Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

by Oliver Sacks

Paperback(First Edition)

$15.69 $15.95 Save 2% Current price is $15.69, Original price is $15.95. You Save 2%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, October 21


Long before Oliver Sacks became a distinguished neurologist and bestselling writer, he was a small English boy fascinated by metals–also by chemical reactions (the louder and smellier the better), photography, squids and cuttlefish, H.G. Wells, and the periodic table. In this endlessly charming and eloquent memoir, the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings chronicles his love affair with science and the magnificently odd and sometimes harrowing childhood in which that love affair unfolded.

In Uncle Tungsten we meet Sacks’ extraordinary family, from his surgeon mother (who introduces the fourteen-year-old Oliver to the art of human dissection) and his father, a family doctor who imbues in his son an early enthusiasm for housecalls, to his “Uncle Tungsten,” whose factory produces tungsten-filament lightbulbs. We follow the young Oliver as he is exiled at the age of six to a grim, sadistic boarding school to escape the London Blitz, and later watch as he sets about passionately reliving the exploits of his chemical heroes–in his own home laboratory. Uncle Tungsten is a crystalline view of a brilliant young mind springing to life, a story of growing up which is by turns elegiac, comic, and wistful, full of the electrifying joy of discovery.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375704048
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/17/2002
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 216,250
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(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

Chapter 1



Many of my childhood memories are of metals: these seemed to exert a power on me from the start. They stood out, conspicuous against the heterogeneousness of the world, by their shining, gleaming quality, their silveriness, their smoothness and weight. They seemed cool to the touch, and they rang when they were struck.

I loved the yellowness, the heaviness, of gold. My mother would take the wedding ring from her finger and let me handle it for a while, as she told me of its inviolacy, how it never tarnished. "Feel how heavy it is," she would add. "It's even heavier than lead." I knew what lead was, for I had handled the heavy, soft piping the plumber had left one year. Gold was soft, too, my mother told me, so it was usually combined with another metal to make it harder.

It was the same with copper-people mixed it with tin to produce bronze. Bronze!-the very word was like a trumpet to me, for battle was the brave clash of bronze upon bronze, bronze spears on bronze shields, the great shield of Achilles. Or you could alloy copper with zinc, my mother said, to produce brass. All of us-my mother, my brothers, and I-had our own brass menorahs for Hanukkah. (My father had a silver one.)

I knew copper, the shiny rose color of the great copper cauldron in our kitchen-it was taken down only once a year, when the quinces and crab apples were ripe in the garden and my mother would stew them to make jelly.

I knew zinc: the dull, slightly bluish birdbath in the garden was made of zinc; and tin, from the heavy tinfoil in which sandwiches were wrapped for a picnic. My mother showed me that when tin or zinc was bent it uttered a special "cry." "It's due to deformation of the crystal structure," she said, forgetting that I was five, and could not understand her-and yet her words fascinated me, made me want to know more.

There was an enormous cast-iron lawn roller out in the garden-it weighed five hundred pounds, my father said. We, as children, could hardly budge it, but he was immensely strong and could lift it off the ground. It was always slightly rusty, and this bothered me, for the rust flaked off, leaving little cavities and scabs, and I was afraid the whole roller might corrode and fall apart one day, reduced to a mass of red dust and flakes. I needed to think of metals as stable, like gold-able to stave off the losses and ravages of time.

I would sometimes beg my mother to take out her engagement ring and show me the diamond in it. It flashed like nothing I had ever seen, almost as if it gave out more light than it took in. She would show me how easily it scratched glass, and then tell me to put it to my lips. It was strangely, startlingly cold; metals felt cool to the touch, but the diamond was icy. That was because it conducted heat so well, she said-better than any metal-so it drew the body heat away from one's lips when they touched it. This was a feeling I was never to forget. Another time, she showed me how if one touched a diamond to a cube of ice, it would draw heat from one's hand into the ice and cut straight through it as if it were butter. My mother told me that diamond was a special form of carbon, like the coal we used in every room in winter. I was puzzled by this-how could black, flaky, opaque coal be the same as the hard, transparent gemstone in her ring?

I loved light, especially the lighting of the Shabbas candles on Friday nights, when my mother would murmur a prayer as she lit them. I was not allowed to touch them once they were lit-they were sacred, I was told, their flames were holy, not to be fiddled with. I was mesmerized by the little cone of blue flame at the candle's center-why was it blue? Our house had coal fires, and I would often gaze into the heart of a fire, watching it go from a dim red glow to orange, to yellow, and then I would blow on it with the bellows until it glowed almost white-hot. If it got hot enough, I wondered, would it blaze blue, be blue-hot?

