Oaxaca Journal

Oaxaca Journal

by Oliver Sacks


$14.67 $14.95 Save 2% Current price is $14.67, Original price is $14.95. You Save 2%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Thursday, October 24


Since childhood, Oliver Sacks has been fascinated by ferns: an ancient class of plants able to survive and adapt in many climates. Along with a delightful group of fellow fern aficionados—mathematicians, poets, artists, and assorted botanists and birders—he embarks on an exploration of Southern Mexico, a region that is also rich in human history and culture. He muses on the origins of chocolate and mescal, pre-Columbian culture and hallucinogens, the vibrant sights and sounds of the marketplace, and the peculiar passions of botanists. What other species would comb ancient Zapotec ruins on their hands and knees, searching for a new type of fern? Combining Sacks's enthusiasm for natural history and the richness of humanity with his sharp and observant eye for detail, Oaxaca Journal is a rare treat.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307947444
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/06/2012
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 368,138
Product dimensions: 5.24(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.28(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

Read an Excerpt

I used to delight in the natural history journals of the nineteenth century, all of them blends of the personal and the scientific -- especially Wallace's The Malay Archipelago, Bates's Naturalist on the River Amazon, and Spruce's Notes of a Botanist, and the work which inspired them all (and Darwin too), Humboldt's Personal Narrative. It pleased me to think that Bates, Spruce, and Wallace were all crisscrossing in one another's paths, leapfrogging, on the same stretch of the Amazon during the selfsame months of 1849, and to think that all of them were good friends. (They continued to correspond throughout their lives, and Wallace was to publish Spruce's Notes after his death.)

They were all, in a sense, amateurs -- self-educated, self-motivated, not part of an institution -- and they lived, it sometimes seemed to me, in a halcyon world, a sort of Eden, not yet turbulent and troubled by the almost murderous rivalries which were soon to mark an increasingly professionalized world (the sort of rivalries so vividly portrayed in H. G. Wells's story "The Moth").

This sweet, unspoiled, preprofessional atmosphere, ruled by a sense of adventure and wonder rather than by egotism and a lust for priority and fame, still survives here and there, it seems to me, in certain natural history societies, and amateur societies of astronomers and archaeologists, whose quiet yet essential existences are virtually unknown to the public. It was the sense of such an atmosphere that drew me to the American Fern Society in the first place, and that incited me to go with them on their fern-tour to Oaxaca early in 2000.

And it was the wish to explore this atmosphere which, in part, incited me to keep a journal there. There was much else, of course: my introduction to a people, a country, a culture, a history, of which I knew almost nothing -- this was wonderful, an adventure in itself -- and the fact that all journeys incite me to keep journals. Indeed, I have been keeping them since the age of fourteen, and in the year and a half since my visit to Oaxaca, I have been in Greenland and Cuba, fossil hunting in Australia, and looking at a strange neurological condition in Guadeloupe -- all of these travels have generated journals, too.

None of these journals has any pretension to comprehensiveness or authority; they are light, fragmentary, impressionistic, and, above all, personal.

Why do I keep journals? I do not know. Perhaps primarily to clarify my thoughts, to organize my impressions into a sort of narrative or story, and to do this in "real time," and not in retrospect, or imaginatively transformed, as in an autobiography or novel. I write these journals with no thought of publication (journals which I kept in Canada and Alabama were only published, and that by chance, as articles in Antaeus, thirty years after they were written).

Should I have prettied up this journal, elaborated it, made it more systematic and coherent -- as I was to do with my book-sized Micronesian and "leg" journals -- or left it as written, as with my Canadian and Alabaman ones? I have, in fact, taken an intermediate course, adding a little (on chocolate, rubber, things Mesoamerican), making little excursions of various sorts, but essentially keeping the journal as written. I have not even attempted to give it a proper title. It was Oaxaca Journal in my notebook, and Oaxaca Journal it remains.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Oaxaca Journal 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Oliver Sack's description of Oaxaca clearly indicates that he's a scientist and not an alchemist. He got the facts, but he missed the magic of Oaxaca. The journal betrays his observer's stance and his lack of intimacy with the place.The ruins of Monte Alban and Mitla are replete with magic and a musical unity with Nature. However, there wasn't one dulcet description or unheard melody that accompanied the cadence of a paragraph--not even the cadenza of a lone sentence. And yet, perhaps the journal will be held as a superlative example of locative writing. Oaxaca should be experienced in his pages, but I feel that it was only written about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dr Sacks has found the pulse of this wonderful place in Mexico. Describing the sites and sounds of another culture so well he transports his readers into this world steeped in history that is 1000s of years old.
carlym on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sacks, the neurologist, loves ferns. This book tells the story of a trip he made to Oaxaca, Mexico with a group of fellow fern-lovers and botanists. A tremendously diverse group of ferns grow in the Oaxaca area; some are the common moisture-loving ferns that grow in rain forest areas, and others are adapted to desert conditions. Sacks talks about some of the unique characteristics of ferns, but the book is really about the passion that the others on the trip have for ferns and about how the native flora of an area affect the culture. While his travelling companions are focused mainly on the ferns (and some on birds as well), Sacks talks about all sorts of plants and how they are used today in Oaxaca and how they were used by other Mesoamerican cultures--agave, other cacti, cacao, maize, etc. Sacks is a good writer, and I found him generally likeable (something I think is important when reading travel literature). Occasionally he gets a little too dreamy for my taste. He does a good job of putting the landscape and the flora in context and providing background history of the area.
LyzzyBee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Acquired via BookCrossing 03 July 2009 - in my NSS parcel at the UnconventionNot one of Sacks' neuropsychiatry works but a more personal work - a diary of a week-long trip to Mexico to study ferns. A beautiful book in which he both celebrates the ferns themselves and the people - mostly amateurs - who study and know so much about them. Eccentrics abound in both populations, but Sacks feels included in this quite different world, which he stumbled upon a few years ago, and obviously has a wonderful time. A lovely book which, although registered, I'm going to keep, making it available to loan only to people fairly close to me!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago