Sunday, 23 November 2008

Review: "An Anthropologist on Mars" by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks is a master of translating brain dysfunction into narrative, helping those of us who are fortunate enough to have more less normal brain function understand ourselves by examining those less fortunate.

"An Anthropologist on Mars" presents seven case studies dealing with visual defects, autism, and memory disfunction. My favourite of these is the story of Temple Grandin, the autistic engineer famous for her humane slaughterhouse designs.

What's remarkable about these studies is how well the careful detail and explanation of the underlying science is mixed with quite human details. We hear about the functions of the brain, but also get disarming glimpses of the lives of the real people dealing with these neurological dysfunctions.

This mix of biography and hard science is quite compelling and inspiring. I'm reminded of "The Man with a Shattered World: History of a Brain World" by A. R. Luria, which was similarly engaging.

I recently picked up "The Mind of a Mnemonist" by A. R. Luria, a precursor to Sacks' blend of science and general interest . This book is heavily referenced in Sacks' work, and is often mentioned in combination with the story "Funes the Memorious" by Jorgé Luis Borges, so it sounds thoroughly like my cup of tea. Stay tuned for a review shortly.

1 comment:

doranchak said...

Great review! I think you will really enjoy these two TED talks which also reveal insights about the brain by looking at what it does when it is damaged:

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind.html

I could listen to Ramachandran all day.

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html