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A Leg to Stand On Paperback – April 29, 1998

4.2 out of 5 stars 52 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (April 29, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684853957
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684853956
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #381,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Format: Paperback
Sacks has made his reputation by writing insightfully about his patients and their neurological disorders. Most readers will come to this book after having read one of his better known collections, such as "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat", though in fact I believe this precedes all of them except "Awakenings". "A Leg to Stand On" has much in common with those books, but it is much more personal, and it tells a unified story.
The first chapter, "The Mountain", tells how Sacks suffered a terrible injury to his left leg while hiking high above Hardanger Fjord in Norway. He was alone, and nobody knew where he was; he would certainly die of exposure if he didn't reach help by nightfall. The chapter is as gripping as anything in a thriller, and much more believable.
The next chapter, however, "Becoming A Patient", is the one that will give readers of Sacks' other work a frisson of recognition. Many times Sacks has taken the reader through the doctor-patient relationship from the doctor's side, but now he must experience it from the patient's side, and it is a revealing chapter. It ends with an extraordinary transition: Sacks has realized that he has a neurological problem with his leg--he can't "locate" it; it feels like it's made of wood--but the surgeon who operated on him refuses, point-blank, to accept that there is a problem.
The remainder of the book--about half--is devoted to the path to Sacks' ultimate recovery. Sacks has deep powers of observation, and there are luminously informative sequences here--my favourite is perhaps the exchange with the physiotherapists, when they are trying to show him how to walk, but he has forgotten how.
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Format: Paperback
In this the most personal of all his books, neurologist Oliver Sacks tells the story of an injury he sustained while climbing a mountain in Norway and the terrifying, bizarre aftermath when he realized with horror that his leg felt alienated. It did not feel like it was part of his body, but a foreign object somehow attached to him. This sort of disembodiment, with alterations in the mind-body image that affected Sacks deeply, was as confusing as it was frightening. When he finally recovered, he experienced unbounded joy and a new wonder for being properly "oriented" to his body. With insight, learning, and an unusually unbuttoned metaphysical self-revelation in which he discusses his religious background and doubts, Sacks shows how the soul is stirred by the changes in the body.
This is an eminently readable book, free from the conglomeration of footnotes and asides that accompany most of Sacks' other books. I read it in one day, fascinated and entertained throughout the reading. Besides being an autobiographical, neurological novel, this book also explores what it is like for the physician to become a patient, how experiencing something firsthand can change the way a physician views and practices medicine, and how the mind-body image so strongly affects our worldviews.
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Format: Paperback
On one level, this is a doctor-becomes-patient story, with the many revelations that come to those in medicine who suddenly find themselves at the other end of the stethoscope. For anyone who's been a patient, there's some satisfaction in reading stories like this in which an ill or injured doctor finds out "what it's really like" to be in a hospital bed and more or less at the mercy of the medical profession.
I suppose Oliver Sacks isn't quite a likely candidate for this tables-turned scenario. In his books and TV interviews (e.g., "Glorious Accident"), and in Robin Williams' portrayal of him in "Awakenings," he comes across as anything but the stereotypical doctor. But he learns plenty from his experience anyway, and not just from the imperious surgeon who insists that there's nothing wrong with Sacks now that his leg has been repaired or the jolly hockey-stick nurse who is copeless when he does not respond to physical therapy.
He also learns first hand the terror of being injured, alone, and far from any other humans to rescue him. He experiences the helplessness that can overwhelm a person who not only loses the use of a limb, but as a "patient," loses his identity as an independent person. Sacks' descriptions of his feelings as a patient, sometimes soaring, sometimes despairing, are vividly told and are a reminder to any healthcare worker of the wild fluctuations of emotions that a patient can experience, even from one hour to the next.
Another fascinating aspect of the book is its account of the mystery of healing. Sacks describes in great detail the slow and unpredictable experience of recovering the ability to walk again.
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Format: Paperback
I must disagree with the reviewer who says Sacks is better when not writing about himself. His whole point in this book, it seems to me, is that we must speak from the "I" (the present consciousness) if we are to understand what he calls a neurology of the self. I think Sacks is one of the best writers working--he embodies the ideal of combining the humanities and the sciences in his eloquent, incisive prose. I found this book quietly revolutionary in its attempt to write a new kind of narrative of the self. I read it in 24 hours and could not put it down.
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