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An anthropologist on Mars : seven paradoxical tales

by Oliver Sacks

  Print book  |  1st ed

Neurology cases where different is better   (2012-01-11)


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by vleighton

As I have said in other reviews, I have read several Oliver Sacks books, and I have liked them all. In the previous book (1985) The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, many of the cases are what I would call negative: the patient had lost some normal neurological function and had not gained anything in return. Some readers felt that Sacks was profiting from the misery of others. This collection has more positive cases, where patients who have lost some normal neurological function have gained unusual abilities. Their conditions have revealed "latent powers." This book feels less potentially exploitative of the cases described.


A couple of examples: first, a surgeon who has Tourette's syndrome. The Tourettes may actually help him be a better surgeon, and while he is operating, he is asymptomatic. A painter who had a strange illness in his thirties and afterward has been obsessed with painting scenes from his native village in Italy. He had not seen the village in years, yet his paintings reproduce the scenes down to the most minute details. The final essay is about Temple Grandin, the professor of animal science who is autistic. She describes herself as an anthropologist on Mars, giving the book its title.


As I have said before, beneath the science, Sacks seeks to find out what it means to be human. One reviewer on Amazon called these books moral parables, and I agree.

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