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195 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary; a work of genius
These are true tales from a clinical neurologist's notebook, but this isn't just any neurologist. Oliver Sacks, author of the justly celebrated, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986) and Awakenings (1973), which was later made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, and other works, is a gifted writer with a fine sense of story and an even finer...
Published on February 6, 2005 by Dennis Littrell

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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sporadically wonderful, consistently immersive.
By no means do clinical case histories hold boundless interest; the cases themselves are only as interesting as they are far from analogy. The book opens with an outstanding treatise on perception (The Case of the Colorblind Artist) but, from then on, Sacks manages to enumerate merely interesting tales of various misperceptions without the neurological backdrop of the...
Published on March 15, 2002 by EMK


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195 of 199 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary; a work of genius, February 6, 2005
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
These are true tales from a clinical neurologist's notebook, but this isn't just any neurologist. Oliver Sacks, author of the justly celebrated, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1986) and Awakenings (1973), which was later made into a movie starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams, and other works, is a gifted writer with a fine sense of story and an even finer sense of humanity. He has a style that is both affecting and fascinating, yet studiously objective, a style laced with footnotes and clinical observations, historical comparisons and wisdom. Part of the power of these tales, and of all of Sacks's work, is his ability to be totally engaged and to identify with the subject while part of him is off to the side observing with scientific impartiality. This makes for a compelling read. If you've never read Sacks before, you are in for a very special treat.

These tales are paradoxical because "Defects, disorders, diseases" can bring out "latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life, that might never be seen or even be imaginable, in their absence." It is this "'creative' potential, that forms the central theme of this book" (from Sacks's Preface, page xvi).

The first tale, "The Case of the Colorblind Painter" is about a successful artist who worked in color all his life only to became colorblind at age sixty-five, and the effect this had on his life and work. The second, "The Last Hippie" is about an amnesiac man with a frontal lobe tumor that left him stranded in the sixties. Sacks tells this sad, pathetic story with vivid detail, and characteristically ends it with a footnote, a footnote of such warmth and genuine identification that we are moved to tears. (Don't skip the footnotes!)

The third tale, "A Surgeon's Life," is an amazing account of a Canadian surgeon with Tourette's syndrome. It is here that we begin to see the central theme of this book in brilliant illumination. Dr. Carl Bennett, riddled with the bizarre tics characteristic of the disorder, compulsions that cause him to throw things, to touch things again and again in a ritualistic manner, to flail, jump and jerk about, nonetheless became a very successful (and beloved) doctor of surgery. Sacks scrubs up with Dr. Bennett and goes into surgery with him, during which, miraculously, the tics disappear for however long it takes to complete the surgery. Sacks visits him at home and meets his wife and two children, sees the dents in the refrigerator and on the walls, and comes away with a sense of how astounding the human potential to overcome adversity can be.

The fourth tale, "To See and Not See," is about partially restored sight and how it was not a blessing. This sad story illustrates how sight is learned from infancy and is largely a constructive and interpretive function of the brain. This tale also lets us see how the world of the sightless can be rich and fulfilling beyond our imagination.

In the fifth tale, "The Landscape of His Dreams, we meet a gifted artist, Franco Magnani, who from memory alone recreates his home town of Pontito, Italy through his paintings. He has a nearly photographic, three-dimensional memory, but because of a strange illness that befell him when he was thirty-one, he cares only to re-create his Pontito, not the people or events, but the houses, the masonry, the stones, and he does so continually with microscopic and affecting detail.

The chapter "Prodigies," focuses on an autistic artist, Stephen Wiltshire, whom Sacks is determined to befriend and understand. In this tale, and the concluding tale, "An Anthropologist on Mars," Sacks helps us to penetrate the world of the autistic and see it (at least in my interpretation) as an alternate view of reality, a view with its own strengths and weaknesses, a world that is just as true and valid as the "normal" one. Of course severe autism is debilitating in the extreme, and even modest autism can permanently scar and alienate the autistic from society. Yet, perhaps that is society's loss. I even got the sense, in reading these concluding stories about autism, that perhaps theirs is an evolutionary "strategy" trying to emerge, that is, a different way of seeing and dealing with the world that also might work. I would not be shocked to discover some day that the autistic, with their sometimes extraordinary gifts of memory and concentration, are melded more completely and seamlessly into our usual consciousness, and that humankind is the better for it. Incidentally, the last tale about Temple Grandin, who is a professor of animal studies at Colorado State University, is remarkable because it is about an autistic who is completely integrated into the society, yet remains autistic. She is the one who says she sometimes feels, because of her different perspective, like "an anthropologist on Mars" when she views "normal" people. Sacks allows us to see why.

