A poignant, powerful memoir of Sacks' life and the line between the humanities and the sciences that he so elegantly balanced his life's work upon. This is my second of Sacks' books that I have read ('Migraine' was the other, though I own them all and plan to read them), and it walks the reader through his life - from his childhood in England, to his coming-of-age and sexual awakening, to his motorbike-riding days in residency in San Francisco and the subsequent career for which most of us know him.
As a migraine sufferer, I too was both frightened and fascinated by my visual auras. I always felt a little crazy admitting or describing them, until I picked up Sacks' "Migraine" in high school and flipped through the pages upon pages of elegantly drawn visual auras and the accompanying descriptions. As a med student, I was impressed by Sacks' ability to write popular science books in the field of neurology, a skill which perhaps is only rivaled by those greats such as Steven Hawking, Isaac Asimov, and the like. To read Sacks' account of what motivated him to write the book and the challenges he faced in doing so only made me appreciate it more.
As a neurologist, I found a lot to relate to here: particular passages of interest were his approach to migraines, and his feeling as though he was "not like a super-specialist in migraine but like the general practitioner these patients should have seen to begin with. I felt it my business, my responsibility, to enquire about every aspect of their lives." Any neurologist who cares for migraine patients would relay the complex entanglement between sleep, stress, caffeine habits, and medical comorbidities to patients' migraine disorders. He also writes eloquently and relatably about the intersection between neurology and psychiatry and the importance of realizing a holistic, multifaceted approach.
But most of all, what I enjoyed about this book, was that it tears down the stereotypes of what a traditional 'neurologist' is. Many of us have the picture of the neurologist as the straitlaced, nerdy physician with the briefcase full of tools and a very bookish approach (and I am a neurologist). The image of the artistic, motorbike riding, poetry-appreciating young neurologist with a rebellious, inquisitive streak is satisfying because it shows who a neurologist can be -- an artist, a bodybuilder, a traveler, a writer. Sacks' memoir paints the picture of a life well-lived, well-enjoyed, and well-spent; he spent his life not dwelling on limitations of science but savoring scientific inquiry, by pursuing purpose and possibility. I hope his book inspires the artists to appreciate the beauty and subtlety of science, and the scientists to appreciate the emotion and abstraction of art. It certainly inspired me.