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Oaxaca Journal Paperback – March 6, 2012

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

The eminent neurologist is also a fern lover, and this book is his record of a ten-day "fern foray" in southern Mexico. It is light and fast-moving, unburdened by library research but filled with erudition. Some of his fellow-foragers are professional pteridologists; others are amateurs, and there is a certain romance in the sight of smitten fern hunters crawling through the Mexican dust exclaiming in Latin. Among the botanical and anthropological observations, one catches glimpses of Sacks's inner life: his preoccupation with dualities, his nearly Victorian sense of modesty, his fascination with the world around him. He could be speaking of himself when he comments on a colleague peering through a hand lens at a small mountain flower: "Is it the artist or the scientist in him which is aroused by the Lobelia? Both, clearly, and they are utterly fused."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Sacks is--besides a neurologist and a splendid stylist with a shelf of marvelous books to his credit, most recently Uncle Tungsten [BKL S 1 01]--a ferner. That is to say, not that he is an Englishman living in New York, but that he is an amateur pteridologist, one whose hobby is appreciating the ancient class of plants called ferns (and "the so-called fern allies"--clubmosses, horsetails, spike mosses, and whisk ferns--"my own preference," he says). In 1999, that avocation led him to spend 10 days in Oaxaca, Mexico, with other members of the American Fern Society, to whose greater pteridological erudition he modestly defers. He kept a diary, the basis for this book. Fortunately for most readers, he doesn't just describe the rare fern species he gets to see. He notes the exotic birds that two of his companions find as thrilling as the ferns; he admits, however, that he never saw any avians smaller than hawks and vultures, for he hasn't developed a birder's eyes. He lovingly relays what the group's excellent guide imparted of Oaxaca's history, its indigenes, the Zapotecs, and their ancient culture; he rhapsodizes over ruins and the technological and intellectual powers they bespeak; and he admires the people, the many exotic foods, the vistas, and the age-old industries of the towns he visits--all of this while his fellow travelers mostly keep on ferning. He says he wants to go back. Take us along, Dr. Sacks--please! Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307947444
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307947444
  • ASIN: 0307947440
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Oliver Sacks is a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. He is a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and the author of many books, including Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Musicophilia. The New York Times has referred to him as "the poet laureate of medicine."

His 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.

His autobiography, On the Move, will be published April 28, 2015.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

130 of 132 people found the following review helpful By A. Mathews-Younes on March 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Once again, Oliver Sacks takes us into his world. A tenacious scribbler, he carries us on a journey back to the timeless world of nature. Quick to tell us of his passion for ferns, he recounts his journey to Oaxaca, Mexico with his collegues who share his fascination.
On one level, we are treated to a kaeidoscope of hundreds of exotic ferns and their latin names he and his frends find in the lush vegetation of Mesoamerica. Not being a fern lover myself, I marvel at the intrigue of the hunt for these living fossils, objects from the distant world of time and creation before the advent of humanity. One would expect that such trivia would bore the reader, but no, Sacks absorbs us in his fascination with the varieties of these creature; he takes us along in the narrative by his marvel with discovery.
At another level, Sacks enters the world of Oaxaca. He treats us to the rich culture of the region. He regails us with tales of the potato, the tomato, the bean, maise and pepper. He describes the ageless Oaxacan cuisine that nourishes his fellow pilgrims and the people of the region. The rubber ball of the Zatopec culture and the games played with it especially intrigues him. And his delightful descriptions of the delicious Oaxacan chocolate in all its forms stimulates mouthwatering longing for a taste. More importantly, he tells us of the people who lived in the region and bore the brunt of the Spanish Conquistadores. One is treated to the rich history of the Mesoamerican civilizations that rivaled Rome and Athens. Yet, Oaxaca's civiliztion achieved greatness while being innocent of the wheel, iron, compass, and alphabet. Sacks tells us of his confusion as a Westerner entering this world where his reference points create discontinuity.
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71 of 73 people found the following review helpful By John Knight on July 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What an odd little book. Just as he was finishing writing the brilliant UNCLE TUNGSTEN professor of nuerology Oliver Sachs joins an eleven day journey to Oaxaca with a band of botantists the putative purpose of which is to study ferns. Now Oliver likes ferns; he is a member of the American Fern Society and appreciates the antiquity and remarkable adaptability of ferns as much as the average guy (ok--the average, brilliant botanist). The book is replete with charming drawings of ferns and lots of Latin names and fernish descriptions. But it isn't really about ferns.
It is also a quite wonderful description of this special section of southern Mexico. As well as describing the tremendous variety of plant life found in this Mexican state he also is stunned by the variety of food. One restaurant has well over 100 dishes none the same and few immediately recognizable to his North American eye. Sachs tosses in a good deal of history--of the ancient Aztecs, Toltecs, Zapotecs and Mayans as well as Cortez and the conquering Spaniards. He also passes on a few pointed comments about the church and the modern disaster that is Mexican government. He is intrigued by Oaxaca and thinks about the necessity of returning. But this book isn't really about Oaxaca or Mexico herself.
The thirty plus botantists on this tour are an soortment of gays, lesbians, heterosexuals--all in couples save Sachs. He remarks that he has always been a loner--never really part of a couple. One night after drinking a lot of mescal they all ascend a mountaintop to observe a lunar ecliipse. Sachs enjoys the joking and camaraderie immensely, but as the eclipse approaches totality he goes off by himself to best appreciate the event. Almost through the trip he finds himself feeling oddly.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Christopher B. Hoehne on October 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Sometime during the writing of his well regarded book "Uncle Tungsten", Neurologist Oliver Sacks took a 12 day trip to state of Oaxaca (pronounced wah-HOCK-ah) in southern Mexico ostesibly for the purpose of observing and cataloging ferns with members of the American Fern Society- to which he belongs. Oaxaca Journal is the Author's first person account of the delighful little adventure that resulted.
Because of the Author's boundless curiosity about pretty much everything, the trip becomes more than just a fern collecting odyssey. To the searching eye of Sacks, a simple midmorning sitting alone at a cafe table in a town square, becomes a rumination on human tolerance for sun and shadow. A visit to the Ancient Meso-American city of Monte Alban becomes an excuse to probe into the curious history of rubber- which the Zapotec people used to make their heavy sport balls for their own unique form of basketball. Casually encountered botanical names are savored for their historical baggage and contribution to language and culture. And each new plant Sacks and his travelling companions encounter sparks a conversation which could end up touching on just about any realm of human experience.
Sacks' travelling companions are a particular delight; intelligent, well read, boundlessly enthusiastic, they are the sort of people one dreams of having along on trips to casually recount tidbits of history, science, and cuture to enrich the experience. Anyone belonging to a club with a scientific or academic bent, will recognize the combination of passion and quirkiness in the author's new friends.
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