An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven
Oliver Sacks
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buy *An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales* online An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales
Oliver Sacks
327 pages
February 1996
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Thinking with another person's mind is the very goal that drives neurologist Oliver Sacks. An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, Sacks' sixth book, gets its title from a comment made by the autistic engineer Temple Grandin while she tries to describe her futile attempts at cracking the "normal" social code. In the "seven paradoxical tales" related in An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales, Sacks attempts to see beyond the "disease" afflicting the neurological systems of his subjects. The author wants to discover the beauty in the minds of those who think in ways most of us cannot even fathom.

Curled Up With a Good BookSacks leaves behind the cold, clinical view of the hospital and spends quality time with his subjects in their normal environments. He goes on trips, takes holidays, really gets to know -- as well as he can -- the neurologically different people about whom he writes. He even takes the "Last Hippie," a man stripped of short-term memory and chronologically stranded in the Sixties by a massive tumor, to a Grateful Dead concert. Sacks' empathy for the subjects of his study, his desire to understand the different neurological worlds they inhabit, make for touching and humane writing.

The range of minds, talents and inner worlds Sacks examines is wide. He acquaints himself with an artist whose world is suddenly and apparently irreversibly rendered in shades of black and white after an auto accident in "The Case of the Colorblind Painter." He befriends a man with Tourette's syndrome in "A Surgeon's Life" whose career is as successful as it is startling. In "To See and Not See," Sacks chronicles the decline of a blind man's health and outlook following the operation that gives him sight after a lifetime lived without vision. Another artist paints only images of his childhood home obsessively with emotionally rendered, eerily photographic accuracy, a home he hasn't visited for thirty years, in "The Landscape of His Dreams." In "Prodigies," the author describes an autistic boy whose stunning artwork has been collected in several books. And in "An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales," he spends a weekend in the enigmatic company of autistic author and engineer Temple Grandin, a woman whose inability to fathom social interaction between humans has a flip side enabling her to feel an incredible empathy with animals.

The two most moving tales Sacks tells are of the eternal hippie, forever-flower-child, and of the autistic young artist from "Prodigies." It is in these two instances that Sacks seems to strive the hardest to make an emotional connection, in both cases with individuals who are as far from "normally" able to create and sustain such connections as possible. His desire to cross an invisible bridge into inner worlds not possible for him to inhabit, and his attempts nonetheless, make Oliver Sacks the perfect choice for bringing back snapshots of these uncommon, lovely-for-what-they-are landscapes. An Anthropologist on Mars gives us a wondering, nonjudgmental glimpse of vistas that we "normal" people will never have the chance otherwise to see.

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