Bottom line: this is an extraordinary book of insight and scholarship about the human condition, written with grace and a deep sense of humanity, not to be missed.
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92 of 92 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading for neuroscientists/educators!, July 2, 2000
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
Boy, if I had any say in what they should require as reading for students in neuroscience, I would definitely put this book up there right along with any textbooks. This book, as usual for Dr. Sacks, puts a human face on neurological injury or trauma, so that everyone can understand. Unlike many doctors, Dr. Sacks sees not only the diagnositic testing, but the person inside who has to learn to adapt to their disability to survive. Each of these stories are poignant, and as a Deaf person who underwent a cochlear implant which failed, I found his story about the blind man Virgil, who became sighted (somewhat) and then lost his sight again, hitting very close to home. I actually borrowed this book from the library, but I am planning to buy it at first chance because there are so many intelligent quotes in this book, that I have already used in my own writings and plan to use it in teaching students.
Dr. Sacks is one of the most intelligent medical writers we have today, and I for one am profoundly grateful he decided to write books on neurology. I wish that I had been exposed to his books earlier when I was in medical school for neuroscience. These stories about the people make neurology real and made neurological concepts understandable. It is not the research, the neurophysiology, the diagnostic testing which is so important, though they have their place in medical school: it is the fact that the people who have autism or who undergo strokes can teach us so much about ourselves, and many of them have surmounted huge obstacles to make something of their lives. It is all too easy in medical school, and in education to forget this. If you buy only one book on neuroscience this year, this should be the book. It is magnificent. Karen Sadler, Science education, University of Pittsburgh
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Awesome Romp Through the Pluriverse., July 27, 2006
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This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
"Anthropologist on Mars" begins with a quote by geneticist J.B.S. Haldane - a quote that so beautifullly sums up the book's aim as to bear repeating:

"The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, but queerer than we can imagine."

Oliver Sacks's seven paradoxical tales aim at showing us just that. We are offered a mere glimpse of the neurological pluriverse and, in so witnessing, become able to appreciate just how 'queer' human nature can be.

Other reviewers have gone into great detail about the outline of each story, so I will leave that to them. What I wish to point out to prospective readers is Sack's ability, through his tales, to make the ordinary things about our brains that we take for granted, appear unique, fragile, and more special than we might have thought.

For instance, we witness two stories dealing with sight. First, we explore the case of a painter who loses ALL sense of color late in life. We also see its opposite - a blind man given sight late in life.

In the first case, we get a real sense of how integral the sense of color is for life. We watch this man describe how the world becomes infinitely duller and less interesting when all one can see is shades of gray. He is driven almost to suicide! In the next tale, we see how astonishingly hard it is to 'learn to see' and all the things the brain must do to achieve this (which becomes all the harder the older one is).

We also meet some folks who are autistic and, as such, lack the social instincts and abstraction that we who have them take for granted. Imagine, if you can, having to learn social rules (such things as body language, vocal inflection, and sense of humor) like one would learn algebra - not instinctually, but intellectually. And imagine being mystified by ideas like romantic love and the beauty of music. Temple Grandin - in the final of Sacks tales - shows us what this is like.

Through all of this, Sacks takes on the role not only of a neurologist and story teller, but of a philosopher. The philosopher takes the ordinary and puts it under a microscope to show us how breath-taking it really is. Just because most of us - the impaired call us neurotypicals - have brains that smoothly operate thus and so, does not mean that we all do. Some, like Virgil, have to work hard at seeing such basic things as 2D represntations of 3D objects. Others, like Temple Grandin, have to work at understanding the idea of sociality.

