached from the person being talked about a ...more
Manny
Jan 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book contains an extended, very sympathetic case-study of Temple Grandin, the world's most famous autistic person. I read it when my older son, Jonathan, was diagnosed autistic at age about 10. Obviously, given that it took so long to figure out why he was odd, he isn't that much like Grandin, but the book did give me some important insights.

If you're autistic, your fundamental problem is that you don't naturally understand how other people think and feel. Many women summarize this as "you
...more
cathy
May 01, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone, especially those who want to learn how to write a case study.
Shelves: non-fiction-read
In An Anthropologist on Mars, Oliver Sacks seamlessly weaves fascinating patient stories and lessons in neurology for the layperson. This may sound quite dry if you're not into reading about bizarre behavior from brain circuitry goes awry, but Sacks makes the science very palatable. He acts as our well-traveled tour guide as we explore the everyday lives and thinking processes of seven people who have made creative use of their cognitive hiccups.

Some of the patients featured in this collection o
...more
Paul Bryant
Sep 28, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: voyeurs
Shelves: science
Confession time ! I must admit - friends, judge not lest ye be judged - that I boohooed my way through the last part of Awakenings The Movie, with all those frozen people coming back to life and catching tennis balls and (spoiler alerts) then living life to the FULL for one brief shining moment, and doing the hoochy coochy, which is the only dance they could remember from the 1920s which is when they all froze up, and then Mr De Niro doing the herky jerk dance which was one of his own invention, ...more
David
Nov 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This is a fascinating book about seven people with very special, mental conditions. Oliver Sacks is a neurologist, and he spent a lot of time with each of these people in their homes and in their environments. As a result, Sacks can go into great detail about each of the seven, and explains their histories, their mental conditions, and how they cope with their situations. He tells their stories with wonderful insight, and with empathy. The most interesting aspect is how Sacks, like a detective, ...more
Nandakishore Varma
Oct 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This was my first introduction to Sacks, and the fascinating world of neural disorders. The colour-blind artist, the man who kept on painting the same place from memory, the man without long term memory, the autistic professor - I found all the tales absolutely rivetting.
David
For some reason, the essays of Oliver Sacks don't rock my world. He's got the attention-grabbing title thing down pat, and each case study does have a kernel of interest. But generally, I'd be just as happy if each essay were cut by 50% - most chapters didn't really sustain my interest to the end.

Full disclosure: my faint generalized lack of enthusiasm for Dr S may stem from nothing more than guilt by association with Robin Williams. I have never denied being shallow.

If you're in the mood for fu
...more
Yousif Al Zeera
Feb 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Matching the "7 Wonders of the Ancient World", this book delves into the "7 Wonders of the Human World". It expands the human capacity to better understand the strengths and capabilities of what we might consider a pathology.

These real stories really move you and instill some much-needed optimism to whatever seemingly negative traits or deficiencies you might possess or carry that are considered abnormal compared to the traits enjoyed by the mass. Whether yourself, a family member or a friend is
...more
Mehrsa
Nov 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Such a fascinating and illuminating book. I've followed Sacks' work for a while so none of these stories were new, but the book is so well written and the analysis is brilliant. I loved the first and last stories the best--the story of color and the last of autism. Sachs probes into the meaning of life, the nature of humanity, friendship, love, art, and intelligence by looking at neurological dysfunction. Such wonderful insights.
Siobhan
Oct 26, 2016 rated it liked it
An Anthropologist on Mars is one of those books that has been mentioned countless times across my academic career, with lectures and students alike constantly referencing it. It took me a long time to work around to it, but I can finally say I’ve given it a read.

