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Awakenings (R) [Paperback]

Sacks Oliver W.
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Feb 1987
A revised and expanded edition of an account of a group of 20 patients who survived the sleeping sickness epidemic of the 1920s, and the awakening effect they experienced forty years later through the drug L-DOPA, which was administered by Dr Sacks himself. First published in 1973.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Dutton Books (1 Feb 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0525482253
  • ISBN-13: 978-0525482253
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,188,540 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.

Product Description

Amazon Review

It hardly seems fair that so many great doctors are also great writers. Perhaps it's qualities like sensitivity, craft and dedication that keep physicians like Oliver Sacks in hospitals all day and at writing desks all night; if nothing else, these qualities shine in books like Awakenings. This powerful set of case histories rises above its pathological foundation to find new literary territory, a medical-spiritual synthesis equally stimulating for the mind and the soul. It's no wonder Hollywood chose to turn it into a feature film--anyone can see the universal human struggle against bondage and despair in these pages.

The sleeping-sickness epidemic of 1918 caused hundreds of survivors to slip into a bizarre rigid paralysis with similarities to advanced Parkinson's disease. These patients, only occasionally able to communicate or move, were nearly all institutionalised for life, their ranks increasing every now and then with similarly afflicted men and women. Sacks came to work at a long-term care facility shortly before the first exciting results with L-DOPA and Parkinson's in the late 1960s and his patients soon embarked on dramatic, difficult recoveries from up to 50 years of torpor. He documents their spiritual and medical obstacles with great care to portray their individual personalities, long suppressed but finally released. Though many great doctors are also great writers, few can compare with Oliver Sacks for expressing the relation of medicine to the human spirit. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"One of the most beautifully composed and moving works of our time." --"The Washington Post ""Compulsively readable. . . . Dr. Sacks writes beautifully and with exceptional subtlety and penetration into both the state of mind of his patients and the nature of illness generally. . . . A brilliant and humane book." --A. Alvarez, "The Observer" "[Sacks] opens to the reader doors of perception generally passed through only by those at the far borders of human experience." --"The Boston Globe ""A masterpiece." --W. H. Auden --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awakenings: the full story behind the film 29 Mar 1999
By A Customer
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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Rover
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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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the easiest of reads, but worth the effort 12 Jun 2003
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating reading 16 July 2013
By MisterM
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
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling and terrifying in equal measure 20 Dec 2012
By BrynG
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
A classic and fascinating.
Published 2 months ago by Ms. Pj Hawcroft
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Brilliant copy, excellent condition
Published 3 months ago by becky
5.0 out of 5 stars lovely book
if your interested in diseases and what happens to people with Parkinsons disease then this is an amazing book to read (not going to spoil it!)
Published 6 months ago by Miffy
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book
I bought this book after devouring "The man who mistook his wife for a Hat". As usual Sacks delivers fascinating cases in an interesting, easy-to-read manner. Read more
Published 7 months ago by lyam bailey
5.0 out of 5 stars awakenings
Very good conditions, beautiful interesting book, so sensibely written.
I would recommend it.
I saw the film a lot of time ago
Published 13 months ago by Diana
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
Bought for a friend but couldn't resist dipping in,would recommend.Oliver Sachs at his very best,
A good entertaining summer read,perfect!
Published 14 months ago by Mrs. K. E. Freeman
4.0 out of 5 stars Good for those interested in neurology
I have not seen the film that is associated with the book so cannot comment on how it lives up to or does not live up to expectations as other reviewers have. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Deborah S
4.0 out of 5 stars fascinating,sensitive
I saw the film of this with robin Williams' excellent and sensitive portrayal of the doctor/author. I also enjoyed this book on my new kindle fire. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book about a complex and intriguing condition.
This is one of the best books I have ever read. It relates the "awakenings" experienced by post-"sleepy sickness" patients who survived the 1920's epidemic to live with deeply... Read more
Published on 5 Sep 2008 by ICCM
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