Oliver Sacks Criticism - Essay

John B. Christiansen (review date November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Christiansen, John B. Review of Seeing Voices, by Oliver Sacks. Contemporary Sociology 19, no. 6 (November 1990): 894-95.

[In the following review, Christiansen offers a mixed assessment of Seeing Voices.]

Oliver Sacks begins his book [Seeing Voices] by issuing several disclaimers: he isn't deaf, he doesn't sign, he isn't an interpreter or a teacher, he knew little about deafness or deaf people before starting to write about them four years ago, he's not an expert on child development, nor is he a historian or a linguist. Nor, I might add, is he a sociologist. By and large, though, none of this matters a great deal as Sacks' book is a thoughtful...

(The entire section is 656 words.)

John Wiltshire (essay date 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Wiltshire, John. “Deficits and Enhancements: Reflections on the Writings of Oliver Sacks.” Cambridge Quarterly 20, no. 4 (1991): 304-21.

[In the following essay, Wiltshire provides a survey of Sacks's writings and attributes his success to his “capacity to turn deficits into wonders.”]

‘Neurology's Favourite Word is “Deficit”, denoting an impairment or incapacity of neurological function,’ writes Oliver Sacks at the opening of his very successful collection of case studies, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: ‘loss of speech, loss of language, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of dexterity, loss of identity and a myriad other...

(The entire section is 8188 words.)

Judith Weinraub (essay date 13 January 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Weinraub, Judith. “Oliver Sacks: Hero of the Hopeless.” Washington Post 114 (13 January 1991): F1, F6.

[In the following essay, Weinraub investigates the origins of and the controversy surrounding Awakenings and discusses the impact of the cinematic adaptation on Sacks's life.]

“I had a dream about manganese the other night,” says Oliver Sacks, chortling over the idea. “I can't think of all the details, but I felt so good when I woke up.

“It was a dream about a stable mental object,” he continues with delight. “You know, people may come and go, but manganese is forever. Its electrons behave themselves. They've got...

(The entire section is 2792 words.)

Murdo William McRae (essay date 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: McRae, Murdo William. “Oliver Sacks's Neurology of Identity.” In The Literature of Science: Perspectives on Popular Scientific Writing, edited by Murdo William McRae, pp. 97-110. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1993.

[In the following essay, McRae traces the origins of Sacks's “neurology of identity,” a term given to his treatment of neurological patients as individuals.]

It is impossible not to respect and admire Oliver Sacks, successful neurologist and best-selling author of five books, one of them the basis for Penny Marshall's popular 1990 film Awakenings. Once himself a victim of neurological impairment, Sacks displays immense...

(The entire section is 5682 words.)

Anne Hunsaker Hawkins (essay date spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hawkins, Anne Hunsaker. “Oliver Sacks's Awakenings: Reshaping Clinical Discourse.” Configurations 1, no. 2 (spring 1993): 229-45.

[In the following essay, Hawkins describes Sacks's trajective approach to clinical experience found in Awakenings.]


“My ideal doctor,” wrote the late Anatole Broyard, “would be my Virgil, leading me through my purgatory or inferno, pointing out the sights as we go. He would resemble Oliver Sacks, the neurologist who wrote Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I can imagine Dr. Sacks entering my condition, looking...

(The entire section is 6924 words.)

Rodger Beehler (essay date July 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Beehler, Rodger. “Madness and Method.” Philosophy 68, no. 265 (July 1993): 369-88.

[In the following essay, Beehler finds similarities in the exploration of madness in Awakenings and R. D. Laing's The Divided Self.]

The daily practice of clinical medicine, or so it seems to me, demands theoretical and even ‘philosophical’ viewpoints, and precisely guides one to the viewpoints one needs. That medicine provides a philosophical education … is a delightful discovery; it seems to me strange that this is not more generally recognized.

—Oliver Sacks, 1982



(The entire section is 8870 words.)

Seymour Diamond (review date 9 February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Diamond, Seymour. Review of Migraine, by Oliver Sacks. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 271, no. 6 (9 February 1994): 478.

[In the following review, Diamond deems the revised and expanded edition of Migraine a readable and insightful text.]

During the last five years, there has been a plethora of books published on headaches. This profusion is probably due to the multitude of investigations into headache as well as the extensive availability of newer therapies for cephalalgic patients. However, this revised and expanded edition of Oliver Sacks' Migraine is a welcome addition.

Dr Sacks' previous books,...

(The entire section is 734 words.)

Marek Kohn (review date 17 February 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kohn, Marek. “Voyages to Inner Space.” New Statesman & Society 8, no. 340 (17 February 1995): 49.

[In the following review of An Anthropologist on Mars, Kohn praises Sacks's case histories of patients suffering from neurological afflictions as poignant and insightful.]

Already, the most frequently asked question about Dr Sacks' new collection of case studies [An Anthropologist on Mars] appears to be whether the title is biographical or autobiographical. The obsession with the doctor at the expense of the patient is retrograde. Like any author, Sacks sees his own vision in his subjects. But he is essentially contemplative, which transforms...

(The entire section is 769 words.)

Joe Chidley (essay date 13 March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Chidley, Joe. “The Case of the Quirky Neurologist.” Maclean's 108, no. 11 (13 March 1995): 60-1.

[In the following favorable assessment of An Anthropologist on Mars, Chidley contends that Sacks “skillfully bridges the chasm between diagnosis and literature, blending sometimes highly clinical observations of neurological disorders with a profound thoughtfulness for the person affected.”]

Oliver Sacks, distinguished neurologist and best-selling author, is having trouble deciding what to have for lunch. The doctor strokes his bushy beard and hems and haws as he looks over the room-service menu of the Toronto hotel where he is staying while promoting...

(The entire section is 1844 words.)

William Hunter (essay date spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hunter, William. “Your Friendly Neighborhood Neurologist: Dr. Oliver Sacks and the Cultural View of Physicians.” Journal of Popular Culture 28, no. 4 (spring 1995): 93-102.

[In the following essay, Hunter analyzes the dichotomy of the nurturing doctor/doctor as authority figure in Sacks's work.]

Hold the physician in honor for he is essential to you, and God it was who established his profession. From God, the doctor has his wisdom, thus God's creation work continues without cease. He who is a sinner toward his Maker will be defiant toward his doctor.


The above lines found on...

(The entire section is 3858 words.)

Oliver Sacks and David Lazar (interview date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sacks, Oliver, and David Lazar. “An Interview with Oliver Sacks: Above All, the Paradox.Ohio Review 54 (1995): 109-18.

[In the following interview, Sacks discusses his interest in disease and treatment, his writing process, and the influence of W. H. Auden on his life and work.]

[Lazar]: One thing that comes up in your work over and over again for me is the shadow of Martin Buber. In much of what you talk about and much of what you seem to reach for in Awakenings and elsewhere, there is a kind of hook between you and the patient, and between the patient and himself or herself, and between you and the audience. There is a kind of...

(The entire section is 3353 words.)

Jared Diamond (essay date 6 March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Diamond, Jared. “Outcasts of the Islands.” New York Review of Books 44, no. 4 (6 March 1997): 15-18.

[In the following essay, Diamond finds The Island of the Colorblind an insightful and well-written “account of patients with two neurological disorders but also of island plants, islands as laboratories of plant and animal evolution, and many other aspects of islands.”]


In 1964, while studying bird evolution on the tropical Pacific island of New Guinea, I happened to set up camp among a tribe known as the Fore. I soon found my attention drawn away from birds to a human tragedy unfolding around me. Many of the...

(The entire section is 5525 words.)

David Hanlon (review date spring 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Hanlon, David. Review of The Island of the Colorblind and Cycad Island, by Oliver Sacks. Contemporary Pacific 11, no. 1 (spring 1999): 270.

[In the following review, Hanlon argues that “despite the charm of much of its narrative and the fluidity of its prose, Island of the Colorblind remains little more than another travel account of life in the Pacific that reduces indigenous peoples to the category of observed and controlled subjects.”]

Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and author of several popularly acclaimed books, has written an account of his travels to Micronesia [The Island of the...

