An Anthropologist on Mars

byOliver Sacks
Rating 7 /10 Readability
Read Time 8 hrs Readible On
Published: 2012Read: July 7, 2016Pages: 336
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by Juvoni Beckford@juvoni

An Anthropologist on Mars sparks feelings of empathy, gratitude, and curiosity. You see both beauty and tragedy in the seven stories that the neurologist Oliver Sacks tells us. There is the case of the Colorblind Painter, a man who can't remember anything since the 1960s, a Surgeon with Tourette Syndrom, a man who was blind and given sight only to lose it again, an artist who could paint with great detail, a young autistic savant and Temple Gradin an autistic woman who taught herself how to interpret emotions, has a deep connection with animals and would become an advocate for animal and autistic rights.

Compared to other Sacks books, this one is more focused as it follows 7 people and their stories as opposed to dozens of case studies. This approach humanizes them more and focuses on how they live and view the world, instead of how their disability takes them from the world. How would the world be without these people and their gifts? What can we learn from them today?

Oliver Sacks was like an Anthropologist on Mars as these people's world seemed so different than ours, but to these people, our worlds seemed so different to theirs.

Motivations to Read

I learned about Oliver Sacks through the success of his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales , which further sparked my curiosity about learning how the mind works from a young age. After his death, I went across the web looking for more of his work and came across this book, which was said to be more focused and empathetic.

3 Reasons to Read

  • Gain new insights into the workings of the mind through individuals who have had injuries to it
  • An engaging collection of seven neurological case studies
  • You're interested in learning more about Oliver Sacks and how he works with patients

Notable Quotes

“This is what I get very upset at...' Temple, who was driving suddenly faltered and wept. 'I've read that libraries are where immortality lies... I don't want my thoughts to die with me... I want to have done something... I'm not interested in power, or piles of money. I want to leave something behind. I want to make a positive contribution—know that my life has meaning, Right now, I'm talking about things at the very core of my experience.' I was stunned. As I stepped out of the car to say goodbye, I said, 'I'm going to hug you. I hope you don't mind.' I hugged her—and (I think) she hugged me back.” Oliver Sacks

“This sense of the brain’s remarkable plasticity, its capacity for the most striking adaptations, not least in the special (and often desperate) circumstances of neural or sensory mishap, has come to dominate my own perception of my patients and their lives. So much so, indeed, that I am sometimes moved to wonder whether it may not be necessary to redefine the very concepts of “health” and “disease,” to see these in terms of the ability of the organism to create a new organization and order, one that fits its special, altered disposition and needs, rather than in the terms of a rigidly defined “norm.” Oliver Sacks

“Color is not a trivial subject but one that has compelled, for hundreds of years, a passionate curiosity in the greatest artists, philosophers, and natural scientists. The young Spinoza wrote his first treatise on the rainbow; the young Newton’s most joyous discovery was the composition of white light; Goethe’s great color work, like Newton’s, started with a prism; Schopenhauer, Young, Helmholtz, and Maxwell, in the last century, were all tantalized by the problem of color; and Wittgenstein’s last work was his Remarks on Colour. And yet most of us, most of the time, overlook its great mystery.” Oliver Sacks

“Science is a grand thing when you can get it; in its real sense one of the grandest words in the world. But what do these men mean, nine times out of ten, when they use it nowadays? When they say detection is a science? When they say criminology is a science? They mean getting outside a man and studying him as if he were a gigantic insect; in what they would call a dry impartial light; in what I should call a dead and dehumanized light. They mean getting a long way off him, as if he were a distant prehistoric monster; staring at the shape of his “criminal skull” as if it were a sort of eerie growth, like the horn on a rhinoceros’s nose. When the scientist talks about a type, he never means himself, but always his neighbour; probably his poorer neighbour. I don’t deny the dry light may sometimes do good; though in one sense it’s the very reverse of science. So far from being knowledge, it’s actually suppression of what we know. It’s treating a friend as a stranger, and pretending that something familiar is really remote and mysterious. It’s like saying that a man has a proboscis between the eyes, or that he falls down in a fit of insensibility once every twenty-four hours. Well, what you call “the secret” is exactly the opposite. I don’t try to get outside the man. I try to get inside.” Oliver Sacks

Notes for this book are still being transcribed.
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posted August 4, 2016

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