In his new foreword, Sacks pays tribute to his mentor, the great Russian neurologist A. R. Luria, who founded the field of neuropsychology and created a rich new form of clinical biography. Luria spoke of the “classical” (analytic and reductionist) and “romantic” (holistic and existential) tendencies in medical science and of how these approaches needed to be combined in the care of patients. In writing Awakenings, Sacks has tried to combine both approaches, to go beyond the clinical case histories of his patients to capture their interior lives, the subjective dimension of their imprisonment and sudden release with L-Dopa. From the poet W. H. Auden, his other mentor, Sacks discovered the value of parables and metaphors in conveying these experiences. In trying to combine what he calls the “biological” and the “biographical” dimensions of his patients’ afflictions, Sacks has transformed the medical narrative into a rich new literary genre, one full enough to encompass a precise clinical discussion of sleeping sickness and its development into parkinsonism; to include personal narratives of the awakenings of his twenty patients; and to offer clinical and philosophical perspectives on their affliction.
More than a collection of neurological case histories, Awakenings is a deeply moving testimony to the possibility of hope for people trapped by disease in strange and almost inconceivable worlds yet who are in other ways...
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