When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far. It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy.Read more...
When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far. It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction, and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.
With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions weight lifting and swimming also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick who influenced him. On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human."
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2015-03-23
- Reviewer: Staff
The celebrated bard of the brain's quirks reveals a flamboyant secret life and a multitude of intellectual passions in this rangy, introspective autobiography. Picking up from his boyhood memoir, Uncle Tungsten, neurologist Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) explores the complexities of his adult experience, including his homosexuality, which yielded a number of intense but transitory affairs; obsessions with weight lifting and motorcycles (complete with leather wardrobe); and a ravaging addiction to amphetamines. While Sacks's physical and emotional lives are more prominent here than in past writings, he's still fascinated with the mind and presents absorbing disquisitions on Tourette's syndrome, autism, visual processing, and the Darwinian struggle of mental processes. His loosely structured narrative takes innumerable detours, rambling among memoiristic snippets (including a pungent story about a journey through America's truck stop culture), sketches of writers and celebrities (W.H. Auden, Robin Williams, Francis Crick), moving portraits of close friends and family, and, as always, engrossing case studies of neurology patients. Sacks's writing is lucid, earnest, and straightforward, yet always raptly attuned to subtleties of character and feeling in himself and others; the result, closely following his announcement that he has terminal cancer, is a fitting retrospective of his lifelong project of making science a deeply humanistic pursuit. Photos. (May)
Full speed through life
The frequent surprises in Oliver Sacks’ guardedly self-revelatory autobiography begin with the book’s cover photo. There we see a buff, leather-jacketed Sacks astride his new BMW motorcycle in Greenwich Village in 1961. Who knew that the genial, gray-bearded, best-selling writer-neurologist once portrayed by Robin Williams in the movie Awakenings (1990) was such a hunk in his late 20s? Or a state-champion lifter on Southern California’s Muscle Beach? Or a physician addicted for a while to amphetamines? Or a closeted gay man who had sex during the week of his 40th birthday and then not again until he fell in love at 75?
Revelations like these will keep a reader turning the pages of On the Move. But Sacks’ book, self-effacingly subtitled “A Life,” actually has much more to say than these headline grabbers would indicate. The book is a kind of reckoning, a summing up, of Sacks’ growth as an intellectual and a writer. Born in England to a prominent Jewish family, Sacks was from an early age a ceaseless letter writer and journal keeper; he draws liberally on those writings to give readers a sense of who he was as a younger man. Many of this autobiography’s 12 chapters offer the backstories to Sacks’ books, known for illuminating the curious workings of the human brain. Sacks also writes with feeling about his immediate family, almost all of them doctors, as well as his lasting friendships with the likes of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist Francis Crick and the poet Thom Gunn.
In fact it is an early Gunn poem that provides the title for this book. And what an appropriate title it is! In these pages, Sacks is always on the move, leaping adroitly from one topic to the next. We are swept along by the velocity of his account of a long and eventful life.