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Awakenings [Paperback]

Oliver Sacks
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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More from Oliver Sacks
Though many great doctors are also great writers, few can compare with Oliver Sacks for expressing the relation of medicine to the human spirit. Visit Amazon's Oliver Sacks Page.

Book Description

October 5, 1999 0375704051 978-0375704055 Reprint
Awakenings--which inspired the major motion picture--is the remarkable story of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen for decades in a trance-like state, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Oliver Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, "awakening" effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of his patients, their lives, and the extraordinary transformations which went with their reintroduction to a changed world.

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Editorial Reviews Review

It hardly seems fair that so many great doctors are also great writers. Perhaps it's qualities like sensitivity, craft, and dedication that keep physicians like Oliver Sacks in hospitals all day and at writing desks all night; if nothing else, these qualities shine in books like Awakenings. This powerful set of case histories rises above its pathological foundation to find new literary territory, a medical-spiritual synthesis equally stimulating for the mind and the soul. It's no wonder Hollywood producers chose to turn it into a feature film--anyone can see the universal human struggle against bondage and despair in these pages.

The sleeping-sickness epidemic of 1918 caused hundreds of survivors to slip into a bizarre rigid paralysis with similarities to advanced Parkinson's disease. These patients, only occasionally able to communicate or move, were nearly all institutionalized for life, their ranks increasing every now and then with similarly afflicted men and women. Sacks came to work at a long-term care facility shortly before the first exciting results with L-dopa and Parkinson's in the late 1960s; his patients soon embarked on dramatic, difficult recoveries from up to 50 years of torpor. He documents their spiritual and medical obstacles with great care to portray their individual personalities, long suppressed but finally released. Though many great doctors are also great writers, few can compare with Oliver Sacks for expressing the relation of medicine to the human spirit. --Rob Lightner


"One of the most beautifully composed and moving works of our time." —The Washington Post

"Compulsively readable. . . . Dr. Sacks writes beautifully and with exceptional subtlety and penetration into both the state of mind of his patients and the nature of illness generally. . . . A brilliant and humane book." —A. Alvarez, The Observer

"[Sacks] opens to the reader doors of perception generally passed through only by those at the far borders of human experience." —The Boston Globe

"A masterpiece." —W. H. Auden --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 5, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375704051
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375704055
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California, and New York. He is professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and Columbia's first University Artist. He is the author of many books, including Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Musicophilia. His newest book, Hallucinations, will be published in November, 2012.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
72 of 73 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medical Case histories as great art December 30, 1999
Oliver Sacks has elevated the case history in Awakenings to a literary art form of the highest kind. A neurologist in charge of a ward of people left high and dry by the 1918 flu epidemic which left them in a profound catatonic state, an extreme form of Parkinson's, he experiments on his patients with a new wonder drug L-Dopa which proves a mixed blessing for them. Some are awakened to brilliant life for a brief time, but most of them are doomed either to revert to their original condition or to die (several know they are going to die and announce the fact). Dr. Sacks (who looks quite demonic on the cover photo) uses his medical powers to change lives with a high-handedness that is almost Faustian. The effects are so extraordinary and strange that some of these stories read like the finest fantasy. All the stories are wonderfully strange, proving that human consciousness is many-faceted and that what we label "disease" may be merely a new avenue of perception. Some of these people perform acts not only bizarre but improbable, showing an unusual level of vitality and no ordinary degree of power. Read more ›
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
By S. Hung
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If I had never read "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat" before this book (both by the same author), I would have rated this as a five-star classic. Though as well written as the other work, this book presents his studies in a less humane, and more scientific way. Read the other work and one will sense the noticeable difference in the way that Dr. Sacks approached his patients. When reading the "Awakenings", I felt as a detached bystander looking through the windows of his clinic and observing the patients. When reading "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat", I was so engaged by Dr. Sacks vivid descriptions of the patients, physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, that it was as if I was face-to-face with the patients, and that I was connected in some intrinsic way to each and every one of them. Please please read the other work as well as this one.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Despite flaws, one of the most human books I've read January 17, 2007
By Frikle
Despite flaws, one of the most human books I've read

