Oliver Sacks, a celebrated neurologist and writer, and a board member of the National Aphasia Association, has spent a good deal of his life writing about the fascinating and frightening world of mental illness and disability. One of his most popular books “The man who mistook his wife for a hat” tells the stories of patients who have brain disorders ranging from not being able to recognize objects, to living with Tourrete’s syndrome, amnesia, aphasia and autism. Sacks himself has prosopagnosia – an inability to recognize faces of even familiar people. Michael Roth, the president of Wesleyan University and someone who has followed Sacks’ work over the yeas, writes in The Atlantic:
Sacks shifts our gaze from the horror of deficits to the wonder at the human ability to find a way to make sense of, even thrive in, an altered world.
Sacks, often drawing on his own suffering, doesn’t romanticize the horror that many of his patients have faced over the years. He just recognizes that “there is no prescribed path of recovery”; patients must create their own solutions to the challenges they face.
A few months ago, in a thoughtful and beautifully written op-ed for The New York Times, Sacks revealed that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He shared his insightful thoughts about life, work, and illness, concluding at the end of his essay:
I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.
Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.
After 5 books about the lives of others, Sacks turns the attention inwards. His recently published memoir “On the move” is a story about a man who is a celebrated neurologist and an outstanding writer, but also a man who crossed a continent on a motorcycle, set a California state record in weight lifting, moved to a new continent in his youth far away from his family, experienced growing up as a gay man in post-war England, and lived with a sibling suffering from schizophrenia. It is a life in which there seems to be no color that’s missing. As Sacks writes in his op-ed, he is a man “of vehement disposition, with violent enthusiasms, and extreme immoderation in all [his] passions” but also a man who has enjoyed loving relationships and friendships.
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.
*Photo Credit: Creative Commons/Flickr: Steve Jurvetson.