The Case Studies of Oliver Sacks: Hallucinations and The Mind’s Eye

 

I read these two books after being completely taken in by Sacks’ wonderful memoir, On the Move. The thing I found most compelling in that memoir was his naturalistic prose, the kind of writings of a 19th-century British gentleman-scientist, distilled down into powerfully direct and energetic language. That kind of writing is still very much present in these two books, -essays and narratives about specific case studies related to their respective titles- but the prose is reinforced by Sacks’ encyclopedic knowledge of his professional field.

This knowledge is communicated excellently, without fail. The man never leans on jargon, but chooses the most appropriate words to communicate his ideas to an intelligent put general audience. When a system of understanding or a historical context is required to make sense of some particular example, that information is folded flawlessly into the narrative. Everything sits in its right place, and there is no linguistic fat to trim.

In addition to my admiration of his literary skills, I find myself completely taken in by his narrative approach to medicine. By structuring scientific analysis of the human brain as a narrative, Sacks opens up each of his particular examples, showcasing their value not only as object lessons in neurology, but as compelling, human stories. Brains are people, and people are interesting -Sacks never sees brains as mre globules of fat. Strangely enough, I find myself making better sense of the science in this book -science presented almost exclusively in narrative form- than I have in my external studies of science for it’s own sake (like when I was obsessively studying anatomy in the process of getting my personal training certification a few years ago). There’s nothing like a narrative frame to give weight and recognition to something that transcends storytelling -whether that be prescience, philosophy, or meditation.

Recommendation: Give them a read. For those of you partial to audiobooks, the episodic structure and direct prose make these excellent candidates for your auditory pleasure centers.

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