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Oaxaca Journal

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  1,370 ratings  ·  191 reviews
The best-selling author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks is well know as an explorer of the human mind - a neurologist with a gift for complex, insightful portrayals of people and their conditions. However, he is also a card-carrying member of the American Fern Society, and since childhood has been fascinated by these primitive plants ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published October 4th 2005 by National Geographic (first published 2002)
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3.75  · 
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 ·  1,370 ratings  ·  191 reviews

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Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dr. Oliver Sacks flew south some years ago for a brief tour of Oaxaca, Mexico, its Zapotec antiquities, a look at the consequences of the so-called Spanish Conquest, a look at some of its millennia-old industries, but mostly to experience first-hand the region's astonishingly diverse botany. A primer. Very light, very brief, in no way comprehensive, with Sacks' usual deft touch. Highly recommended.
Jun 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel, made-me-think
Oh, Oliver... How sad I am that he only has nine books to his credit, because he makes everything so interesting. I fell in love with his writing in "Hat" earlier this year because of his obvious concern for the well-being of those in his care as well as his prose, which I think is beautiful. After reading his travel journal about Mexico, I started to feel sad. This is the best one yet in my opinion, but it's the fourth book I have read out of the nine, which means there are only five left.

Sep 21, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I try to avoid the word, but really, this book is delightful. Only a certain kind of person wants to go on a fern-hunting expedition to Oaxaca, and a certain type of person wants to write about that kind of expedition, and a certain kind of person enjoys reading that book. Still, it's packed with more non-fern material than fern material. You get a vivid and immediate picture of Oaxaca -- its landscape, culture, food, etc. -- from an author who is a national treasure. And it's all over in about ...more
Will Ansbacher
May 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: travel
I generally love Oliver Sacks’s writing, but this was just OK. He is better known for his entertaining and insightful writing about strange cases in neurology – what the brain does when it’s off the beaten track, so to speak – but here he’s taken a trip to Mexico with the American Fern Society, a group of ... yes, fern enthusiasts (pteridologists – there’s a word I didn’t know), and he kept a diary for the 10 day journey.
Sacks was much more than a neurologist, and apparently very interested in
Jan 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Do you love...

Oliver Sacks?

If you answer yes to any one of these, then it is worth the read. By the end you will come close to loving all three.
May 10, 2008 rated it liked it
This book is the slightly expanded journal that Oliver Sacks kept of a ten-day trip to Oaxaca by some members of the American Fern Society. If one were to stick to the barest narrative of the trip, this would probably be a pretty boring book ("Day 1: Saw ferns. See illustrations."). But a journal is a thing of tangents, and Sacks goes on fascinating tangents, describing everything from the many toxins produced by brackens to the processing of cochineal insects to make brilliant red dye to how th ...more
Feb 21, 2008 rated it it was ok
After reading about half of this book, i decided to stop... Its just too much about and i find it hard to share sacks' enthusiasm for ferns; so i found myself skipping big parts and picking out the pieces about mexico, which are more interesting. But i'd rather start on a new book instead.
I admit it. I'm a geek. I picked this book up for a few reasons: I have enjoyed Oliver Sacks's books on neurology, I have fond memories of a trip to Oaxaca, and I am a plant-nerd. There are plenty of things I appreciated about this journal. Mainly I get inspired by all the interdisciplinary connections that are made. It's not about ferns. It's more about belonging. Sacks finds his place within a subculture of fern enthusiasts. I'm happy that he found people who share his passion. But DIAL IT BAC ...more
Jul 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ten journal entries about a trip to look at ferns in Oaxaca-I think it's pretty safe to say that I will read anything by this man!
Oct 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[…] [I] prefer the green and scentless world of ferns, an ancient green world, the world as it was before the coming of flowers. A world, too, with a charming modesty, where reproductive organs – stamens and pistils – are not thrust out flamboyantly but concealed, with a certain delicacy, on the undersides of leafy fronds. (p. 42)

Récit délicat de fougères & de ferveur botanique à Oaxaca, au Mexique. Sacks est un observateur empathique, d'une timidité un peu touchante, qui détaille les scènes
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Mostly i would just to love to hear Oliver Sachs talk, and his voice (or some simulacrum thereof) rang through my head as he wandered through Mexico, thinking about ferns, fern allies, the people who love them (and other bits of the natural world) and the land and culture they were wandering. No profundities really, just a curious mind and heart open to whatever comes along. Can't ask much more of a journal than that.
Bob Nichols
Sacks writes primarily about ferns in Oaxaca and only incidentally about Oaxaca itself. About Oaxaca itself, we learn that the southernmost population of Douglas Fir exists here; that the temple buildings at Yagul "face outward, life faces outward, whereas in Greece and Rome the focus is inward"; that the walls at the Mitla palace are made such to absorb and disperse the force of an earthquake; and that the villages in the Oaxaca Valley consist of specialized trades by artisans who have passed a ...more
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Full disclosure: I love Oaxaca and had been an admirer of Oliver Sacks, so it was a huge disappointment in the early chapters to learn how ignorant he was of the people and cultures of Oaxaca, then and now. Early on he was amazed to find a GI Clinic ..."I wonder...why one should seek a these holy confines?" Well, as in most Hispanic cities, the Cathedral is in the heart of the city, along w shops, medical offices, cafes. Not everyone goes to Mt Sinai Dr. Sacks!

