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An Anthropologist on Mars

Neurological patients, Oliver Sacks once wrote, are travellers to unimaginable lands. An Anthropologist on Mars offers portraits of seven such travellers - including a surgeon consumed by the compulsive tics of Tourette's syndrome unless he is operating; an artist who loses all sense of color in a car accident, but finds a new sensibility and creative power in black and white; and an autistic professor who cannot decipher the simplest social exchange between humans, but has built a career out of her intuitive understanding of animal behavior. These are paradoxical tales, for neurological disease can conduct one to other modes of being that - however abnormal they may be to our way of thinking - may develop virtues and beauties of their own. The exploration of these individual lives is not one that can be made in a consulting room or office, and Sacks has taken off his white coat and deserted the hospital, by and large, to join his subjects in their own environments. He feels, he says, in part like a neuroanthropologist, but most of all like a physician, called here and there to make house calls, house calls at the far border of experience. Along the way, he shows us a new perspective on the way our brains construct our individual worlds. In his lucid and compelling reconstructions of the mental acts we take for granted - the act of seeing, the transport of memory, the notion of color - Oliver Sacks provokes anew a sense of wonder at who we are.
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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.


The author of Awakenings examines seven people who have adapted successfully to neurological crisis, such as an artist who paints in black and white after losing all sense of color in an accident.

Among doctors who write with acuity and grace, Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) takes a higher place with each successive book. In this provocative collection of previously published essays, the noted neurologist describes his meetings with seven people whose ``abnormalities'' in brain function generate new perspectives on the workings of that organ, the nature of experience and concepts of personality and consciousness. ``It's not gentle,'' notes Canadian surgeon Carl Bennett of Tourette's syndrome; Bennett's compulsive lungings, tics and speech patterns are stilled when he is in the operating room and moderated, Sacks observes firsthand from the passenger seat, while Bennett is flying his Cessna Cardinal. The broad effects and differing degrees of autism are probed in his conversations and observations, over many years, with Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic British artist-prodigy, and his visit with Temple Grandin, an animal behavior specialist. Writing with eloquent particularity and compassionate respect, Sacks enlarges our view of the nature of human experience. Illustrations. 100,000 first printing; BOMC selection; author tour; Random House AudioBook (ISBN 0-679-43956-0, $17). (Feb.)

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