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Awakenings Reissue Edition

93 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0671648343
ISBN-10: 0671648349
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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 --This text refers to the Paperback edition.


"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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 339 pages
  • Publisher: Summit Books; Reissue edition (September 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671648349
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671648343
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,755,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

OLIVER SACKS was born in 1933 in London and was educated at the Queen's College, Oxford. He completed his medical training at San Francisco's Mount Zion Hospital and at UCLA before moving to New York, where he soon encountered the patients whom he would write about in his book Awakenings.

Dr. Sacks spent almost fifty years working as a neurologist and wrote a number of books--including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Hallucinations--about the strange neurological predicaments and conditions of his patients. The New York Times referred to him as "the poet laureate of medicine," and he received many awards, including honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Royal College of Physicians. His memoir, On the Move, was published shortly before his death in August 2015.

Sacks' work has inspired many adaptations, including the Oscar-nominated film of Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, a play by Harold Pinter, and several works by Peter Brook.

Gratitude will be published on November 24, 2015.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 89 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 30, 1999
Format: Paperback
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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67 of 71 people found the following review helpful By S. Hung on July 28, 2002
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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34 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Michael Fridman on January 17, 2007
Format: Paperback
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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By anonymous_reader_of books on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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