For me, An Anthropologist on Mars was an interesting read. Considering how much people had enjoyed it, though, I had expected a little bit more. It covered seven interesting cases, allowing me to better understand the specific cases ment
...more
James Klagge
This is a paradigm of a good Oliver Sacks book--several essays allowing him to move from topic to topic, occasionally returning to earlier topics, not calling for any grand theory, but noting similarities and differences. He treated autism in several places.
But the most interesting essay to me was the 4th one: "To See and Not to See." Here he studies a man who is essentially given sight in adulthood after a cataract operation. The man did not have a great desire for this operation, but his fian
...more
Will Ansbacher
Apr 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, ebook, biography
After a couple of Sacks’s books that were a little disappointing, this is one that I really enjoyed and was totally absorbed in. Perhaps because there are only a few (seven) stories, rather than the reams of case notes that Sacks normally uses to illustrate anything, and they are fleshed out enough so that you do actually care about the subjects. They are all obsessive in one way or another – an artist who only draws perfectly remembered scenes from his childhood village, a surgeon with Tourette ...more
Jarrah
May 21, 2016 rated it liked it
An Anthropologist on Mars is an engaging collection of seven neurological case studies that illustrate a supposed paradox - that what is perceived as disability or neurological deficit can result in amazing adaptations that make it a kind of gift. For example, a painter sustains a brain injury that makes him unable to see colour, and after a period of initial depression and disorientation, begins to appreciate his new way of seeing, and to reproduce it in black and white art.

The most famous cas
...more
Jess
Jul 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Whoa. What a journey. This book makes my heart goes ugh, makes me in awe, and ultimately makes me realize how vast our world is. My favorite ones would be The Last Hippie. This book makes me realize, that so many out there who are suffering, who are blessed, and who can use their weakness as their advantages towards their passion and dream. It teaches me that, even if straught by bad luck, humans will be able to seek its positivity out of them
This book is magical. And it makes you notice how pre
...more
Claudia Turner
Apr 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is the kind of book you wish you had read with others merely because it has revelations and insights everyone should have and you want everyone to have them with you.

Some parts feel like anthropological Notes, others medical, others like the intimate impressions in a poetic diary, and you’re not sure as a reader if you’ve just experienced a new revelation or something that you understood all along.

Oliver Sacks is one of a kind. I miss him greatly.
Josh Friedlander
Sacks is a humanist, holding a quill along with his scalpel, and honestly befriending his patients. It's amazing how little we know about the mind. Rather than looking for a solution to their ailments, the author seems to just get to know them, see the world as they do, and set it out journalistically. The result is captivating and moving.
Sarah Al Qassimi
I finished it.

I didn't want to finish it.

It was an accident, I swear.

Caitlin Constantine
Mar 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The theme of this book can be summed up in one single idea, about the plasticity of the human brain, and the way the deficit of disability can be turned into the benefit of compensation. Isn't that such a cool thought? What seems like a disability may ultimately end up a gift.

That's what this whole book is about. Sacks is a neurologist with a bit of Sherlock Holmes mixed in, and he finds himself drawn to some of the most inexplicable cases, like a painter who goes completely colorblind after a c
...more
Eleni
Apr 20, 2013 rated it liked it
“He feels he has been given “a whole new world”, which the rest of us, distracted by color, are insensitive to. He no longer thinks of color, pines for it, grieves its loss. He has almost come to see his achromatopsia as a strange gift, one that has ushered him into a new state of sensibility and being.”

Oliver Sacks grabs my attention and holds it. He moves me and he keeps me enthralled in worlds of special personality and behavioural traits, where ambiguity of “communication”, “perception”,
...more
Charlene
Oliver sacks provides entertaining and informative stories of people living with various brain abnormalities. In this book, sacks focused on abnormalities that often compelled the individual to record their environment in extreme ways. For example, Sacks suggest maybe we are all hardwired for recording history, since our only tools for millions of years were our brains and voices, and we handed down an oral history of human existence, throughout the generations. However, in some individuals, the ...more
Alanood Burhaima
Dec 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
“Science is a grand thing when you can get it; in its real sense one of the grandest words in the world. But what do these men mean, nine times out of ten, when they use it nowadays? When they say detection is a science? When they say criminology is a science? They mean getting outside a man and studying him as if he were a gigantic insect; in what they would call a dry impartial light; in what I should call a dead and dehumanized light. They mean getting a long way off him, as if he were a dist ...more
Cindy
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: medical, favorites
Fascinating reading of seven case histories of people with neurological disorders including Temple Grandin who is autistic and the author of Emergence, Labeled Autistic which I read several years ago and loved.

