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Awakenings Paperback – 1 Jan 1991


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Product details

  • Paperback: 408 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 13 edition (1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330320912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330320917
  • Product Dimensions: 2.9 x 13 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 333,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California and New York. He now lives in America and practices neurology in New York, where he is also a professor of clinical neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the author of ten books, including the bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings. His most recent book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain was an international bestseller. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Hawthornden Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 29 Mar 1999
Format: Paperback
You'll probably have seen the Robert de Niro film. This is the original book by neurologist Oliver Sacks, describing the L-dopamine drug trials that awakened patients 'frozen' for decades by Parkinsonian symptoms. A harrowing but sympathetic account, the book has room for the complexities missed by the film. After dramatic initial awakenings, the unpredictability of drug reactions gave varied patient histories that ranged from disastrous relapse to modest long-term success. Far less 'feelgood', but ultimately more hopeful, than the film.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Simon Southwell on 12 Jun 2003
Format: Paperback
If you are looking for 'the book of the film' you may be disappointed. If you have enjoyed reading other Oliver Sacks books you may also be disappointed. However, it is definitely worth the effort as it is more illuminating than the film, if less dramatic---but no less tragic for that. The book is more technical than one might expect; plenty of case histories and medical information. But Sacks is a humanist with compassion for his patients, and this still shines through the more 'dry' format of the text. I'm glad I stuck with the book as it explains much that simply isn't possible in a film---which has different objectives in any case.
I enjoyed this book, though not as much as some of his other work, and acknowledge that it may not be for everyone.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the most disturbing and horrific books I have ever read.

In it, Dr. Sacks demonstrates admirable, almost super-human devotion to the few dozen tragically, hopelessly, severely ill patients under his care at a chronic care institution in the late 1960s. He makes the rational and defensible decision to try a promising new drug, L-dopa, on them. That's when the horror begins.

With only one exception, drug administration is a disaster. After a brief, spectacular recovery lasting a few days at most, these patients endure horrors above and beyond those previously known to them. Some are psychiatric, where, for example, civilization is stripped from cultured individuals, who then yell obscenities, assault others, and perform overt public sex acts. Of course there are hallucinations, too. The physical changes are worse: respiratory crises, uncontrollable movements, and hyper-salivation to the tune of one gallon a day. One person develops hand tics that move at a rate of 300 tics per minute (5 per second!). Sacks buries in a footnote the gruesome fact that 30% of his patients suffered a fall that causes a major bone fracture. I was sick with despair in reading what these patients endured.

All of that is bad enough, but what really got to me was Sacks' approach to these complications. He approached these careening L-dopa patients like a birdwatcher or a stamp collector -- carefully cataloging all the interesting behaviors and colors and movements in unbelievably excruciating detail (this is the bulk of the book) -- without a moment's thought to what might be causing the enormous variability in the medicine's effect over time, and without a thoughtful, professional attempt to understand and mitigate the swings in response.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sally Baker on 10 Aug 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I wanted to read this book after finding other books by Oliver Sacks so interesting. It has been a long, hard and emotional read as there is a lot to absorb and it really gets you thinking. It wakes you up to the fact that the human brain is utterly amazing and that we (humankind) know so little of what makes us tick. It makes you thankful that there are people out there like Oliver Sacks, who devote themselves to their callings, spending huge amounts of time and effort documenting results of their work and actions, listening to their patients and trying their utmost to come to some understanding of these individuals' feelings and circumstances.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MisterM on 16 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Great work on neurologically damaged patients; a book of profound emotion and thought on human life and human nature with a powerful point about the central energy that we all possess and how our inner system can be so perturbed but also how the people described in the book find the resources to respond and decide what they want to live for or not. As a psychotherapis, I found this book illuminating.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By BrynG on 20 Dec 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Oliver Sacks, a singularly humane writer and physician, provides the case histories of 20 institutionalised people who are suffering the appalling sickness disease that struck around the time of the first world war (though not connected), whom he encountered professionally in about 1970. Specifically he describes the "Awakening" affect of L-Dopa on these people.
But beware that these histories do not make for comfortable reading as these people suffer in a way that few others have.
As ever, Sacks is absolutely brilliant at seeing the person behind the affliction, and the big message behind the whole book is to argue that medicine is not just an objective scientific activity, but that seeing the subjective "I" of each individual patient in terms of physiology, psychology, social environment etc. is also of vital importance. He supports this position with many examples of how the patients react to changes to their personal cicumstances.
I found the case studies at times harrowing, and was very grateful for the 1982 epilogue contained in my 1990 copy that contained positive updates on a number of the patients.
As well as his own words, Sacks includes quotes from a number of poets (Donne in particular) and philosophers (Kant, Leibnitz, Nitsche) that are used to illustrate his position very effectively.
I am left somewhat in awe of this book and recommend it to anyone with an interest in either medicine or how people come to terms with unbelievably trying circumstances.
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