Long before Oliver Sacks became a distinguished neurologist and best-selling writer, he was a small English boy fascinated by metals - also by chemical reactions (the louder and smellier the better), photography, squids and cuttlefish, H.G. Wells, and the periodic table.
In this endlessly charming and eloquent memoir, the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings chronicles his love affair with science and the magnificently odd and sometimes harrowing childhood in which that love affair unfolded.
In Uncle Tungsten we meet Sacks' extraordinary family, from his surgeon mother (who introduces the 14-year-old Oliver to the art of human dissection) and his father, a family doctor who imbues in his son an early enthusiasm for housecalls, to his "Uncle Tungsten", whose factory produces tungsten-filament lightbulbs. We follow the young Oliver as he is exiled at the age of six to a grim, sadistic boarding school to escape the London Blitz, and later watch as he sets about passionately reliving the exploits of his "chemical heroes" in his own home laboratory.
Uncle Tungsten is a crystalline view of a brilliant young mind springing to life, a story of growing up which is by turns elegiac, comic, and wistful, full of the electrifying joy of discovery.
©2001 Oliver Sacks (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
"Good prose is often described as glowing: luminous, numinous, glimmering, shimmering, incandescent, radiant. Sacks's writing is all that, and sometimes, no matter how closely you read it, you can't quite figure out what makes it so precisely, unsparingly light... By the time he was 15... Sacks's attention began drifting away from chemistry.... He can't quite say why he abandoned his first love and Mendeleev's Garden. His 'intellectual limitations? Adolescence? School?.... The inevitable course, the natural history, of enthusiasm, that burns hotly, brightly... and then, exhausting itself, gutters out?' No matter. With 'Uncle Tungsten,' Sacks has reignited the fire, so the rest of us can read by its glow." (The New York Times Book Review)
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If I had a wish to come true of meeting a living person to spend an hour with, I think It would be Oliver Sacks. Whole-brained thinker and creative as well as scientific and always wide open senses. Great book. Fascinating life as well as person.
"FOR COMMITED LOVERS OF OLIVER SACKS WORK"
I think this book will best, and perhaps only be enjoyed by A.) lovers of Oliver Sacks work..B) by those that love chemistry and the table of elements. C)...very patient readers willing to go through the history of his each and every chemical compound exposure to finally sieve from it a fascinating wonderful childhood story full of amazing influences from friends and family.
Im in A and C camps, so loving the mans work and being willing to endure very long extracts about chemicals that I will never be able to appreciate or understand, is a worthy price for me to have payed . I could only dream of coming from such a family and having such a fun and rewarding childhood. It goes far in explaining how Sacks has come to be the unique wonderful inspiration that has given us so much on so many levels.
Sacks writing certainly isn't for everyone, but I enjoy it and for those that have read his other work and have liked it, I think its a fair bet that you'll like this foray into his mostly charming and unbelievably lucky childhood. If you like his writing also try... A Leg to Stand On...
Though I am quite sure that lichen is always pronounced like-n, and nowhere lich-en.
Still, I will listen to this more than one more time, and suggest it to many others.
Thank you for an excellent rendition of an excellent book.
"History of chemistry and Dr. Sack's early life."
If you want to get a kid interested in chemistry, this is not the book. If you know chemistry it's a snore. If you are interested in Dr. Sack's family (Jewish, Indian, British), he could write a more thorough autobiography.
"A childhood of science"
I don't know.
The Disappearing Spoon, which tells the story of the formation of Mendeleev's periodic table of the elements.
I enjoyed the scene where he nearly asphyxiated himself by mixing chemicals in his bedroom as a child. Any modern parent would surly take away all the chemicals. Sacks' parents promptly put him up in safer quarters and encouraged his experimentation. Surely he is a genius but this was a genius in parenting and trusting an obviously bright and driven child.
No, I enjoyed breaking it into parts as I drove to work each day.
"Interesting background for fans of Oliver Sacks."
Sacks discusses science and the history of science with the same enthusiasm that he had as a child, while sharing some biographical details that illuminate his subsequent career as a neurologist and observer of human perception.
"History and science!"
An incredible story of the progression of chemistry in the world and the fascination of a child!
Difficult for me to follow the timeline but that may just be me :)
"Always a pleasure to read about Oliver Sacks"
I've never thought a book with a heavy chemistry information load could prove to be as inspiring. I found myself remembering my own childhood and encounters with chemistry. After reading Sacks most recent memoir, this fills the gap beautifully
"Wonderful bio bogged down by chemical history"
Touching scenes of coming of age in war-torn and post-war England in a prosperous family of orthodox Jewish doctors. But I found Sacks's highly technical falling in love with the history of chemistry and physics getting in the way of the pace of his own development, which is the heart of the book.
Like several other reviewers, I found this to be a bit difficult to get through. The parts about Sacks' family history and childhood were interesting but there is a lot here on the history of chemistry that is a slog to get through. This would have been better as a long magazine piece and is stretched as a book. I usually like biographies but I just didn't enjoy this book very much.
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