On the Move: A Life

by Oliver Sacks

Book, 2015

Barcode

123460404

Call number

B DIA SAC

Publication

New York, NY Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

Description

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.… (more)

Media reviews

Accustomed to the contemporary obsession with “identity” (and sex for that matter), we might expect the autobiography of a gay man – especially one from a Jewish immigrant background who ends up emigrating to the US from Britain – to be preoccupied by differences of sexuality and heritage.
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But Sacks is a man of his generation, and while no prude, nor a jealous guard of his own privacy, nonetheless the personal and existential aspects of this autobiography are definitely secondary to the main business of his life, which has been the practice of neurology and the chronicling of the insights this practice has afforded.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member Bookmarque
It was a little painful to read this book. Oliver Sacks is one of those people who, no matter how brilliant, charming, dedicated or compassionate, always manages to wreck, or at least, override those qualities from time to time. Not deliberately, no, Sacks is one of those people who’s always
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losing things and he’s a terrible klutz. I’ve often wondered why he didn’t go into neurosurgery and after reading this I understand why. He also seems to be short of common sense some of the time. Living in a northern climate for years, arriving at one’s forties or fifties in this climate and not knowing pipes freeze in winter. Swimming in active shipping lanes. Buying and riding powerful motorcycles with very little clue how and crashing. Knowing there’s too much weight on the leg press, trying anyway and almost dying because there is no spotter. There are more, but I can’t remember them all. It’s a wonder he didn’t kill himself more than once.

What I don’t understand though is how he helped people. Directly that is. I got very little sense of him as a physician. He didn’t seem to be terribly effective despite his passion and humanity. For starters, so many things interested or intrigued him that he didn’t seem to stick with anything for long. One minute it’s encephalitis lethargica, then Tourette’s, then autism, deafness, color blindness - and others. While some he retains an interest in most over time, it isn’t dedicated time, it’s here and there. Of all the countless people he met and/or wrote about how many did he help? How many got better? Did he cure conditions or improve them in any way? It’s hard to tell from this book. Clearly we need one from the receiving end of his ministrations.

It’s not as though he’s shy about his medical career. He considers himself a scientist, too, and talks about what rapport he has with his patients, what acclaim he’s had from some of his peers, although not all of them. It’s a tough personality to pin down. He’s mightily sure of himself in some ways and terribly insecure in others. I guess like any human. Overall I think he’d be a compassionate advocate for you if you were a patient, but I still don’t know if you’d get better.

He’d be an interesting person to know, but probably would try my patience. In his frank, but brief descriptions of his few love affairs he seems baffled as to why they fell apart. Some were that he fell in love with people who couldn’t return it, but some I got the feeling he ignored for long periods then smothered them. He seems like he was a good friend, but had many so you probably wouldn’t get much of his time. He’d be too busy writing anyway. Thousands of notebooks, millions of words. A life he certainly documented and enjoyed, but a baffling memoir.
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LibraryThing member gypsysmom
I’ve been reading books by Oliver Sacks for at least 20 years. Even before that I was aware of his neurological work through the movie Awakenings which starred Robin Williams as the doctor who treated patients who had been in a frozen state due to an outbreak of encephalitis lethargic which had
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swept the world in the 1920s. In all of his books Sacks gives small snippets of his personal life but they are mostly in relation to some neurological system that he is studying. Finally, in what may be his final book as he has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, we learn about Oliver Sacks the person.
Sacks was the youngest boy of four born to two English Jewish doctors. His mother was one of the youngest gynecologists to qualify in Britain and his father was a well-loved general practitioner. It was assumed that all the sons would follow the family trade and three of them did. The other, Michael, suffered from schizophrenia and was content to be a messenger boy. Sacks left England after finishing medical school. He first went to Canada where he thought he might work with the military as a way to avoid the draft in England. First, however, he travelled across Canada and he decided he should go to California. He quickly decided he wanted to stay and he managed to obtain a green card and became an intern and resident specializing in neurology. Sacks as a gay man found the acceptance he sought there but he also became addicted to amphetamines. He owned a motorbike and would often take off on trips to the Grand Canyon for a weekend. After completing his residency he moved to New York which is where he encountered the post-encephalitic patients. From the first book about these patients he went on to write many more. He also encountered many famous scientists and writers and he thrived on discussions with them. In addition to his books he wrote letters and journals and case notes, most of it in long hand. It was fortunate he was such a chronicler because he often quotes from those sources in this book. He has a true scientist’s questioning mind and continued to work even when faced with medical conditions that would stop a lesser man.
I’ll be sad if this is indeed Sacks’ last book but he has written so much I will have lots of reading left. And then, of course, I can always re-read them.
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LibraryThing member jms001
A surprisingly introspective look into the life of one Mr. Oliver Sacks.

