The prolific physician’s adventure-filled life.
Sacks (Neurology/NYU School of Medicine; Hallucinations, 2012, etc.) continues where he left off in Uncle Tungsten (2001), the story of his youthful fascination with chemistry. Describing himself as quiet, shy, and solitary, he nevertheless has become a man of many passions: science, medicine, motorbikes, and, for years, assorted drugs, including cannabis, LSD, amphetamines, and chloral hydrate. Sacks writes candidly of his mother’s rage when she learned he was homosexual, and he ruefully recalls several brief love affairs. Sent away from his family during World War II, he believes, caused him to feel inhibited in intimate relationships. But he celebrates many close friendships, notably with fellow physician (and entertainer) Jonathan Miller and poet Thom Gunn, and he offers a touching portrait of his brother Michael, who was schizophrenic. Sacks went to Oxford aiming to become a research scientist, but after one project failed dismally, he followed family tradition and studied medicine (both parents and two brothers were physicians). After working at Middlesex Hospital in England, he took an internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco, where he fell in love with the lifestyle and landscape, buying a motorcycle and taking to the road every chance he had. “By day I would be the genial, white-coated Dr. Oliver Sacks,” he recalls, “but at nightfall I would exchange my white coat for my motorbike leathers, and, anonymous, wolf-like…rove the streets or mount the sinuous curves of Mount Tamalpais.” By the time he left California in 1965, he had covered 100,000 miles. Sacks loved clinical medicine, vividly evoking his observations and investigations in Awakenings (1973), Seeing Voices (1989), and An Anthropologist on Mars (1995). The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) made the New York Times bestseller list and, to his surprise, catapulted him to fame.
Despite impressionistic chronology, which occasionally causes confusion and repetition, this is an engaging memoir by a consummate storyteller.