In 1969, Oliver Sacks gave L-DOPA (a recently released "miracle drug") to scores of his post-encephalitic Parkinson's patients. Most of them woke up - after essentially being in a state of sleep/death for over 30 years. They were the remnants of the great post-WWI epidemic and most spent virtually all their adult lives institutionalised. They were suffering from a specific "flavour" of Parkinsonism - and contrary to popular belief, this disease is not about shaking or tremors but more about the warping of an internal sense of scale (of space and time) which makes movement, thought and being human almost impossible. L-DOPA gave the patients a new lease on life, but at a terrible price.

The book chiefly outlines the case histories of individual patients in the course of the treatment. Although occasionally Sacks is repetitive from one patient to another (one of the book's flaws), his attention to detail, his degree of empathy and the vividness with which he describes the patients and their lives are breathtaking. The book gives an amazing impression of what it's like to go from being at a standstill (your mind being taken up by a map of a map of a map of a map...of nothing) to the frenzy of mania (one patient spoke at 500 words a minute).

Awakenings has inspired a Hollywood movie, dozens of plays, documentaries, theatrical productions and more. This is because the story is about so much more than a particular disease. It's about what it means to be human. And it's about the tremendous strength of the patients in the face of a disease that has to be read about to be believed - literally a living hell.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling documentation May 3, 2004
One of the things I find most striking about Oliver Sacks is his humanity. I find myself instilled with his sense of compassion and understanding by reading his cases.
Awakenings succeeds at being accessible to both the layperson and professional, and captivating both. There is a glossary to familiarize yourself with neurological terminology, but again the book isn't overtly prolix; rather a gripping account of neurological maladies.
Through Mr.Sack's these patients have received a certain immortality; a sense that their suffering has not been in vain, but tremendously valuable, not only to the advancement of neurology but as testament to the inherent strength and resolve in us all.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A living Klein bottle
Not until I got the the very end of the book (the chapter dealing with stage/film/radio adaptations) did I became aware of the nearly 'Klein bottle' structure Dr. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Dan Harlow
5.0 out of 5 stars Arrived promptly and just what I wanted.
I loved the movie and wanted to read the book and I bought several more from that Author. If you like story with some technical then you will be fascinated. Read more
Published 1 month ago by TJT
1.0 out of 5 stars Hell inside Mt. Carmel Hospital, courtesy of Dr. Sacks
This is one of the most disturbing and horrific books I have ever read.

In it, Dr. Sacks demonstrates admirable, almost super-human devotion to the few dozen tragically,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Rover
5.0 out of 5 stars Awakenings
Bought this book as a gift. The person I gave it to just loved it. They will pass it on.
Published 4 months ago by Roxie Cousins
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant and haunting book
The Robin Williams film of the same name was loosely based on this book by Oliver Sachs, but the film tells only part of the story, and inserts an unnecessary amount of distracting... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Marius Gabriel
5.0 out of 5 stars The human mind
Sacks is a master of turning dry clinical facts on a case into a living, breathing human being in relationship to his or her family and significant others, and investigating the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Carol A Ranney
2.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected
If you're looking for a book that resembles the Penny Marshall/Robert DeNiro film, you won't find it here. Read more
Published 6 months ago by thelorax
4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Read for Students and Lovers of Prose
Book is in excellent condition. No wear, highlighting, or dog-earing.
The story itself is information-heavy, making it a bit of a slow read, but not an unpleasant one. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Robin Schwartzburd
5.0 out of 5 stars A Neuroscience Student's Perspective on Awakenings
Dr. Oliver Sacks sheds light on the post-encephalitic "sleeping-sickness" that affected many men and women in the first quarter of the 20th century. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Chelsea R. Owen
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic piece in neuropsychiatry
I fell in love with Sacks' "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," and I heard wonderful things about "Awakenings," so I decided to finally give it a read. Dr. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Dafa Lascu
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