Oliver Sacks - The Reading List


It embarrasses me to say that it wasn't until Oliver Sacks had died did I really make the effort to read anything written by him. Many of his books had been on my to read list for a long time, but there'd never been any urgency, with other books pushing Sacks further down the pile. For Christmas though, my Mother bought me 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat' and 'Awakenings'.

The Man Who Mistook his Wife For A Hat (TMWMHWFAH) discusses patients lost within their neurological disorders, from Prosopragnosia to Tourettes. The book is split into 'Losses', 'Excesses' and 'Transports', where Oliver Sacks recounts patients that fall into these categories. The most touching, for myself, were the cases contained within 'Transports', where Sacks discusses those who would been classed as 'simple'. I've worked, and do work with those with deficits (learning disabilities, autism, dementia), but if we look beyond those deficits we can see that the client, the patient, still has so much to give. TMWMHWFAH focus' on the patient and their story rather than the disorder, which is also refreshing, many of the stories have and will stick with me.

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks, was a learning curve for me. Sacks recounts the stories of 20 patients who fell foul of the sleeping-sickness that rendered them catatonic shortly after World War One. Awakenings, first published in 1973, provides a back history to the patients and then the effects of the L-Dopa administered by Sacks on his patients.  I was always going to be fascinated by this collection of stories, as someone who has had periods of listlessness and depression-induced catatonia. (I would never need L-Dopa though, as BPD is normally treated with depressants, anti-psychotics and mood stabilizers).

Within Awakenings we read about patients that are aware, but do not interact with the world around them, that is until L-Dopa is administered. The narrative is touching, and relatable to anyone that has previously felt the world is passing them by. As with The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, and other books by Oliver Sacks, Awakenings asks questions about health, well-being and the human condition, and how we interact with those questions.

BooksErin Veness