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Gratitude Hardcover – November 24, 2015
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“A series of heart-rending yet ultimately uplifting essays….A lasting gift to readers….unlike other writers who have reported from the front lines of mortality, Sacks did not focus on his illness, his medical ordeal or spirituality, but on “what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life—achieving a sense of peace within oneself. Sacks not only achieved that peace but managed to convey it beautifully in these essays. He found positive ways to think about everything, including his growing frailty: Perhaps, he suggests in the book’s final pages, he was in the Sabbath of his life, “when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.” His tender book leaves readers with a similar sense of tranquility and, indeed, gratitude.” —Heller McAlpin, Washington Post
“Elegant….a lovely slim volume.” —Melissa Dahl, New York Magazine
“Powerful….The book chronicles the famous author’s thoughts, wishes, regrets, and, above all, feelings of love, happiness, and gratitude even as he faced the cancer that ended his life last year at 82….the material offers incisive, poignant observations….A perfect gift for thoughtful readers, and a title that belongs in science and biography collections.” —Library Journal, *starred review*
“The neurologist and author died of cancer in August. Between 2013 and 2015, he wrote four moving essays, published in The New York Times, reflecting on his life and facing mortality. They are collected in this slim volume, a coda to Sacks’ remarkable career.” —Tom Beer, Newsday
“A book defined by celebration, not sadness.” —Danny Heitman, The Advocate
“This is a worthy little chapbook for the lovers of Oliver Sacks.” —Edith Cody-Rice, The Millstone
“The volume is tiny—short enough to read easily in one sitting—but it’s huge in heart. Oliver Sack’s just-published book “Gratitude,” consists of four essays the famous neurologist and chronicler of human quirks wrote in the months before his death of cancer this summer at 82. It is, in effect, a mini-memoir, a beautiful meditation on what it means to live a good life.” —Sydney Trent, Washington Post
“In these four graceful essays written in the two years before he died, Oliver Sacks looks at life, old age — and death, square in the eye….First published individually in the New York Times, together these pieces form a wise and profound quartet.” —Laurie Hertzel, Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Gratitude is a bittersweet and absolutely beautiful read in its entirety.” —Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org
“A humane look at his own life, and death, told with good humor, acceptance, and that charming gratitude that had such a strong hold on him. If you know his writings, this will bring them to a thoughtful and enlightened conclusion; if you do not, the little book is a not just a farewell but will do for a grand introduction.” —The Dispatch
About the Author
OLIVER SACKS was born in 1933 in London and was educated at 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 many 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 over the years 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.
For more information, please visit www.oliversacks.com.
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This book is a very short read... A collection of some of his final essays. Though I had read some of them before - or heard him tell some of these stories in interviews, reading them again reminds me about what I love about Oliver Sacks' perspective and reminds me about what I'm grateful about in my own life.
The essays are presented in chronological order, beginning with “Mercury," in which Sacks recounts his love of elements and atomic numbers, allowing him to state “at seventy-nine, I am gold.” He enumerates some of the negative aspects of aging, such as slowing reactions, flagging energies, the tendency to forget names, and the looming fears of “dementia and stroke.” But he can still declare that he’s looking forward to being 80. “My Own Life” was composed after his diagnosis of a recurrence of fatal cancer. Here he cites philosopher David Hume, who wrote, at a similar juncture, “I now reckon upon a speedy dissolution.” He harks back to his attraction to the elements in “My Periodic Table.” He notes that on his desk is a “little lead casket” for his 82nd birthday, wonders if he will live to see bismuth (83), and feels almost sure he will miss the murderously radioactive 84th: polonium.
In “Sabbath,” the last of the four writings, Sacks recalls growing up in a close-knit orthodox Jewish home, and particularly the rituals of Shabbos: “Kiddush accompanied by sweet red wine and honey cakes…” But this idyllic cultural picture was fractured when Sacks admitted to his father that he had sexual feelings for other boys. His mother shrieked at him, making him hate religion. Leaving home, he struggled with addiction to amphetamines, but later found stability and solace in the work that inspired his book AWAKENINGS.
Thus began a “lonely but deeply satisfying, almost monkish existence.” Sacks devoted himself to the case histories of his and other patients, those whose unique maladies, always presented with respect, even reverence, provided material for popular books like THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT and SEEING VOICES. Much later, Sacks was inspired by a cousin to visit Israel and then celebrate Sabbath with his orthodox relatives --- “a stopped world, a time outside time.”
In the certainty of approaching death, “Sabbath” concludes with the author’s hope that the “seventh day of one’s life” will bring longed-for peace and rest.
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott