The acclaimed neurologist and author’s spaciousness of mind, humanity, and attachment to all life has its last showcase in this posthumously published collection.
Assembled here are a wealth of previously published and unreleased pieces by the gifted neurologist (1933-2015), justly called the “poet laureate of science.” As in most of his books, Sacks (The River of Consciousness, 2017, etc.) includes clinical case studies from his medical practice. There is an unusually intriguing discussion of the many sides of Tourette's syndrome as well as a detailed analysis of the misleadingly named “bi-polar” disorder. While underscoring the physician's role in some of the most intimate decisions of a patient's life, the author discusses the aging brain; mania as a biological rather than psychological condition; the various manifestations of dementia; and the folly of a “premature sense of impotence and doom” that can accompany a diagnosis of Alzheimer's. In a lighter vein, Sacks discusses his early fascination with fossil botany and chemistry. He also offers odes to libraries, swimming, museums, the necessity of gardens, and the majesty of the ginkgo. His disquisitions extend further to the ancient building blocks of cyanobacteria and the evolution of earthlike planets, the premonitory power of dreams, photography's transformation of the way we perceive movement and the world, and the hallucinatory nature of out-of-body and near-death experiences, states that are far from supernatural in origin but rather “part of the normal range of human consciousness and experience.” Among the many scientists and writers whose oft-forgotten work he praises (sometimes to excess), his essay on pioneering British chemist and poet Humphry Davy is particularly edifying. In the last days of his life, Sacks offered strong lamentations about the book as an endangered species and the loss of civility in an age of cellphones and social media.
Balanced and insightful, this valedictory collection offers a fine coda to a remarkable life and career.