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Uncle Tungsten


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About the Author

Oliver Sacks was a neurologist, writer, and professor of medicine. Born in London in 1933, he moved to New York City in 1965, where he launched his medical career and began writing case studies of his patients. Called the "poet laureate of medicine" by The New York Times, Sacks is the author of thirteen books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Awakenings, which inspired an Oscar-nominated film and a play by Harold Pinter. He was the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, and was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2008 for services to medicine. He died in 2015.


Having so eloquently probed the life of others, Sacks now takes a look at himself, unearthing the source of his scientific curiosity in a sometimes troubled childhood in wartime Britain. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Sacks (Awakenings) is one of a handful of contemporary scientist-authors with immediate name recognition, and deservedly so. Best known for the tales of his experiences as a clinical neurologist, he has a special gift for conveying the humanity and hopes of patients struggling with sometimes bizarre mental disorders. In his memoir, he writes with the same enthusiasm and empathy about his boyhood infatuation with chemistry. As a youth, Sacks was insatiably curious about the properties of chemical substances and was ardently encouraged by his family, especially his Uncle Dave, nicknamed "Uncle Tungsten" for the light bulbs he manufactured with tungsten wire filaments. Delighting in the experiments that he conducted, Sacks also read about and clearly idolized the great chemists. His book is much more than just the lab notes of a junior chemist, though. It is also about growing up Jewish and coming of age in London during the wartime years. The passion that Sacks felt for learning permeated every aspect of his young life, and it comes through vividly in his adult prose. Tungsten could not possibly have a more inspiring spokesman. Highly recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/00.] Gregg Sapp, Science Lib., SUNY at Albany Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Sacks, a neurologist perhaps best known for his books Awakenings (which became a Robin Williams/Robert De Niro vehicle) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, invokes his childhood in wartime England and his early scientific fascination with light, matter and energy as a mystic might invoke the transformative symbolism of metals and salts. The "Uncle Tungsten" of the book's title is Sacks's Uncle Dave, who manufactured light bulbs with filaments of fine tungsten wire, and who first initiated Sacks into the mysteries of metals. The author of this illuminating and poignant memoir describes his four tortuous years at boarding school during the war, where he was sent to escape the bombings, and his profound inquisitiveness cultivated by living in a household steeped in learning, religion and politics (both his parents were doctors and his aunts were ardent Zionists). But as Sacks writes, the family influence extended well beyond the home, to include the groundbreaking chemists and physicists whom he describes as "honorary ancestors, people to whom, in fantasy, I had a sort of connection." Family life exacted another transformative influence as well: his older brother Michael's psychosis made him feel that "a magical and malignant world was closing in about him," perhaps giving a hint of what led the author to explore the depths of psychosis in his later professional life. For Sacks, the onset of puberty coincided with his discovery of biology, his departure from his childhood love of chemistry and, at age 14, a new understanding that he would become a doctor. Many readers and patients are happy with that decision. (Oct.) Forecast: This book is as well-written as Sacks's earlier works, and should get fans engrossed in the facts of his life and opinions. Look for an early spike on the strength of his name, and strong sales thereafter. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"A rare gem.... Fresh, joyous, wistful, generous, and tough-minded."-The New York Times Book Review

"This book underlies everything else Dr. Sacks has written, and is worthy to stand with the great scientific memoirs, for it's passion, its insight, its sense of history and its felicity." -Paul Theroux "Fired by Sacks's enthusiasm-obviously genuine, impossible to feign-bursting forth in all directions. . . .The book recounts the growth of a formidable young mind opening up to the order and beauty of the material world." -Newsday "Sack's study of a mind [is] as tough as tungsten, as fluid as mercury . . . as precious as gold." -The Seattle Times

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