I started hearing a lot of Oliver Sacks after his death last year, and it got me interested in some of his work. But first, I wanted to know more about the man, and heard that this was an excellent book. So I went ahead and
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gave it a listen. Sacks lived a very intriguing life, and he lays it all bare in his book, On the Move: A Life. As the title suggests, he lived his life moving from place to place, never meant to settle in one place, on one person, or one time. He offers a poignant retrospective of his life, not holding back in even some of his most embarrassing or vulnerable memories. Ultimately, it's a wonderfully written book that anyone can relate to.
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LibraryThing member bragan
This is the autobiography of neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. Although it should maybe be noted that he glosses over his childhood pretty quickly, having already turned that into a memoir with Uncle Tungsten.

What's most striking about this account, really, is how surprising the portrait of
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Sacks' youth is. I've seen this guy on TV and heard him talk on podcasts and such, and he always came across as shy and a little dorky, in a sweet way, as a brilliant but perhaps slightly dotty old academic fascinated by brains and books and classical music and about as tame and unhip as a human being can get. So it was interesting and a little amusing to read about how he spent his younger years setting weightlifting records and speeding around the US on his motorcycle and having doomed gay love affairs and taking disturbing amounts of amphetamines. Just goes to show that you should never judge anyone by appearances, and to remind us that every quiet, sweet old person was younger and wilder once.

Mind you, I found these accounts of his youth interesting mainly in that they were amusingly unexpected, rather than because they were fascinating in themselves. The book, on the whole, is a fairly disjointed series of personal recollections which range from only very mildly interesting to somewhat intellectually stimulating or rather touching, with those last two becoming more common later in the book. His accounts of his research and writing are, unsurprisingly, the most engaging parts, or at least they were for me, as they make a nice (if not really necessary) supplement to his other books. I'd say if you've read those and want a little bit of a personal, behind-the-scenes perspective on them, or if they've made you curious about the person behind them, it's may be worth picking up.

If you haven't read them, and are at all interested in medicine, the brain, or how human being beings work, I recommend some of them very strongly. There is a sense of intelligence, humanity, and deep curiosity that comes out even better in those, perhaps, than in this autobiography, and the subject matter is weird and wonderful and incredibly thought-provoking. Start, I'd say, with either Awakenings or The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat It's worth it.
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LibraryThing member breic
I find Sachs's life much more interesting than his work, his first memoir, "Uncle Tungsten," more curious than his clinical books. The second half of this memoir is disappointing, as it gets more into his work, more into "I wrote this book, then this book, then this book," and also becomes more
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fragmentary. It's frustrating, often I feel like we only get half the story. (He acknowledges this once, saying that he plans to tell the rest of the story in another book.) I would so much prefer getting a few full stories rather than many half-finished fragments.

