An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales

An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales

by Oliver Sacks


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To these seven narratives of neurological disorder Dr. Sacks brings the same humanity, poetic observation, and infectious sense of wonder that are apparent in his bestsellers Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. These men, women, and one extraordinary child emerge as brilliantly adaptive personalities, whose conditions have not so much debilitated them as ushered them into another reality.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679756972
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/28/1996
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 59,649
Product dimensions: 5.23(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

Oliver Sacks was a neurologist, writer, and professor of medicine. Born in London in 1933, he moved to New York City in 1965, where he launched his medical career and began writing case studies of his patients. Called the “poet laureate of medicine” by The New York Times, Sacks is the author of thirteen books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Awakenings, which inspired an Oscar-nominated film and a play by Harold Pinter. He was the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, and was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2008 for services to medicine. He died in 2015.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:


Place of Birth:

London, England


B.M., B.Ch., Queen's College, Oxford, 1958

Table of Contents


The Case of the Colorblind Painter
The Last Hippie
A Surgeon's Life
To See and Not See
The Landscape of His Dreams
An Anthropologist on Mars

Selected Bibliography

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An Anthropologist on Mars 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oliver Sacks 'An Anthropologist on Mars' was one of the most interesting books I have ever read. Although Sacks took a slightly scientific perspective in the stories, the subjects and his observations were extremely gripping. I read this book for a class and ended up doing a research paper on one of the conditions (cerebral achromatopsia) for another class because I was so intrigued. I suggest, though, that the reader should not read the stories in the order they are in the book. I read until the second, skipped to the sixth and seventh, and then read the third, fourth, and fifth. I recommend this book to anyone who would like to learn more about different traits and the coping mechanisms people with these traits develop. FIVE STAR BOOK!
Kenlee More than 1 year ago
I did like the book. The language is a little complex for an easy/comfy read due to the medical terms. Yet, I still liked it. Opens up your mind on some level and lets you think differently and more openly. Definatelly different from what I was reading before; therefore hard to accept at first but I'd recommend it for sure.
cloggiedownunder More than 1 year ago
An Anthropologist on Mars is the sixth book by neurologist Oliver Wolf Sacks and deals with seven intriguing case studies. The first is an artist who becomes completely colour-blind (cerebral achromatopsia) and details both the unimaginable impact this has on normal life, and the adaptation that can make life liveable. The second involves amnesia and looks at different ways of forming memory. The third deals with Tourette’s syndrome in a surgeon with a pilot’s licence, shows both the funny and the dark sides of this condition, and the effect of medications. The fourth examines the effect of regaining sight on a person who has been blind since childhood. The fifth involves seizures of reminiscence and examines what memory actually is. The sixth deals with an autistic savant artist, and the final case study is about the well-known Aspergian, Temple Grandin. It is this remarkable woman who, in explaining what it feels like to try to understand normal human behaviour, lends her phrase to the title, An Anthropologist on Mars. Grandin gives a fascinating insight into the autistic spectrum, explaining that autistic people Think in Pictures (the title of her own book). Occasionally Sacks is rather too generous with technical detail jargon, so the reader may be tempted to skim or skip. The footnotes enlarge on or update the text, the book is fully indexed and there is a bibliography for those interested in further reading. This book is interesting, occasionally scary and will make the reader appreciate the brain they have.
sunny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very interesting. A pleasure to read.
TheDivineOomba on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not quite sure how to rate this book. A number of chapters were incredibly interesting, while others were quite dry. The chapter about complete color blindness is very interesting - it shows just how important color is in distinguishing objects from each other. The story of the hippie with a frontal lobe tumor that makes him blind and lose his sense self is sad, but I gave it a cursory read. The surgeon with tourettes is quite interesting, and I never realized that tourettes can have any number of different symptoms. The story of Virgil who has a chance to regain his site after loosing it in childhood is very intriguing, I think that the author is a bit condescending in his analysis of the patient. Pontito didn't hold my attention. Sack's take on prodigies, in this case autistic people with an amazing ability, is interesting, but he doesn't go into any sort of analysis as to what is happening in the brain as he did in previous chapters. The chapter with Stephen Wiltshire, an autistic child with an amazing gift for drawing, is quite amazing and the author spends a lot of time trying to understand it, but does not get very far. And I especially enjoy the chapter with Temple Grandin, as a high functioning autistic person, I think she represents completely just what kind of a world an autistic person lives in.