Did the sun and stars burn in the same way? Why did they never go out? What were they made of? I was reassured when I learned that the core of the earth consisted of a great ball of iron-this sounded solid, something one could depend on. And I was pleased when I was told that we ourselves were made of the very same elements as composed the sun and stars, that some of my atoms might once have been in a distant star. But it frightened me too, made me feel that my atoms were only on loan and might fly apart at any time, fly away like the fine talcum powder I saw in the bathroom.

I badgered my parents constantly with questions. Where did color come from? Why did my mother use the platinum loop that hung above the stove to cause the gas burner to catch fire? What happened to the sugar when one stirred it into the tea? Where did it go? Why did water bubble when it boiled? (I liked to watch water set to boil on the stove, to see it quivering with heat before it burst into bubbles.)

My mother showed me other wonders. She had a necklace of polished yellow pieces of amber, and she showed me how, when she rubbed them, tiny pieces of paper would fly up and stick to them. Or she would put the electrified amber against my ear, and I would hear and feel a tiny snap, a spark.

My two older brothers Marcus and David, nine and ten years older than I, were fond of magnets and enjoyed demonstrating these to me, drawing the magnet beneath a piece of paper on which were strewn powdery iron filings. I never tired of the remarkable patterns that rayed out from the poles of the magnet. "Those are lines of force," Marcus explained to me-but I was none the wiser.

Then there was the crystal radio my brother Michael gave me, which I played with in bed, jiggling the wire on the crystal until I got a station loud and clear. And the luminous clocks-the house was full of them, because my uncle Abe had been a pioneer in the development of luminous paints. These, too, like my crystal radio, I would take under the bedclothes at night, into my private, secret vault, and they would light up my cavern of sheets with an eerie, greenish light.

All these things-the rubbed amber, the magnets, the crystal radio, the clock dials with their tireless coruscations-gave me a sense of invisible rays and forces, a sense that beneath the familiar, visible world of colors and appearances there lay a dark, hidden world of mysterious laws and phenomena.

Whenever we had "a fuse," my father would climb up to the porcelain fusebox high on the kitchen wall, identify the fused fuse, now reduced to a melted blob, and replace it with a new fuse of an odd, soft wire. It was difficult to imagine that a metal could melt-could a fuse really be made from the same material as a lawn roller or a tin can?

The fuses were made of a special alloy, my father told me, a combination of tin and lead and other metals. All of these had relatively low melting points, but the melting point of their alloy was lower still. How could this be so, I wondered? What was the secret of this new metal's strangely low melting point?

For that matter, what was electricity, and how did it flow? Was it a sort of fluid like heat, which could also be conducted? Why did it flow through the metal but not the porcelain? This, too, called for explanation.

My questions were endless, and touched on everything, though they tended to circle around, again and again, to my obsession, the metals. Why were they shiny? Why smooth? Why cool? Why hard? Why heavy? Why did they bend, not break? Why did they ring? Why could two soft metals like zinc and copper, or tin and copper, combine to produce a harder metal? What gave gold its goldness, and why did it never tarnish? My mother was patient, for the most part, and tried to explain, but eventually, when I exhausted her patience, she would say, "That's all I can tell you-you'll have to quiz Uncle Dave to learn more."

We had called him Uncle Tungsten for as long as I could remember, because he manufactured lightbulbs with filaments of fine tungsten wire. His firm was called Tungstalite, and I often visited him in the old factory in Farringdon and watched him at work, in a wing collar, with his shirtsleeves rolled up. The heavy, dark tungsten powder would be pressed, hammered, sintered at red heat, then drawn into finer and finer wire for the filaments. Uncle's hands were seamed with the black powder, beyond the power of any washing to get out (he would have to have the whole thickness of epidermis removed, and even this, one suspected, would not have been enough). After thirty years of working with tungsten, I imagined, the heavy element was in his lungs and bones, in every vessel and viscus, every tissue of his body. I thought of this as a wonder, not a curse-his body invigorated and fortified by the mighty element, given a strength and enduringness almost more than human.