He is constantly losing things: photographs, manuscripts, essays, letters. I'm glad the world is digital now.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
Sacks is an acclaimed physician and author of books dealing with the brain and various neurological disorders. This autobiography maps a journey from his youthful obsession with motorcycles, speed, and drugs to imminent success as a neurologist and writer. Written at a time knowing that his ocular
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cancer had metastasized.
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LibraryThing member NatalieSW
Fascinating story of a fascinating man.
LibraryThing member Lilac_Lily01
This memoir contains so much life wisdom that it is like talking to a wise elder and soaking up all the experience and knowledge that they have gained over a lifetime. I truly enjoyed this book and can only recommend it!
LibraryThing member knightlight777
An insightful look into the life and mind of this renowned neurologist, Dr. Oliver Sacks. Having read probably his most famous book, "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," I was curious to see what the good doctor had to say about life and his in particular. "Awakenings," the movie which made
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him even more widely known was also a curiosity. He seemed to drift through life in a solitary way partly due to his personality but maybe also linked to his sexual orientation. The book seems to drift in that way also as he goes from one location to the next and it was not quite clear what he was wanting other than to observe and relate how individuals experience and deal with neurological disorders that can be truly bizarre. Toward the end he talks of his own slow but progressive decline battling his own afflictions that eventually took his life recently. It was sobering to look at this ending and be reminded that we too must face and deal with our own inevitable demise.
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LibraryThing member loraineo
A great memoir by a very dedicated neurologist. So much I learned about his life and his personal struggles, He continued to stay so interested , involved in the struggles of others. I've read all his books and found it very interesting to be able to read so much personal detail about this
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wonderful man.. A wonderful book.
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LibraryThing member Meggo
Let me just put this out there - I love reading Sacks' books. I think my library is full of his works on how we think and process information. But in a way I did not love this book as much as I expected to. It was a brutally honest look at Sacks' life - he openly and honestly addresses his
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brother's struggle with schizophrenia, his own drug user, his homosexuality, and his shyness. From one point of view, this book is everything one could hope for - - a peak under the tent into what makes a person tick (the way George St. Pierre's autobiography is not, for example). It was only after reading this book that I realized that perhaps I wanted my hero to remain a little untarnished by human frailties. Still, what a life!
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
Sacks is one of my heroes - a somewhat tortured fellow, he shines as a man of extreme empathy. His work to bring the lives of his patients out into the open enlightens and humanizes the rest of us. It is fun to see him gape in wonder at his own discoveries as he makes them and then to see how they
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influence others. He excels at making me cry, but also at examining his own life and how he came to be where he is. I admit to finding the more theoretical discussions (there aren't many) impenetrable.
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LibraryThing member Bodagirl
This book is truly a little bit of everything. It's a memoir from one of the world's greatest clinicians, a man of intense empathy and curiosity. It's about writing and science, life and love, and always about a journey. It's almost unbelievable the amount of adventures that Sacks has undertaken in
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his life (just the motorcycle journey across Canada and America would be enough for some people). He is a true renaissance man who never writes down to people, even when the subject gets a little too technical. This book made me want to read all of his other works, so I'd better get a move on.
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LibraryThing member melsmarsh
Solid book although I would prefer his other books (I am less a biography person). I certainly learned more about him and realized how much more we had in common. Another option is to watch the movie version which I actually felt was a little more interesting than the book and I rarely say that!
LibraryThing member bookbrig
I found it interesting until about the last hour of the audiobook where the science got SUPER SCIENCY and the narrative lost me.
LibraryThing member dmturner
A rambling memoir that at the beginning paints a very affecting picture of the young Sacks (motorcycle enthusiast, drug addict, gay man, doctor) without whitewashing his weaknesses and mistakes. The second half of the book is a combination of Great Minds I Have Known and Everybody I Love Has Died,
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and ends rather oddly in mid-air.

Sacks is one of my favorite writers about the strangeness of the human brain (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Hallucinations are on my re-read list), and his books are distinguished by a respect for the humanity of his subjects that turns conventional doctor-speak on its head. He himself had some neurological idiosyncrasies (migraines and proposagnosia, among others) and writes about those candidly too. However, though I managed to soldier through this book, I somehow felt it lacked the respect for himself that dignified his other readings. A shame.
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LibraryThing member jennybeast
Fascinating, compulsively readable, really enjoyable. This is a man with an interesting, compelling and extremely compassionate life.
LibraryThing member Kristelh
Memoir by Oliver Sacks on his life. He reviews his life, his writings, his family, Jewish background and his sexuality. Oliver Sacks was not a scientist in the research sense. He did one good research with The Awakenings but mostly he was field scientist, doctor who practiced observation. Oliver
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Sacks had so many interests, he was entirely unfocused. He did not stay employed long because he often got into trouble because he did not follow academia conventions. I enjoy what I've read by Sacks, I enjoyed this memoir and appreciated that he kept his sexual/love life as something that was his and not bared all to readers. The book felt disorganized.
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LibraryThing member bness2
Great book by a great scientist, physician and writer. If you liked anything else by Sacks, you will like this too.
LibraryThing member JBD1
Sacks' final autobiography, as excellent as his books usually are. Amusing and touching and revealing all at once.
LibraryThing member Meggo
Let me just put this out there - I love reading Sacks' books. I think my library is full of his works on how we think and process information. But in a way I did not love this book as much as I expected to. It was a brutally honest look at Sacks' life - he openly and honestly addresses his
Show More
brother's struggle with schizophrenia, his own drug user, his homosexuality, and his shyness. From one point of view, this book is everything one could hope for - - a peak under the tent into what makes a person tick (the way George St. Pierre's autobiography is not, for example). It was only after reading this book that I realized that perhaps I wanted my hero to remain a little untarnished by human frailties. Still, what a life!
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Original publication date

2015

ISBN

0385352543

Local notes

Diaspora Jewry
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