In his books An Anthropologist on Mars
and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
, Oliver Sacks details the lives of patients isolated by neurological disorders, shedding light on our common humanity and the ways in which we perceive the world around us. Now he looks at the effects of physical isolation in The Island of the Colorblind
. On this journey, he carried with him the intellectual curiousity, kind understanding, and unique vision he has so consistently demonstrated.
Drawn to the Micronesian island of Pingelap by reports of a community of people born totally colorblind, Dr. Sacks set up a clinic in a one-room dispensary. There he listened to patients describe their colorless world in terms rich with pattern and tone, luminance and shadow. Then, in Guam, he investigated a puzzling neurodegenerative paralysis, making housecalls amid crowing cockerels, cycad jungles, and the remains of a colonial culture. The experience affords Sacks an opportunity to elaborate on such personal passions as botany and history and to explore the meaning of islands, the dissemination of species, the birth of disease, and the nature of deep geologic time.
From Publishers Weekly
Neurologist Sacks, famed for his investigations of unusual medical conditions (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, etc.), went to Micronesia in 1993 to study firsthand two rare disorders: achromatopsia, or total congenital color blindness, which afflicts more than 5% of the population on the islands of Pingelap and Pohnpei; and lytico-bodig, a fatal, progressive neurodegenerative disease common in Guam, causing paralysis, dementia and catatonia. His total immersion in island life makes this luminous, beautifully written report a wondrous voyage of discovery. Most of those born color-blind never learn to read because they can't see the teacher's writing on the board; they can't work outdoors in bright light, and are unable to see fine detail; yet many achromatopes, Sacks found, develop acute compensatory memory skills and curiosity and thus live in a world of heightened reality. On Guam he visited families tragically scarred by lytico-bodig, a disease blamed by some scientists on the natives' ingestion of cycad trees' toxic seeds; other researchers suspect that the cause can be traced to a virus, diet as a whole or genetics. With aplomb, Sacks wears many hats?cultural anthropologist, naturalist, explorer, ethnographer, neuroscientist?as he delves into the islands' volcanic origins, their archeological wonders (e.g., Pohnpei's megalithic ruins, remnants of a monumental civilization), their unique flora and fauna (nocturnal tree-climbing snakes, iridescent ferns, dwarf forests), their bloody colonial history under Spanish and German rule, their still active indigenous myths. As a travel writer, Sacks ranks with Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin. As an investigator of the mind's mysteries, he is in a class by himself. Illustrated with drawings, maps. 150,000 first printing; Literary Guild selection; Random House audio.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.