On the Move - Oliver Sacks


An impassioned, tender, and joyous memoir by the author of Musicophilia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.

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, where he struggled with drug addiction and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.

With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions–weight lifting and swimming–also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists–Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick–who influenced him. On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer–and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.Goodreads


I didn’t know much about Sacks before I read this book. Turns out he’s a pretty fascinating guy. A doctor by trade, Sacks did research and practical work that contributed to medical advancements and treatment in several neurological disorders. He’s also the author of popular books – both medical and non-. But there’s more to him than his literary and medical pursuits. In his personal life, Sacks is an avid motorcyclist and bodybuilder whose youthful adventures include road trips and drug experimentation. Think Patch Adams meets Hunter S. Thompson meets On the Road.

Like Sacks isn’t your typical doctor, this isn’t your typical memoir. It’s only loosely chronological, with lots of tangential stories, abrupt changes between one anecdote and the next and frequent insertions of excerpts from his previous writings, notebooks and letters. Normally a book jumping from story to story, place to place, topic to topic like this would be confusing and disjointed. But in this case, it works. It inserts some life and variance into a format that, even with the most exciting content, can become dull. 

It also offsets Sacks’ writing style, which is conventional and informed by his many years reading and writing in a medical (and scholarly) context. Which isn’t to say that it’s boring or difficult to understand – it’s not. He does a masterful job of explaining any medical anecdotes in layman’s terms and has edited his work to avoid extraneous detail that would be less interesting to the casual reader. In fact, I felt that I learned a lot about some fascinating medical conditions – from autism to Tourette’s syndrome to colour blindness, Sacks has tackled it all. 

Sacks is one of those rare people who is genuinely fascinated by the process of learning. Even in his 70s and 80s he takes a childlike delight in discovering a new theory or meeting someone whose thought process he finds provocative. He is incredibly well-read, was educated at some of the best institutions of learning England has to offer, and enjoys reading obscure medical case studies and texts that would put most to sleep. I have always been envious of those who were blessed with this innate ability to appreciate that which is intellectually stimulating, and as such have a lot of admiration for Sacks. 

While Sacks’ medical expertise and research will impress, there’s much more to him. This is a man who truly has lived several lives in one. In addition to his youthful adventures and medical expertise, Sacks is a prolific author. He began by submitting articles to medical and popular publications, began writing books – some of which became bestsellers. One was even made into a film, and he shares his experiences working with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. 

I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed this book. Memoirs are tricky – they often contain too much detail and not enough of the more amusing anecdotes I was hoping for. I took a chance on this, particularly given my ignorance of Sacks’ work and life going into it. And I’m so glad I did. This was one of those unusual books that was not only a lot of fun to read, but that also taught me about topics I knew very little about in a way that was easy to assimilate. If you enjoy memoirs, are interested in neurology or are just looking for a book with a balance of fun and fact, this is a great one to add to your TBR pile.  

Quotes from the book:

“There is a direct union of oneself with a motorcycle, for it is so geared to one’s proprioception, one’s movements and postures, that it responds almost like part of one’s own body.” – p. 97

“‘That is the walk of a genius, a monomaniac,’ I thought to myself. ‘He is like a man possessed.’ I had a sense of awe and envy – how I should like such a ferocious power of concentration! But then I thought that life might not be entirely easy with such a brain; indeed Edelman, I was to find, took no holidays, slept little, and was driven, almost bullied, by nonstop thinking […]. Perhaps I was better off with my own, more modest endowment.” – p. 358

“But for the most part, I rarely look at the journals I have kept for the greater part of a lifetime. The act of writing is itself enough; it serves to clarify my thoughts and feeling. The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing.” – p. 383

**Thanks to Random House Canada for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!**
Book Title: On the Move
Author: Oliver Sacks
Series: No
Edition: Hardback
Published By: Knopf Canada
Released: April 28, 2015
Genre: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Science, Travel
Pages: 416

Date Read: April 28-May 5, 2015
Rating: 8/10
Follow the Author on Twitter: @OliverSacks

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