NocturnalBlue on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One thing I always loved about Dr. Sacks's writings is that as fascinating as the science is, he won't forget the people and the humanity behind the illnesses. In describing his cases studies, he can be both funny (the scene with the four Tourettic surgeons trying to sit in the corner at the restaurant and their self-awareness about how absurd the scene looks) and poignant (Dr. Brennan giving Sacks a hug and trying to express her own soul despite her extreme difficulty connecting to humans due to her autism). By focusing on seven people instead of having a ton of case studies, Sacks can go far beyond the pathologies and show the people in all their flawed glory.
peachnik on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sacks writes with intelligence and empathy. By profiling these 7 people of obvious disabilities, yet extrordinary or unusual abilities, he also helps us to understand those among us who we might have a tendency to overlook. One of the subject cases, (a woman diagnosed with autism),Temple Grandin, has special achievements that are relatively well known at this time; in part due to her own writings. Her life has become a model of hope within a different context than most of us hold. Though all of these cases and people are interesting, another story, that of the surgeon/ pilot with Tourette's, was of particular interest to me. It helped me understand how despite the defining tics and outbursts, someone can have extreme focus. The soccer star goalie, Tim Howard comes to mind as someone who also embodies this syndrome yet has used the particular traits of that syndrome to perform well above and beyond the usual. This book is an fascinating look at the human condition when the complex workings of the brain are disrupted.
piefuchs on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A collection of New Yorker articles that detail the more troubling patients of a well known neuroscientiest. Fascinating and memorable reading.
melsmarsh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In "An Anthropologist On Mars," Oliver Sacks tells about some of his clinical tales including a painter that loses the ability to see colour, a young man with a brain tumour that leaves him stuck in the 60s, a surgeon with Tourette's Syndrome, a blind man who gains and then loses his sight, a painter who is stuck in the past, child prodigies, and patients with autism. Sacks has a wonderful style of writing that, even if you care little about neurology, you will care about his patients and marvel at the human brain and how it works.
jddunn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A series of sketches on the remarkable and often terrifying complexity, plasticity, power, and vulnerability of the human brain. These cases are also interesting examples on the nature of identity, the social and personal construction of ability and disability, and the frightening but also freeing thought that vastly different and perhaps mutually incomprehensible modes of perceiving and being in the world and being a human can and do exist and even thrive in modern society.
CKmtl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Focusing on fewer cases than The Man Who Mistook..., Sacks is able to go into greater depth in these seven essays. Further history of both the patients and the related fields (colour perception and vision in the case of a colour-blind man, etc.) adds to the reader's understanding.Personally, I did not find these cases as interesting as those in the previously mentioned compilation, with the exception of the surgeon with Tourette's. Many of them deal with art, which isn't really my cup of tea. Perhaps readers with a greater fluency and appreciation of art would find it more enjoyable.
melannen on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'd heard a great deal about this book, so when I had a chance to grab a copy, I jumped on it - and was already completely absorbed in it before I was halfway home.If there's a theme that connects these seven accounts of unusual minds, it's perception - how people percieve and interact with the world, and how our biology determines that. And he does an excellent job of making the reader imagine themselves into the worlds of these seven people, and the truly bizarre places a broken brain can lead us (A man who is blind and doesn't know he's blind? Who can't accept that he's blind even after he's been told?).I did think sometimes he was more interested in the different-ness of these people than the sameness (after all, who doesn't want a hug?) and in several cases, awfully complacent about caretakers who claimed they were doing what was best for someone, but in general, and excellent, deeply intriguing book and definitely recommended.
kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While this book is not an easy read, it is an interesting and very informative read. The author presents several stories of ways the mind can go wrong (from color blind to autism) and how exploring these ailments can teach us so much about how the brain works. He includes detailed histories of the origins of theories in neurology, which can be both interesting and a drag in the narrative.
sgerbic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reviewed May 2008 Another great Oliver Sacks book. You know the stories are compelling when you find yourself telling people about them. I had to bite my lip many times while riding with the kids, to keep from dominating the conversation about these unique characters. As usual, Sacks is far more technical than needed (at least for me) but he tells very interesting stories about people with neurological problems. His focus in this book is telling the story from the perspective of how they function in the real world. What amazes me is how Sacks is all over the world with these people, he must have tons of frequent flier miles. 13-2008
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