Uncle Tungsten Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

Oliver Sacks

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From his earliest days, Oliver Sacks, the distinguished neurologist who is also one of the most remarkable storytellers of our time, was irresistibly drawn to understanding the natural world. Born into a large family of doctors, metallurgists, chemists, physicists, and teachers, his curiosity was encouraged and abetted by aunts, uncles, parents, and older brothers. But soon after his sixth birthday, the Second World War broke out and he was evacuated from London, as were hundreds of thousands of children, to escape the bombing. Exiled to a school that rivaled Dickens’s grimmest, fed on a steady diet of turnips and beetroots, tormented by a sadistic headmaster, and allowed home only once in four years, he felt desolate and abandoned.

When he returned to London in 1943 at the age of ten, he was a changed, withdrawn boy, one who desperately needed order to make sense of his life. He was sustained by his secret passions: for numbers, for metals, and for finding patterns in the world around him. Under the tutelage of his \”chemical\” uncle, Uncle Tungsten, Sacks began to experiment with \”the stinks and bangs\” that almost define a first entry into chemistry: tossing sodium off a bridge to see it take fire in the water below; producing billowing clouds of noxious-smelling chemicals in his home lab. As his interests spread to investigations of batteries and bulbs, vacuum tubes and photography, he discovered his first great scientific heroes, men and women whose genius lay in understanding the hidden order of things and disclosing the forces that sustain and support the tangible world. There was Humphry Davy, the boyish chemist who delighted in sending flaming globules of metal shooting across his lab; Marie Curie, whose heroic efforts in isolating radium would ultimately lead to the unlocking of the secrets of the atom; and Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the periodic table, whose pursuit of the classification of elements unfolds like a detective story.

Uncle Tungsten vividly evokes a time when virtual reality had not yet displaced a hands-on knowledge of the world. It draws us into a journey of discovery that reveals, through the enchantment and wonder of a childhood passion, the birth of an extraordinary and original mind.

$37

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ISBN – 9780375704048
Publisher – Knopf Doubleday Publishing Gro
Format – Paperback
Publication Date – 17/09/2002
Dimensions – 203mm X 132mm
Categories – Memoir

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Oliver Sacks
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When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: ‘Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far’. It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, as well as with a group of patients who would define his life, it becomes clear that Sacks’s earnest desire for engagement has occasioned unexpected encounters and travels – sending him through bars and alleys, over oceans, and across continents.PRAISE FOR OLIVER SACKS\”Sacks’s empathy and intellectual curiosity, his delight in, as he calls it, \”joining particulars with generalities\” and, especially, \”narratives with neuroscience\” – have never been more evident than in his beautifully conceived new book. . .remarkably candid and deeply affecting\” Boston Globe\”Honest, lucid, passionate, humorous, humane and human (also slightly Martian). . .[a] marvelous memoir, which is as unconventional and singular as the man himself\” Wall Street Journal\”[Sacks’] delving accounts of the invalids he treats have until now stood in stark contrast to his restraint about revealing himself deeply, even though autobiographical threads run through such books as A Leg to Stand On, Uncle Tungsten and Hallucinations. A doctor – concerned, engaging, humane, eccentric and unforthcoming – has occupied the foreground in his self-description. With On the Move, he has finally presented himself as he has presented others: as both fully vulnerable and an object of curiosity.\” New York Times

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Awakenings

Awakenings–which inspired the major motion picture–is the remarkable story of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen for decades in a trance-like state, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Oliver Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, awakening effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of his patients, their lives, and the extraordinary transformations which went with their reintroduction to a changed world.

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Oaxaca Journal


Oliver Sacks, the bestselling author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, is most famous for his studies of the human mind: insightful and beautifully characterized portraits of those experiencing complex neurological conditions. However, he has another scientific passion: the fern . . .

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‘Light and fast-moving, unburdened by library research but filled with erudition’ – New Yorker

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