All in all, this is a stunning book that will make you think and marvel. Dare I say, if you are like me, you will never look at the human brain with quite the same lens as you did before.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of his best books!, November 12, 2003
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
I've read several books by this author, including "The man who mistook his wife for a hat", "The island of the color blind" and "Seeing voices", but I have to say that this is the one I've enjoyed the most.
In keeping with the format of his hugely popular "The man who mistook his wife for a hat", Oliver Sacks presents his readers with several case stories that are both gripping and enlightening. As always, the author's greatest talent is being able to teach the general reader about the intricacies of the human mind, without reducing the particular patient to something other than human. The people behind each of these case studies are never reduced to being just freaks of nature, but are instead described with a great deal of respect.
I highly recommend all of Dr Sacks' books, but this is the best one to start with if you're new to his work. However, if lengthy footnotes are a pet peeve of yours, you may want to stay away. I, on the other hand, along with many other of his readers, really enjoy the many footnotes as they give his books more depth and points the reader in new interesting directions.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sporadically wonderful, consistently immersive., March 15, 2002
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
By no means do clinical case histories hold boundless interest; the cases themselves are only as interesting as they are far from analogy. The book opens with an outstanding treatise on perception (The Case of the Colorblind Artist) but, from then on, Sacks manages to enumerate merely interesting tales of various misperceptions without the neurological backdrop of the first history. This is not a bad thing -- often, by keeping the cases anecdotal Sacks is able to build a very good narrative. Make no mistake -- the book is indeed very good but doesn't set a consistent rhythym (there is a constant battle between clinical examination and anecdote) that is required for any work to be spectacular. I suspect this is in the writing and organization of the material; the material, standing alone, is of a great interest.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The humane psychiatrist, January 10, 2002
By 
"zhanci" (Nashville, USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
I am filled with awe for a psychiatrist like Sacks, who takes personal interest in every special person he comes across in his professional life. He has the rare insight to recognise each individual as a unique, never-to-be-repeated creation of the Creator, and to accord the respect and awe due to each patient he comes across; even to observe, sometimes with a sense of humour, the relativity of our definitions of 'normaility'. The time Sacks takes to just be with each special person, and appreciate the uniqueness of each, is commendable, and goes way beyond a mere call of duty. When an autistic person, featured in this book, commended that she feels like "an anthropologist on Mars" because she has to study human behaviour and interactions to be socially adaptable, Sacks picked up on her standpoint, and recognised, with unusual humility, that as a psychiatrist of special persons, he too is like an anthropologist on Mars, not always understanding their world, but not being too quick to pronounce them stereotypically abnormal and himself normal...a sensitive, insightful work that reflects a sensitive, insightful author.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, puzzling, and poignant, December 31, 2004
By 
Natalie Mootz (Huntington Beach, CA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
This is the first Oliver Sacks book I've read and I found it fascinating and informative. Once I started a case history I was hard-put to stop reading until I found out the end result. I particularly enjoyed the stories about the amnesiac Greg and the colorblind artist. Sacks puts a human face on insights about how our brains work in an intellectually stimulating yet emotionally touching way. I found the story about Virgil, the blind man who gets his sight back and must learn how to see in his 50s particularly heart-wrenching. The only story I bailed out on was about an autistic woman who works in a cattle slaughterhouse. (I could not handle the graphic nature of the story.) I definitely recommend this book if you appreciate shows like Nova or if you watch Discovery television. Anyone who wants to know more about the mysteries of our human brains will be enriched by this book.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough And Compassionate!, June 4, 2001
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
Oliver Sacks has always had a knack for deftly explaining the sometimes confusing world of neurology, but "Anthropologist" is a remarkable series of case studies. Dr. Sacks weaves the tales of seven human beings, each having a different neurological "difference" and portraying them in a matter of fact, logical light. Instead of viewing each person as having a disability, Dr. Sacks focuses on the remarkable way they have learned to adapt and make the best out of all situations. What to make of a painter that is colorblind? How can a person with Tourette Syndrome possibly be a surgeon? Why does an autistic teenager seem unable to verbally communicate appropriately, yet shows signs of immense, almost sacred "feelings" in his drawings? All these questions are anwered and mostly with more questions. However, this book differs than most in that it manages to bring a "soulful spirit" to those of which Dr. Sacks writes. A spirit that eludes most human beings.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sacks' gift - Seing patients as individuals, October 8, 1997
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
The description of clinical cases is not the commonest idea of a 'good time', especially for non-medical population. The usually dry and technically difficult prose plus the obscurity of the subject, provokes, even in accustomed mind of the physician, an unwillingness to proceed past the first 10 pages. I'm happy to say that, as usual, Sacks combines the well honed mind of a academician with the verve of a true stroryteller, and manages to produce a book at once acessible and challenging. The capacity to observe the patient as a different form of human being, instead of as just an 'interesting case', is a true insight into what Medicine should be; furthermore, as the author insistently teaches, neurological diseases differ from other ailments in that they become a true portion of the persona, and ,in a sense, they belong to the patient, whereas most people consider disease to be something that 'happens' to them, an outside influence not to be confused with the true Self. In every way, this book should be required reading for all neurologists - and physicians in general - , but let that not deter you from reading, and enjoying it: it is a truly acessible and moving book, and teaches us all something about the diversity and depths of the human kind.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great reading even for those who know little psychology..., May 21, 2000
This review is from: An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (Paperback)
I received "An Anthropologist on Mars" as a Christmas gift, and, having never been very interested in psychology, was hesistant to pick it up at first. After reading the first chapter (on an artist who goes color blind), however, I was hooked.
Each of the seven amazing accounts of different neurological disorders kept me more than interested; I found the author's details and descriptions of the his subjects absolutely fascinating. In addition, the separate stories are different enough to provide variety, but are similar enough in the way they are presented and written about to maintain contingency throughout the book.
Again, without knowing a lot about psychology, one can read this book and get a lot out of it. It's really, really interesting (and fun!) stuff, and it gets you to think. Overall, a great book.
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An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales
An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales by Oliver Sacks (Paperback - February 13, 1996)
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