An anthropologist on Mars : seven paradoxical tales

by Oliver W. Sacks

Paper Book, 1995




New York : Knopf, c1995.


The author profiles seven neurological patients, including a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome and an artist whose color sense is destroyed in an accident but finds new creative power in black and white.

User reviews

LibraryThing member NocturnalBlue
One thing I always loved about Dr. Sacks's writings is that as fascinating as the science is, he won't forget the people and the humanity behind the illnesses. In describing his cases studies, he can be both funny (the scene with the four Tourettic surgeons trying to sit in the corner at the restaurant and their self-awareness about how absurd the scene looks) and poignant (Dr. Brennan giving Sacks a hug and trying to express her own soul despite her extreme difficulty connecting to humans due to her autism). By focusing on seven people instead of having a ton of case studies, Sacks can go far beyond the pathologies and show the people in all their flawed glory.… (more)
LibraryThing member jddunn
A series of sketches on the remarkable and often terrifying complexity, plasticity, power, and vulnerability of the human brain. These cases are also interesting examples on the nature of identity, the social and personal construction of ability and disability, and the frightening but also freeing thought that vastly different and perhaps mutually incomprehensible modes of perceiving and being in the world and being a human can and do exist and even thrive in modern society.… (more)
LibraryThing member piefuchs
A collection of New Yorker articles that detail the more troubling patients of a well known neuroscientiest. Fascinating and memorable reading.
LibraryThing member sarahtrue
Damn good book. Fast paced, interesting, touching. Raises lots of questions and poses answers for a few of them. This book has stuck in my mind for years and has earned a slot in my very small "keepers" shelf.
LibraryThing member kaelirenee
While this book is not an easy read, it is an interesting and very informative read. The author presents several stories of ways the mind can go wrong (from color blind to autism) and how exploring these ailments can teach us so much about how the brain works. He includes detailed histories of the origins of theories in neurology, which can be both interesting and a drag in the narrative.… (more)
LibraryThing member sgerbic
Reviewed May 2008 Another great Oliver Sacks book. You know the stories are compelling when you find yourself telling people about them. I had to bite my lip many times while riding with the kids, to keep from dominating the conversation about these unique characters. As usual, Sacks is far more technical than needed (at least for me) but he tells very interesting stories about people with neurological problems. His focus in this book is telling the story from the perspective of how they function in the real world. What amazes me is how Sacks is all over the world with these people, he must have tons of frequent flier miles.

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LibraryThing member Cygnus555
As with all of Oliver's books, they are so very interesting and educational. It blows my mind what the brain is capable of...
LibraryThing member peachnik
Sacks writes with intelligence and empathy. By profiling these 7 people of obvious disabilities, yet extrordinary or unusual abilities, he also helps us to understand those among us who we might have a tendency to overlook. One of the subject cases, (a woman diagnosed with autism),Temple Grandin, has special achievements that are relatively well known at this time; in part due to her own writings. Her life has become a model of hope within a different context than most of us hold. Though all of these cases and people are interesting, another story, that of the surgeon/ pilot with Tourette's, was of particular interest to me. It helped me understand how despite the defining tics and outbursts, someone can have extreme focus. The soccer star goalie, Tim Howard comes to mind as someone who also embodies this syndrome yet has used the particular traits of that syndrome to perform well above and beyond the usual. This book is an fascinating look at the human condition when the complex workings of the brain are disrupted.… (more)
LibraryThing member melsmarsh
In "An Anthropologist On Mars," Oliver Sacks tells about some of his clinical tales including a painter that loses the ability to see colour, a young man with a brain tumour that leaves him stuck in the 60s, a surgeon with Tourette's Syndrome, a blind man who gains and then loses his sight, a painter who is stuck in the past, child prodigies, and patients with autism. Sacks has a wonderful style of writing that, even if you care little about neurology, you will care about his patients and marvel at the human brain and how it works.… (more)
LibraryThing member melannen
I'd heard a great deal about this book, so when I had a chance to grab a copy, I jumped on it - and was already completely absorbed in it before I was halfway home.

If there's a theme that connects these seven accounts of unusual minds, it's perception - how people percieve and interact with the world, and how our biology determines that. And he does an excellent job of making the reader imagine themselves into the worlds of these seven people, and the truly bizarre places a broken brain can lead us (A man who is blind and doesn't know he's blind? Who can't accept that he's blind even after he's been told?).

I did think sometimes he was more interested in the different-ness of these people than the sameness (after all, who doesn't want a hug?) and in several cases, awfully complacent about caretakers who claimed they were doing what was best for someone, but in general, and excellent, deeply intriguing book and definitely recommended.
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LibraryThing member Clueless
It was very interesting that the color blind artist adjusted in six weeks to paint in black and white. That he could see things we couldn't was fascinating. I don't understand How Temple Grandin can be so empathetic to animals but not people...aren't people animals? Funny that she could dispassionate create ways to humanely slaughter cattle...because isn't slaughter inherently cruel?… (more)
LibraryThing member CKmtl
Focusing on fewer cases than The Man Who Mistook..., Sacks is able to go into greater depth in these seven essays. Further history of both the patients and the related fields (colour perception and vision in the case of a colour-blind man, etc.) adds to the reader's understanding.