The case of the colorblind painter and to see and not to see were very interesting to me. People who had long term blindness, upon having sight restored have no visual memories to support a perception of what they are seeing. They cannot understand size or distance. Someone living their w
...more
Jamie Collins
While reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, I felt as if Sacks wasn't spending enough time with each of his subjects; in this book I felt like he was spending too much time with each one. The details he gave of their lives were often not the details I wanted to know, and I found myself skimming through some of this. However, the people profiled have undeniably fascinating neurological conditions: an artist who suffers sudden-onset colorblindness; a man whose vision is restored after de ...more
Marjorie
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
This Oliver Sachs book depicts the lives of real people whose brains work differently from the norm. Rather than focusing on the limitations they face, Sachs highlights human adaptability to an alien reality. The story that really impressed me was the artist involved in a traffic accident that left him unable to see color. Rather than hampering him, he turned it into an advantage. Blacks, whites and grays became a new way of seeing and his work richer and more nuanced. These stories illustrate h ...more
gwayle
Aug 11, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-book, nonfic
Seven chapters feature seven people with unusual neurological issues: Mr. I, a painter, can no longer see color; Greg F., a religious disciple, has lost his ability to make longterm memories; Carl Bennett, who has Tourette's, nonetheless manages a career as a surgeon; Virgil, a blind masseuse, has an operation to recover his sight; Franco Magnani, another painter, has extraordinarily vivid memories of his Italian hometown prewar; Stephen Wiltshire is an artistic prodigy with autism; and Temple G ...more
Tommy Hinman
Oct 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Everything that made The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat so great, distilled down into a few cases where Oliver Sacks can dive deeper. Certainly learned a lot about tourettes, autism and other conditions, but what's really revelatory is how compassionate and empathetic Sacks is toward everyone in this book, and how they seem to change him as he studies them.
Iman Jahandideh
Apr 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Tammy
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Neurological case histories in the true sense. At times, difficult to hold my simpleton interest. Hence, an entire month to finish!
blakeR
I expected more from this than a series of vignettes. Even the back cover says "seven paradoxical tales," the last word implying some sort of narrative or plot structure within each section. Yet there is little narrative and no resolution, with the conclusions to each section being abrupt and consistently unsatisfying. Each story is merely a glimpse into the lives of people experiencing extraordinary circumstances -- circumstances borne of what is generally thought of as illness or disease but i ...more
Kathrina
If this book ended after the first five case studies, I would have given this four stars, but the last two studies really seemed to drag for me. Actually, I really enjoyed reading about Stephen Wiltshire, as well, and I wish Sacks had confined that study to just him. In fact, I highly recommend googling Stephen Wiltshire, and catching a glimpse of him and his work on the documentary tv show Extraordinary People. Sacks is good at describing Wiltshire's extraordinary talent, but not as good at ill ...more
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Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks was the youngest of four children born to a prosperous North London Jewish couple: Sam, a physician, and Elsie, a surgeon. When he wa
...more
“Color is not a trivial subject but one that has compelled, for hundreds of years, a passionate curiosity in the greatest artists, philosophers, and natural scientists. The young Spinoza wrote his first treatise on the rainbow; the young Newton’s most joyous discovery was the composition of white light; Goethe’s great color work, like Newton’s, started with a prism; Schopenhauer, Young, Helmholtz, and Maxwell, in the last century, were all tantalized by the problem of color; and Wittgenstein’s last work was his Remarks on Colour. And yet most of us, most of the time, overlook its great mystery.” 4 likes
“This is what I get very upset at...' Temple, who was driving suddenly faltered and wept. 'I've read that libraries are where immortality lies... I don't want my thoughts to die with me... I want to have done something... I'm not interested in power, or piles of money. I want to leave something behind. I want to make a positive contribution—know that my life has meaning, Right now, I'm talking about things at the very core of my experience.' I was stunned. As I stepped out of the car to say goodbye, I said, 'I'm going to hug you. I hope you don't mind.' I hugged her—and (I think) she hugged me back.” 3 likes
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