Aimlessly Going Forward

blog by Tomas Sedovic

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks

book, review, science

This review was originally posted at Goodreads and imported here later with next to no spell/grammar checking.

4/5 stars

This is my third Oliver Sacks book. If you know him, you know what to expect. If you don’t:

This book is an observation of patients with Encephalitis Lethargica — an epidemic that appeared around the first World War, infected 5 million people, killed the third, and left a lot of the others in an extremely passive state for the rest of their lives.

Sacks describes these patients (his patients) decades later and their reaction to a then promising treatment L-DOPA. Ostensibly, these are case studies. The main portion of the book has a clear structure: description of a person before the treatment, then during the treatment including notes on the dosage and since most were taken off it and restarted a few times, their post-L-DOPA situation.

However, Oliver Sacks describes these people as people. It shows their personalities, struggles, emotions, joys and dreads. And he does it with effectiveness I’ve rarely encountered elsewhere. Awakenings is a collection of stories of people in terrific circumstances, much more than a medical literature. His writings regularly bring me to laughter and tears.

Awakenings, while more structured and clinical than the other books I’ve read (The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and The Anthropologist On Mars), is a beautiful window into the human condition.

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