Case histories revitalised

Everything in its place: First loves and lost tales by Oliver Sacks (Picador; £20) reviewed by Sara Pisani.

Leafing through the pages of Oliver Sacks’ final collection of posthumously published essays reveals a personal reflection on the life, interests and hobbies of this world-renowned neurologist. Sacks’ writing style moved, excited and engaged me, and chapter after chapter I was eager to know more about his personal and professional life.

His love for swimming, chemistry and ferns is beautifully depicted alongside clinical cases examining dementia, schizophrenia and other neurological conditions. While some of these clinical cases are described in previous works, such as Awakenings and An anthropologist on Mars, there are new, interesting perspectives that delightfully revitalise these case histories. Once again, Sacks has succeeded in outlining physiological experiences including hallucinations and amnesia, and conditions such as depression, with compassion.

More intimate reflections include Sacks’ trip with photojournalist Lowell Handler who has Tourette’s syndrome, and childhood memories of times spent in the library (his favourite place) and the gefilte fish prepared for the Jewish Sabbath. His recollections and love for nature are described in a clear and uplifting style.

These essays display Sacks’ enthusiasm, curiosity and passion for understanding the enigmatic human mind, as well as his ability to effortlessly impart his knowledge of chemistry, biology, music and the arts. ‘Everything in its place’ is the last exquisite collection of essays that Sacks left his audience, and, like his previous works, it does not fail to inspire.

Reviewed by Sara Pisani, research assistant at UCL and volunteer research assistant at KCL

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