Whenever I visited the factory, he would take me around the machines, or have his foreman do so. (The foreman was a short, muscular man, a Popeye with enormous forearms, a palpable testament to the benefits of working with tungsten.) I never tired of the ingenious machines, always beautifully clean and sleek and oiled, or the furnace where the black powder was compacted from a powdery incoherence into dense, hard bars with a grey sheen.

During my visits to the factory, and sometimes at home, Uncle Dave would teach me about metals with little experiments. I knew that mercury, that strange liquid metal, was incredibly heavy and dense. Even lead floated on it, as my uncle showed me by floating a lead bullet in a bowl of quicksilver. But then he pulled out a small grey bar from his pocket, and to my amazement, this sank immediately to the bottom. That, he said, was his metal, tungsten.

Uncle loved the density of the tungsten he made, and its refractoriness, its great chemical stability. He loved to handle it-the wire, the powder, but the massy little bars and ingots most of all. He caressed them, balanced them (tenderly, it seemed to me) in his hands. "Feel it, Oliver," he would say, thrusting a bar at me. "Nothing in the world feels like sintered tungsten." He would tap the little bars and they would emit a deep clink. "The sound of tungsten," Uncle Dave would say, "nothing like it." I did not know whether this was true, but I never questioned it.

As the youngest of almost the youngest (I was the last of four, and my mother the sixteenth of eighteen), I was born almost a hundred years after my maternal grandfather and never knew him. He was born Mordechai Fredkin, in 1837, in a small village in Russia. As a youth he managed to avoid being impressed into the Cossack army and fled Russia using the passport of a dead man named Landau; he was just sixteen. As Marcus Landau, he made his way to Paris and then Frankfurt, where he married (his wife was sixteen too). Two years later, in 1855, now with the first of their children, they moved to England.

My mother's father was, by all accounts, a man drawn equally to the spiritual and the physical. He was by profession a boot and shoe manufacturer, a shochet (a kosher slaughterer), and later a grocer-but he was also a Hebrew scholar, a mystic, an amateur mathematician, and an inventor. He had a wide-ranging mind: he published a newspaper, the Jewish Standard, in his basement, from 1888 to 1891; he was interested in the new science of aeronautics and corresponded with the Wright brothers, who paid him a visit when they came to London in the early 1900s (some of my uncles could still remember this). He had a passion, my aunts and uncles told me, for intricate arithmetical calculations, which he would do in his head while lying in the bath. But he was drawn above all to the invention of lamps-safety lamps for mines, carriage lamps, streetlamps-and he patented many of these in the 1870s.

A polymath and autodidact himself, Grandfather was passionately keen on education-and, most especially, a scientific education-for all his children, for his nine daughters no less than his nine sons. Whether it was this or the sharing of his own passionate enthusiasms, seven of his sons were eventually drawn to mathematics and the physical sciences, as he was. His daughters, by contrast, were by and large drawn to the human sciences-to biology, to medicine, to education and sociology. Two of them founded schools. Two others were teachers. My mother was at first torn between the physical and the human sciences: she was particularly attracted to chemistry as a girl (her older brother Mick had just begun a career as a chemist), but later became an anatomist and surgeon. She never lost her love of, her feeling for, the physical sciences, nor the desire to go beneath the surfaces of things, to explain. Thus the thousand and one questions I asked as a child were seldom met by impatient or peremptory answers, but careful ones which enthralled me (though they were often above my head). I was encouraged from the start to interrogate, to investigate.

Given all my aunts and uncles (and a couple more on my father's side), my cousins numbered almost a hundred; and since the family, for the most part, was centered in London (though there were far-flung American, Continental, and South African branches), we would all meet frequently, tribally, on family occasions. This sense of extended family was one I knew and enjoyed as far back as memory goes, and it went with a sense that it was our business, the family business, to ask questions, to be "scientific," just as we were Jewish or English. I was among the youngest of the cousins-I had cousins in South Africa who were forty-five years my senior-and some of these cousins were already practicing scientists or mathematicians; others, only a little older than myself, were already in love with science. One cousin was a young physics teacher; three were reading chemistry at university; and one, a precocious fifteen-year-old, was showing great mathematical promise. All of us, I could not help imagining, had a bit of the old man in us.

Table of Contents

1.Uncle Tungsten3
4."An Ideal Metal"32
5.Light for the Masses46
6.The Land of Stibnite54
7.Chemical Recreations67
8.Stinks and Bangs77
10.A Chemical Language101
11.Humphry Davy: A Poet-Chemist117
13.Mr. Dalton's Round Bits of Wood147
14.Lines of Force156
15.Home Life170
16.Mendeleev's Garden187
17.A Pocket Spectroscope212
18.Cold Fire221
20.Penetrating Rays244
21.Madame Curie's Element254
22.Cannery Row268
23.The World Set Free281
24.Brilliant Light293
25.The End of the Affair309


Oliver Sacks' Science Project

From the November/December 2001 issue of Book magazine.

A man walks into a bar carrying a spectroscope. The punch line? There isn't one—this is just a typical Friday night for Oliver Sacks, world-famous neurologist. "They have all sorts of interesting fluorescent lights," says Sacks, who had wandered into a pub near his office in lower Manhattan. He has carried the pocket spectroscope—a device for observing the color breakdown of light—since childhood. "Within ten minutes I had everyone talking about spectroscopy instead of sex," he laughs. "An achievement!"

His enthusiasm for science is contagious, and it shows elsewhere—in his book sales, for one. Sacks, the author of highly readable and affecting case studies of the brain, such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, is well on his way to doing for neuropathology what Stephen Hawking has done for physics and what Carl Sagan did for astronomy. Bearded and bespectacled at age sixty-eight, he has now written a memoir: Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood.

Sacks is lucky to have made it to memoir-writing age. He grew up in postwar London, and by the time he was a fifteen-year-old schoolboy he had torched, detonated and poisoned his way through the periodic table of elements in his own homemade lab. "We all got away with a lot," he admits, reminiscing about the chemical exploits he and his contemporaries pulled off as young scientists. "A colleague I know in Australia has burns all up and down his leg, and another one was deafened by a hydrogen explosion."

So it's not surprising that Sacks counts among his heroes a number of swashbuckling chemists (Humphry Davy, Marie Curie, Dmitri Mendeleev) who gave their lives, and sometimes limbs, to science. Uncle Tungsten is as much a paean to these explorers as it is a personal remembrance. The title character is the author's Uncle Dave, an early manufacturer of tungsten lightbulbs (tungsten is the metal with the highest melting point) and one of eighteen children raised by Sacks' science-mad maternal grandfather. Sacks himself was pushed to pursue medicine; he regularly accompanied his father, a motorcycle-driving doctor, on house calls. He dissected his first cadaver at fourteen and eventually became a bit of a motorcyclist himself—even riding with the Hell's Angels during his days as a student at UCLA.