Personally, I did not find these cases as interesting as those in the previously mentioned compilation, with the exception of the surgeon with Tourette's. Many of them deal with art, which isn't really my cup of tea. Perhaps readers with a greater fluency and appreciation of art would find it more enjoyable.… (more)
LibraryThing member TheDivineOomba
I'm not quite sure how to rate this book. A number of chapters were incredibly interesting, while others were quite dry. The chapter about complete color blindness is very interesting - it shows just how important color is in distinguishing objects from each other. The story of the hippie with a frontal lobe tumor that makes him blind and lose his sense self is sad, but I gave it a cursory read. The surgeon with tourettes is quite interesting, and I never realized that tourettes can have any number of different symptoms. The story of Virgil who has a chance to regain his site after loosing it in childhood is very intriguing, I think that the author is a bit condescending in his analysis of the patient. Pontito didn't hold my attention. Sack's take on prodigies, in this case autistic people with an amazing ability, is interesting, but he doesn't go into any sort of analysis as to what is happening in the brain as he did in previous chapters. The chapter with Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic child with an amazing gift for drawing, is quite amazing and the author spends a lot of time trying to understand it, but does not get very far. And I especially enjoy the chapter with Temple Grandin, as a high functioning autistic person, I think she represents completely just what kind of a world an autistic person lives in.… (more)
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
I've known for many years I wanted to read something by Sacks - now I know I want to read everything by him. His focus is on the case histories, well, actually, on the people. Only by getting to know individuals well and comparing their stories to the literature does he bring together theories and share those ideas with us. He doesn't bang us over the head with an agenda. Nice selected bibliography.

A tidbit: [W]aking consciousness is dreaming - but dreaming constrained by external reality.""
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LibraryThing member les121
Absolutely fascinating! Oliver Sacks powerfully demonstrates humanity's ability to adapt, and even thrive, in face of neurological disorder by presenting thoughtful and remarkably sensitive portraits of real people with various conditions. Trying to put myself in the shoes of these individuals was an exercise in imagination and empathy unlike any I've ever experienced. (And I am pleased to report that Sack's terminology in this book isn’t as horribly outdated as it was in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.) Though some portions are a bit didactic, I still enjoyed An Anthropologist on Mars immensely, and Jonathan Davis is an excellent narrator. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member michellebarton
Oliver Sacks provides a fascinating look at several cases of neurological damage or disorder in extremely interesting people. I found the discussion of how difficult it is for a person who has been blind from birth or for a significant length of time to suddenly be able to see to be quite eye-opening, so to speak. I always assumed that if one gains sight after being blind that one is able to actually "see" right from the get go, but this is not so. Sight, depth perception, visual recognition, motion vision, all these things are developed over time in a sighted person, and if sight is suddenly restored… (more)
LibraryThing member georgeslacombe
I've read the portuguese translation of this book
LibraryThing member SweetbriarPoet
I loved this book. Mostly because I think interdisciplinary studies/perspectives lead to breakthroughs in research. An amazing neurobiologist and an amazing writer, Sacks takes us into his work life and shows us just how wondrous and perplexing the sciences can be. He reminds us that even though we use objectivity in science, we shouldn't forget the human component.… (more)
LibraryThing member gregorybrown
This was my first experience of Oliver Sacks, and he's a fascinating writer. You can smell the imprint of The New Yorker on him, dipping in and out of direct reportage and contextual situation. But at the same time, he has a very singular gift: getting inside the phenomenology of cognitive peculiarities. He covers several different subjects—a painter struck color-blind, and finds the world an unappetizing grey; a 50 year old man who gains sight, assaulted by colors and light, unable to make sense of it all; a young adult who joins the Hare Krishna, develops a brain tumor, and becomes frozen in time, unaware of anything since the '60s—and in all of them Sacks tells a story of befriending the patient and trying to feel them out.

As a writer and a thinker, Sacks is excellent. The pieces all flow wonderfully, and you never get the sense that he's walking through a formula or trapped in his language. Many of the asides are especially wonderful, with Sacks always pulling in outside research, historical evidence, and even literary references (particularly concerning Borges' "Funes the Memorious"). He tries to give each patient an emotional arc of their own, but many are driven by his sense of discovery as he tests the bounds of each person's abilities.

The only real downside to the book was in the last two chapters: an extended treatment of autistic savants and of Temple Grandin. This is one area where the book seems kind of dated, as our understanding of autism has only grown over the last two decades. And specifically for Grandin, I had seen the Errol Morris documentary on her life that aired as part of the short-lived First Person TV series. It all seemed old hat, and Sacks' style failed to animate it enough to make up for the redundancy.
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LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
This is a beautiful and fascinating book. Sacks's delicate exposition makes case studies of unusual neuropsychology into a way of understanding the self and the brain. Tales of vision, music, beauty and incomprehension are interesting on their own, but crucial because they allow us to guess at the way we construct our world and self through the amazing human brain.… (more)
LibraryThing member jculkin
Borderline 3/4

I did enjoy the book and learned a fair deal from it, about the topics at hand (autism), and things at random... However it could have been half as long! The seven separate pieces didn't really feel like essays to me - they lacked coherent structure. But I do adore Mr Sachs and will read others of his works - hopefully shorter ones.… (more)
LibraryThing member Monkeypats
Out of seven stories, I enjoyed five. I think the book would have been better served with only five stories anyway as it was extremely dense and could not be considered a fast read by my standards. The material required frequent pauses between stories or even during them to really let all the science and information sink in. I did think Sacks repeated himself fairly often by the end. If he pondered to himself again whether an autistic person can have a complete sense of self without the access to the emotional experiences and depth the average person experiences, I was going to go crazy. I get it... that's what your asking... alright already...

Overall though, the stories and the neurology were interesting and written in a way that you don't need any strong scientific basis to understand them. I found the Colorblind Artist fascinating and the Anthropologist on Mars section on Temple Grandin flew by. Good book, but recommended only if you embrace your nerdy side.
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LibraryThing member JBD1
Another collection of Sacks' fascinating case studies. As usual, they make for great reading.
LibraryThing member sunny
Very interesting. A pleasure to read.


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