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An Anthropologist On Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales 1st Edition

4.7 out of 5 stars 135 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0679756972
ISBN-10: 0679756973
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The works of neurologist Oliver Sacks have a special place in the swarm of mind-brain studies. He has done as much as anyone to make nonspecialists aware of how much diversity gets lumped under the heading of "the human mind."

The stories in An Anthropologist on Mars are medical case reports not unlike the classic tales of Berton Roueché in The Medical Detectives. Sacks's stories are of "differently brained" people, and they have the intrinsic human interest that spurred his book Awakenings to be re-created as a Robin Williams movie.

The title story in Anthropologist is that of autistic Temple Grandin, whose own book Thinking in Pictures gives her version of how she feels--as unlike other humans as a cow or a Martian. The other minds Sacks describes are equally remarkable: a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome, a painter who loses color vision, a blind man given the ambiguous gift of sight, artists with memories that overwhelm "real life," the autistic artist Stephen Wiltshire, and a man with memory damage for whom it is always 1968.

Oliver Sacks is the Carl Sagan or Stephen Jay Gould of his field; his books are true classics of medical writing, of the breadth of human mentality, and of the inner lives of the disabled. --Mary Ellen Curtin

From Publishers Weekly

Neurologist Sacks presents seven case studies of people whose "abnormalities" of brain function offer new insights into conceptions of human personality and consciousness.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 327 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (February 13, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679756973
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679756972
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (135 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #56,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 6, 2005
Format: 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!
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Format: 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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"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.
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