But he also seems to have learned much from his mother. "My mother was like the ancient mariner," Sacks says. "She would sort of capture people and, for hours, she would invent very elaborate stories." When I came to this country, I had a sort of crisis in a way—I sort of wondered where I should live and what I should do and if I should be a writer. But then I also decided that while I might have a bit of talent, I had nothing to write about. Medicine came to my rescue this way." (Mary Christ)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Engaging memoir covering Sachs' life in London before and after the Blitz and WWII. Sachs specifically focuses on his boyhood introduction to chemistry as encouraged by his uncles. Allowed to experiment with metals, acids and other intriguing substances, Sachs gained a rare education regarding their properties and the genius of the periodic chart. 'Uncle Tungsten' also provides a clear context for modern chemistry, as Sachs grew up at a critical turning point in its development. It's the sort of book that textbooks ought to be--practical, humorous, poignant and bordering on the spiritual.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favorite books. The low ratings make no sense to me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I always liked physics more than chemistry, but after completing this book I actually got out the old chemistry book to learn more. However, any "education" that comes with this book is secondary to the entertainment. The perspective of a young boy interested in science brought back a few memories of mine, and made this a difficult book for me to put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Uncle Tungsten is a great read for the chemist, science teacher or student. I'm using sections of it in my AP Chemistry course even. Dr. Sacks narrative is a wonderful read and his enthusiasm for science is very apparent. In an era where there are very few books that encourage an enthusiasm for science and investigation, this is a welcome surprise! Having come myself from a research background before becoming a teacher, I am an enthusiastic proponent of lab work, experiments, and investigation. I hope that my students will go into science because of me, not in spite of me, and I'm very glad to have a book of this quality to share with my students.
MarkKeeffe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Really good insight into what t was like growing up in a large well-off Jewish family in London around the time of the second world war. His enthusiasm for chemistry and botany, and for learning in general, is contagious and delightful. His memory for detail and the influencing characters is amazing. Some of the chemical terms and descriptions re hard to understand which got a bit boring towards the end of the book. Also it seemed to end rather abruptly. But these small criticisms are dwarfed by an otherwise delightful read.
snash on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In some ways the book seemed schizophrenic in that it was a memoir but also a biography of a family, and a history of chemists and chemistry. The memoir was frightening, cruel at times. The family biography was enchanting. The history of chemists and chemistry was infused with boundless enthusiasm but would still be inaccessible to anyone with less that college chemistry. I have a chemistry degree so I quite enjoyed the book despite its divided focus.
dele2451 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A funny tale of one inquisitive Jewish boy's adventurous--and often dangerous--experiments in the world of chemistry and the many mentors who inspired him on his journey. Informative, entertaining, and well-written...his passion for his topic resonates throughout the entire book. A definite recommend.
clothingoptional on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An ancient magic draws all little boys to fire. They sit and stare at smoldering campfires, delighting when flames stir with the breeze. Sometimes, they stand in reverent silence before a book of matches or a cigarette lighter, but more often they are overcome with an irresistible urge to spark and burn.We know a little boy like this. At the tender age of five, enamored with fire, the boy believed he could make a rocket. He took a four foot length of copper pipe into his backyard, and rammed it into the earth beneath the cavernous shade of a decrepit willow. Into this vessel, he poured a fair amount of gasoline, some measure of other dangerous chemicals, and added a good dose of industrial petroleum jelly. One can readily guess the attitude of his mother when he went inside the house to ask where the family kept the matches.Despite this early setback, the boy went on with his experiments, such as they were. He was limited by his lack of chemical guidance, and by a stock of materials that consisted of whatever he could scrounge from the garage or the basement. He never did anything important and never learned much of anything except what would and what would not readily burned. This was the extent of his explorations.As he proceeded through science classes in school, he found he had a great aptitude for chemistry. He easily grasped the principles of organic chemistry when other classmates struggled. The entire concept of a chemical bond seemed so obvious to him as to be second nature. Yet, there was something amiss with our young man's process into the world of science. While he loved to learn the laws and the measure of things, the way certain elements combined while others would not, and how one might tear apart these materials with surprising ease, he sensed a gap in his knowledge. He was learning only the data and theory, but nothing of the process. He had no understanding whatsoever of how all of this knowledge came to be, even less how he seemed to know without knowing all that his teachers would tell.It wasn't until much later in life, when the boy had left the field of chemistry behind and turned his interests elsewhere, that he discovered what he was missing all those years ago. What he was missing was history. In history, he found the stories of men and women, driven to light fires in the darkness, probing their way through a murky world of an evolving field of thought. There, he found context.Without context, one is highly unlikely to discover anything new, unless entirely by accident and then it is doubtful that one would recognize the new phenomenon when it was found. In the study of history, one will find examples of just this sort of miraculous tinkering. One will also discover how, with just a slight change in this method or another, a crackpot suddenly becomes a genius.Unlike the boy in our story, Dr. Oliver Sacks had the benefit of growing up in a scientific family. He had aunts and uncles and parents who were practicing doctors and scientists. All of these sources turned the young Oliver on to the history of science, a history which our boy was so sadly ignorant. Through young Oliver's eyes, we recognized how basic knowledge and the ready availability of materials, combined with practical experience to drive a boy to experiment. However, it was the exposure to history, Dr. Sacks's love of the lives of the scientists who had come before him, that enabled the boy to move from mere mimicry to mastery.Or at least this is what we're led to believe.Dr. Sacks does such a wonderful job of introducing history only when the reader {and the boy who is his memory} is prepared to receive it, that we wonder if reality matches the perfect and structured way his education seemed to present itself. Still, even if the truth is a picture of fits and starts, we hardly mind. The book was a pleasure to read, and ought to be required reading for all students of science. Not only will they come away with a better understanding of th