(The entire section is 1430 words.)

Leonard Cassuto (essay date June 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Cassuto, Leonard. “Oliver Sacks: The P. T. Barnum of the Postmodern World?” American Quarterly 52, no. 2 (June 2000): 326-33.

[In the following essay, Cassuto explores Sacks's representation of the disabled, arguing that he tends to imbue his case studies with aspects of the freak show.]

The historic problem in representing disabled people's lives has always been the control of that representation. When others speak for the disabled, they often point the way to the freak show and the medical theater, two arenas of human objectification. The freak show, which flourished well into the twentieth century, depended on the spectacular mystification of disability;...

(The entire section is 2904 words.)

Oliver Sacks and Tracy Cochran (interview date 1 October 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Sacks, Oliver, and Tracy Cochran. “Oliver Sacks: In Search of the Truth of Being.” Publishers Weekly 248, no. 40 (1 October 2001): 32-3.

[In the following interview, Cochran identifies the search for truth as the central concern of Sacks's writings.]

At first, the famous neurologist and author Oliver Sacks hangs back like a shy animal. It is Kate Edgar, his down-to-earth editor and assistant, who strides across the common area of a bright suite of offices in downtown Manhattan, greeting PW and gently insisting that we take her green fleece jacket to swaddle ourselves against the blasting air-conditioned cold of Sacks's own office. Sacks watches from...

(The entire section is 2005 words.)

M. F. Perutz (essay date 1 November 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Perutz, M. F. “Growing up among the Elements.” New York Review of Books 48, no. 17 (1 November 2001): 46-8.

[In the following essay, Perutz regards Uncle Tungsten as an enjoyable and accessible memoir of Sacks's life and love of science and learning.]

London's Science Museum in South Kensington was closed during the Second World War. When it reopened in 1945, the twelve-year-old Oliver Sacks discovered there the periodic table of the chemical elements. They were written in large letters on a wall, with samples of each element or one of its compounds attached to each name. That night Oliver could hardly sleep for excitement. To a boy who was already a...

(The entire section is 4283 words.)

Mary Christ (essay date November-December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Christ, Mary. “Oliver Sacks's Science Project.” Book, no. 19 (November-December 2001): 48.

[In the following essay, Christ offers a brief profile of Sacks's life and literary career.]

A man walks into a bar carrying a spectroscope. The punch line? There isn't one—this is just a typical Friday night for Oliver Sacks, world-famous neurologist. “They have all sorts of interesting fluorescent lights,” says Sacks, who had wandered into a pub near his office in lower Manhattan. He has carried the pocket spectroscope—a device for observing the color breakdown of light—since childhood. “Within ten minutes I had everyone talking about spectroscopy...

(The entire section is 804 words.)

John Gross (review date 29 December 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Gross, John. “The Man Who Fell in Love with a Table.” Spectator 287, no. 9047 (29 December 2001): 30-1.

[In the following review, Gross views Uncle Tungsten as an insightful memoir and a noteworthy achievement.]

When Oliver Sacks was a boy, one of his teachers wrote in an end-of-term report: ‘Sacks will go far if he does not go too far.’ Certainly the young Oliver didn't do things by halves. The great passion of his boyhood was chemistry, which he pursued with an astonishing energy; but that still left room for a swarm of lesser passions, from music to photography. Any one of them would have taken up a large slice of an ordinary boy's spare...

(The entire section is 972 words.)

Leo P. Kadanoff (review date 18 January 2002)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: Kadanoff, Leo P. “The Elements of an Education.” Science 295, no. 5554 (18 January 2002): 448.

[In the following favorable review of Uncle Tungsten, Kadanoff asserts that “readers, from practicing scientists to intellectually curious high school students, can expect to appreciate the colorful life story recounted, the interesting person revealed, and the excellent history of chemistry retold.”]

Oliver Sacks is a physician, scientist, and author known for his fascinating stories of people coping with amazing neurological disabilities. In Uncle Tungsten, he recounts his scientific boyhood in Britain during the period around World War II....

(The entire section is 785 words.)