On the Move: A Life by 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, 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.


On the Move was an interesting read. If it hadn't been a book club read I never would have made it past the first chapter. It started off so flighty and all over the place. It went from thing to thing to thing and was too much for me. Then it settled down some and was an okay read. Some parts were really interesting, but some parts I found to be really boring. 

I didn't really know anything about Oliver Sacks before reading this book. Because of that I might have had a different experience as opposed to someone who knew of him before hand (at least based on my book club discussion). Myself and another lady found Sacks to be humble bragging his way through the story. He would name drop and include sections of letters people wrote about how amazing he was. It came across as bragging to me, like look how awesome I am even so and so thinks so, but those who knew of him, had read some of his work, didn't find that to be the case. They saw it more as this lonely guy who didn't surround himself with many people, who was always riding off on his motorcycle, they found it really sad. It was interested how it was divided like that, the people who knew of him and the people who didn't. Our discussions were really great about the book and everything in it. 

As I said before parts of this book I found very interesting. When it got to the awakening part I found it fascinating, but at the same time I always wanted more details. Like what happened to the people who woke up, but then started to show negative effects from the drugs? What were the negative effects and such? It felt like you were supposed to already know things at times, already be familiar with him and his work before reading this one. One thing is for sure Sacks is a writer. He was always writing in notebooks and he said at the end how he has tons of them. He can't help himself, he has to write things down. He has published a few works, one is well known enough that I had heard of it, but even though I learned all of this I still felt like I didn't really get to know the man himself. He writes a lot about a lot of different things, but it never felt like I got a picture of him and what he was all about. The synopsis I read before reading the book made it seem like it wold be a bit different. For example about his bond with his schizophrenic brother - it was mentioned about the brother and he came up a time or two, but I never really got much out of that. I never saw a bond between them it was just a line or two here or there. 

This book also has a lot of passages from other things Oliver Sacks has written or other people wrote to him. This kind of drove me crazy as I hated the way they were set up - "As I wrote in such and such" and then a passage, or they didn't add much to the story for me. Like when he went to Canada and was traveling around we have lots of notes from him to his family and vice versa, but they didn't add a whole lot for me. I started skimming the added sections as...I found them annoying. He might be able to write his professional works, I haven't read them, but for me this book was a meandering mess at times. It was not very well written and I expected more from someone who writes so much. That and the way it was set up at times made no sense to me. He would be talking about one thing then suddenly jump to something else for no apparent reason. Like he was talking about publishing something, but his boss didn't want him to, but he ended up doing it anyways and then found out the boss has published Oliver's work as his own. I was interested to know what happened then, did he confront the guy, was the guys book taken down, did he get in trouble for it, anything? But the book just states that Oliver learned this then starts talking about one of his relatives he was close to. It didn't seem to have anything to do with what was happening and it felt like an odd place to put such a passage. There was a sentence towards the end that says something kind of about the book, but it didn't really tie in with the theme of the chapter. 

Overall this was an odd read for me. At times I was really interested and wanted to know more, at times I was so bored I had to force myself to keep going and skim some pages just to get through it. Without knowing Sacks beforehand the book felt like he was constantly humble bragging which was annoying. It wasn't really the book for me, though I might pick up The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat as it sounds interesting. 

Rating: ★ ★1/2


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