Pferdina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sacks writes about his boyhood in 1940s London and also about the lives of the scientists that shaped his interest in chemistry and physics. Sketches on radioactivity, the discovery of the periodic law, metals, electricity, and atomic structure are included as well as stories about Humphrey Davy, Marie and Pierre Curie, and several others. My only complaint about this book is that it moves very slowly and all of the events in the author's life take place when he was very young (before 13 years of age, for the most part).
LynnB on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After reading this book, I'm still not sure if it was intended as a memoire, or as a brief history of chemistry. The author gives us glimpses of his family life, especially the role his mother and uncles played in encouraging his love of chemistry. He spends a lot more time talking about chemistry and scientific discoveries, which was less interesting to me.I found the book rather sad at the end. All the love of chemistry that permeated Oliver Sacks' life was repressed when he reading adolescence as it was expected he would become a doctor. Which he did -- and where he has made a large difference to many lives. But what would have happened had he followed his heart?
lovell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a book that holds the attention for its woonderful fresh insights into the world of chemistry, as well as a description of the author's family and life in an extended medical scientifically literate Jewish family in London during the war years. I give it to my year 11 chem students (a chapter at a time) as it has a beguiling introduction to the importance of chemistry in our lives.
xtien on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sacks' autobiography with a central role for chemistry, science in general, and two uncles who are running the family business: a factory for light bulbs (hence the title: "Uncle Tungsten"). Every kid deserves a youth in which nobody gets angry at you when you try to set the house on fire.
triptropic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit like being back in chemistry class. Sometimes fun, sometimes as dull as ditch water. Enough with the thalium already!
brewergirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A fascinating book. The author's passion about science and chemistry in particular was very compelling. I love it when an author can get me interested in something I don't normally care for.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was forced to read this memoir for the Honors Chemistry class I will be taking in 10th grade. Having heard the grumblings of older students, who too were forced to read it, I was undoubtely dreading the 317 pages. When I finally opened the book I was suprised by the content. That's not to say that I enjoyed it or thought it was well written. I was suprised at how often Sacks goes into complicated chemistry. MOst of the memoir is in fact not a memoir but a retelling of the history of chemistry. While Sacks occasionaly included a childhood memory or two, most of the memoir was pure science. At some points, he goes so far into detail that I feel as if I'm reading a textbook. So, overall it wasn't good. If you have a genuine interest in science and the history of chemistry, then you will most likely enjoy this book. However, if you are reading it expecting a genuine memoir or being forced to read it by you chemistry teacher, you will not enjoy this book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was hard to understand there was too much talk of chemical processes. If I wanted to read a chemistry textbook I would have.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For my 11th grade chemistry class I had to read two books relating to chemistry. One of the books I chose was this one: Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. It was okay it was not one of those books where you just could not put it down. I sometimes found my self drifting into other thoughts and not really paying attention to what I was reading at all. I think that if I was more interested in what he was talking about, then I would have really loved it. When I first started reading it, it was hard to stay with each of the chapters, because each one was a different story within its self. Basically, the title of the chapter was what that chapter was going to be about. In my opinion, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best and 1 being the worst, I would give this book a 5. I would because it didn't interest me, it couldn't keep my attention, and a lot of the time I thought it was boring. However, if you are into chemistry and science experiments, then this is a book for you. It tells you a lot of facts and may even make you more interested in the science world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For my 11th grade chemistry class I had to read two books realating to chemistry. One of the books I chose was this one: Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. It was okay it wasn't one of those books where you just couldn't put it down. I sometimes found my self drifting into other thoughts and not really paying attention to what I was reading at all. I think that if I was more interested in what he was talking about, then I would have really loved it. At first it was hard to stay with each chapter, because each one was a different story within its self. Basically, the title of the chapter was what it was about. In my opinion, on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, I would give this a 5. I would because it didn't interest me, it couldn't keep my attention, and a lot of the time it was boring. However, if you are into chemistry and science experiments, then this is a book for you. It tells you a lot of facts and may even make you more interested in the science world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although I majored in chemistry in college, I am now a professor in a major medical school, focusing on AIDS research. So I can relate to Sacks' intrigue with chemistry, but eventually his changing fields. It was interesting, amd I enjoyed the history of chemistry/science portions. But I wouldn't recommend it to my colleagues unless they had a 'chemical mind.'
Guest More than 1 year ago
New Scientist recently published an article describing the real reason scientists do science: It's FUN! Clearly the young Oliver Sachs knew this as well, and his autobiography conveys all of that fun. I work in scientific research myself, and I couldn't wait to try some of Sachs' experiments. The experiments themselves don't exactly advance scientific knowledge, but there I was, armed with a shelf of chemicals, a cupboard of equipment and a laboratory bench... If you want to know what makes scientists tick, this is the book. If you want to inspire an interest in chemistry, this is the book. My only complaint was Sachs' eventual departure from chemistry in adolescence. I felt immensely disappointed that he could leave so much fun behind.
authormom More than 1 year ago
Story drags. Not well written.