But by the last
Scott Lake
May 13, 2012 rated it liked it
The first book I read from Oliver Sacks was "Island of the Colorblind" which was a bit more interesting than this one. Sacks takes quite a bit from 'Luis', one of the tour guides for the troupe of fern-fans that traveled with Sacks to Oaxaca to see the variety of ferns growing there. I would really like to hear more from Luis - as the most interesting parts of this book have nothing to do with fern varieties, but rather are associated with Luis' narrative of the history of the Oaxaca area.

Fans o
Rowan Hethey
Mar 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Reading Oliver Sacks is like reading letters from an old friend. Even if you have no interest in ferns (or any other of his multitude of interests) his joy is infectious. Not for everyone, but if you enjoy reading about other people's loves, give it a shot.
May 20, 2015 rated it liked it
While not up to his usual standard, this is a nice little memoir of a lovely trip by Dr Sacks. And given the state of his health, I am frankly greedy for any writing in his own voice.
Luca Campobasso
Jul 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: neuroscience
If you like to stay in the middle of nature and read, this book will make you feel exactly like that, but in your room :)
Dec 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Mellow and dreamy. A different view of Oaxaca than the tour books.
Jun 24, 2014 rated it it was ok
It may be better appreciated by someone with experience in botany. Here and there Sacks presents enjoyable snippets about Mexican culture and history.
Oct 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
One in the National Geographic Literary Travel Series, which includes many enticing titles, e.g., William Least Heat Moon on Western Ireland and W. S. Merwin on southwest France.
Mar 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Good traveling in the high mountains of Oaxaca, Mexico.
Alia S
May 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
“I myself may be the only single person here, but I have been single, a singleton, all my life. Yet here this does not matter in the least, either. I have a strong feeling of being one of the group, of belonging, of communal affection—a feeling that is extremely rare in my life, and may be in part a cause of a strange ‘symptom’ I have had, an odd feeling in the last day or so, which I was hard put to diagnose, and first ascribed to the altitude. It was, I suddenly realized, a feeling of joy, a f ...more
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I loved this little book, as I do most of what Oliver Sacks has written. There is something magical in Sacks style, that makes you feel as though you are in the same room with him, a special invited guest. Since I am also a passionate gardener I enjoyed getting to know much more about ferns. Although there are a few in my garden, they were never my favorites, as are the succulents for example. But now I see them through totally different eyes and definitely with a new respect. Since I live in Me ...more
I can't believe my life brought me to really enjoying a journal of someone going to Oaxaca and looking at ferns.
Angus McKeogh
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Somehow Sacks makes a trip to Mexico to view ferns into something interesting and readable. I really enjoyed this short read.
Seth Mann
Apr 21, 2010 rated it liked it
Sacks' writes a short but richly varied, observant and descriptive account of a trip to Mexico's Oaxaca region. The trip revolves around a search and passion for ferns but Sacks' illustrations and observations cast a far deeper and wider net leading the reader to discoveries and insights related to human nature, history, culture and people in general. That's not to say there is a healthy and interesting dose of information about the both the symbiotic and parasitic relationships in nature..

May 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, travel, mexico
Sacks traveled with a group from the American Fern Society (yes, there is such a thing) to Oaxaca for a one week ferning trip. The group had world-class botanists, gifted amateurs, at least one mathematician, an aeronautics engineer - all of them knowledgeable and passionate about ferns. This seems strange to me, but Sacks' journal leaves little doubt that passion and ferns are two words that can go together.

Besides ferning, the group toured the area around Oaxaca, including Monte Alban, Mixtla,
Catherine T.
From the National Geographic Directions series, this slim volume by renowned professor of neurology Oliver Sacks, follows a 9 day tour with experts from The American Fern Society as they pursue over 640 ferns on-site. Sacks' warm and modest writing style disguise his thorough knowledge in biology, botany and the human condition as our group romps enthusiastically through the region of the sophisticated Olmec Civilization, day trips to Mitla, Santa Maria del Tule, and Matlatan. Our travelers shar ...more
Jan 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I flat out loved this elegant little book, Sacks' published journal from a weeklong trip to Oaxaca Mexico with a group of mostly elderly fern lovers. He is so present in his environment, capturing the image of an older gent scrambling up a hillside in search of undiscovered flora and fauna, as well as his first introduction to Mexican culture in the form of his first plane ride:

"We are scarcely off the ground before everyone gets up--an instant social scene, like a Mexican cafe or market. One
Sarah Ansani
Leave it to me to read an outlier when reading Sacks for the first time. Having no knowledge of Sacks other than what I have read in a few of his essays, etc., I read about a fern trip in Oaxaca, Mexico, thinking that I would fall in love with this 'Botanist on Mars' only to slightly be mistaken for instead, Sacks was an 'Anthropologist in Oaxaca'. The passion for flora and fauna did not come from our friend Oliver, but from the observations and enthusiasms of his fellow travelers. Anything info ...more
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Science and Inquiry: Pictures? 1 24 May 21, 2013 02:05PM  

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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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“Having ferned for an hour, we take a break for our lunch and I eat, unwisely, quite an enormous meal....” 1 likes
“The feelings are similar, in some ways, to those one has in Rome or Athens, but quite different in other ways, because this culture is so different: so completely sun-oriented, sky-oriented, wind- and weather-oriented, as a start. The buildings face outward, life faces outward, whereas in Greece and Rome the focus is inward:” 0 likes
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