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4.6 out of 5 stars18
4.6 out of 5 stars
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on 7 February 1998
I loved this book and could have wished it twice as long. However, a friend to whom I recommended the book didn't think that highly of it. So to be honest, I guess this book isn't for everyone. It is true that particularly in this book, Sacks gets carried away by lots of long footnotes printed at the bottom of the pages. For me, reading them was like exploring every nook and cranny of a great cathedral. Absolutely enthralling. But for others, it may prove to be rather distracting. If you have ever pondered the endlessly fascinating relationship of language to thinking, you will like this book.
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on 3 June 2003
I once saw a documentary about a couple whose daughter was deaf, and they were agonizing about whether to go ahead and have a complex and risky procedure performed which might restore some hearing for their child. I couldn't understand why the father's brother, who was himself profoundly deaf, was so upset that they were even considering this operation.
Having read Oliver Sacks' book, I now have a much greater understanding of how intensely proud deaf people are of their culture. The book describes much of the history of the deaf communities' language and struggle for identity. It reads like a history of a nation struggling for recognition of its rich culture and language. The book also gives many insights into deafness and its causes too, and describes sign language as a fully formed language (or languages!), as rich as any spoken form, but with a quality quite different. It becomes quite clear in the book that deaf people don't necessarily consider themselves 'ill' or 'disabled', but have a human condition which is simply different. This is perhaps why the uncle of the deaf girl in the documentary was upset by his brother's actions---it might be perceived as a kind of prejudice.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is simply interested other cultures, or perhaps just curious about a different human experience which can't be fully imagined if one is not deaf, but still some understanding and appreciation might be gained.
As ever, this Oliver Sacks book is easy to read, like his other popular accounts, and he is not just a passive observer but has many personal tales of his contacts with deaf people, their views and his relationships with them.
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on 21 November 2012
This is a deeply interesting book which should be read by anyone interested in language, and in sign language and the Deaf in particular.

It has its faults; three sections are rather bolted together but the information is clear, there are many interesting side notes that seem to take up about half the book and Sacks has found a real empathy with the deaf without losing objectivity.

My only real criticism is one that the author can't do much about. It was written in the 80s and while it is still very stimulating and thought provoking I now want to know how the situation of the (American) Deaf has progressed in the last quarter century and I'm not sure where to find out yet.

My own interest is that I live in rural Northern Uganda and I come across pre and post lingually deaf folk who have no real way of communicating. Their awareness of the world and ability to think are severely restricted but education in Uganda Sign Language is available if only the connections and parental will can be engaged. So I am seeing the 'native' state of the deaf: isolated, vulnerable, sometimes abused. Its like Europe a few hundred years back.
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Most of the information that we get about the world comes through the sense of sight. Therefore it would seem that it there is one sense that we would be loath to part with, it would be this one. And yet, it is the sense of hearing that has the greatest impact on the acquisition of language and subsequently on the formation of our minds. If we don't acquire language really early on in our lives, we are bound to lead a very limited existence as compared to most other people. It is these facts and some other very deep and important ones that I was able to gather from this Oliver Sacks book. It really opened my mind to the world of deaf people in a profoundly different way. Sacks documents various attempts over the last few centuries to give deaf people a chance to acquire a sign language, and different approaches to the education of the deaf. The book also opened my eyes to the fact that the sign language is a real language, qualitatively and profoundly different from simple gesticulations and gestures that we engage on a daily basis in our regular communications. In fact, the sign language is in one sense much more complex than the regular spoken language. One can argue that the spoken language is one-dimensional - it consists of sounds of different pitch and duration in time. On the other hand, the sign language is four-dimensional - it employs all three dimensions of space to create various hand configurations and adds an extra layer in the form of motion.

One of the greatest features of Olives Sacks' writing is the highly sophisticated and literary style that he employs. I would love reading his books even if he were describing the content of a box of cereal. We are fortunate that his writing brilliance is matched with the vast knowledge and expertise that he has in neuroscience. It is this incredible combination of writing and scientific talent that makes each of his books a masterpiece.
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on 16 April 1998
I love Oliver Sacks's writing because of his excitement, even his passion that he brings to his subjects. In every book of his that I have read, he has infected me with his sense of amazement at the puzzles of the human brain. Even after studying neurology I learned a lot about deafness and language from this book. However, I found the writing to be redundant and the editing to be poor. When he started to repeat the same ideas over and over again I started wondering whether this book had not originally been just a long article for the New York Review of Books. Moreover, many of the most interesting ideas were relegated to the footnotes and this made for very choppy reading. In short, I will always remain a big fan of Oliver Sacks, but I think his writing has improved a lot since he wrote this and I sure won't miss the footnotes if he leaves them out of his next book.
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on 20 September 2013
Oliver Sacks wrote this book in 1989. In his preface he writes that three years before he "knew nothing of the situation of the deaf". So this book is in many ways a chronicle of Sacks' own journey of discovery. Its main thesis is that the signing used by deaf people is indeed a fully fledged language with its own grammar and catalogue of nuances and styles. So, for example, if two or more deaf-signing people meet who have no spoken or written language in common, say American and Japanese (his example), within a day or two they are communicating fluently. The second half of the book, a chapter titled "The Revolution of the Deaf", is devoted to tracking a "revolution" at a university for deaf students who insist that the top academic positions should be occupied by deaf academics. Oliver Sacks champions this cause, becoming, to my mind, a touch uncomfortably evangelical: does he lose some objectivity? Nonetheless, "Seeing Voices" displays Sacks' trademark combination of compassion and deeply analytical insight.
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on 16 July 2015
I have read several of Sacks' books, but this one is pretty much unreadable in Kindle format due to the numerous footnotes. Each footnote is long, sometimes more than a page and I have got lost in the footnotes several times and have no idea where I was in the content. So the narrative does not flow. The problem is that the information in the footnotes is relevant and interesting and should have been incorporates into the body of each chapter gracefully by the editorial team. The jumping about between the text and the all too frequent footnotes disturbs the flow. I persevered for a few days, but got so confused as to where I was I eventually abandoned it.
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on 25 December 2015
A wonderful and insightful book, dont think you can read it quickly. for me it was full of concepts about deafness that i had never concidderd and had to take time to mull over to realy understand. normally i could have read this in a day but instead it took me a month long journy to truly apreceate evrything contained in this wonderful book.
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on 13 April 2015
Seeing Voices’ describes with scientific accuracy and deep reflection the unique, extraordinarily multi-dimensional and inventive world of the deaf. The Silent Striker attempts to show this world at its incipience as encountered by a 14 year old boy who experiences hearing loss in his early teens.
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on 2 February 2016
Few people really understand Deaf culture and the Deaf Community. They think they do but unless you identify yourself as Deaf (with a capital 'D'), I don't believe you really do. I was therefore intrigued to read Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks, mainly because he was hearing and until he started researching for this book, had little understanding of the topic matter. However Mr Sacks, in my opinion, has managed just that. The book is quite heavy in part and the reader needs to jump backwards and forwards between the narrative and extensive footnotes that appear at the bottom of a good many pages, but in doing so, nothing escapes the genius of what he writes. I should add that I myself are hearing and simply move at the edge of the Deaf Community as a CSW. This was the first book that I read by Oliver Sacks and I have since become a massive fan of his work.
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