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4.4 out of 5 stars34
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 8 March 2002
People often ask why so many students are put off science, particularly the physical sciences. This book has the answer. Science courses just don't convey the excitement and fun that can be had from experimenting in science. As a young boy Oliver Sacks was both fortunate and intelligent enough to be able to perform his own experiments, and repeat some of the classic experiments from the history of chemistry, photography and electromagnetism. Quite rightly, children today cannot perform many of these experiments because they are simply too dangerous. It is amazing what he could buy with his pocket money, and hard to believe he escaped without injuring himself!
Into this story Sacks weaves many anecdotes from the history of science, together with the more normal aspects of his boyhood (though little was normal in the Sacks' household). He really is a great storyteller and manages to transmit his tremendous enthusiasm to the reader. He is to chemistry what Gerald Durrell is to biology. Yet he also manages to get across much of the theoretical background without being dull.
So if anyone wants to share in the joy of scientific discovery, or needs ideas for making science exciting to students, they should read this book. If they can convey this sense of fun to their students they'll be turning them away from their classes.
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on 29 July 2008
After some years ago reading Sacks classic `The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat `I was keen to read something else. His biography seemed to be an intriguing option. Sadly I was very disappointed with this book. Although the title hints at an involvement with chemistry I did not expect the book to be almost entirely about chemistry and its history. I estimate that 95% of the book is concerned with this subject. There is little space given to detail of his actual life and absolutely no mention of psychology or neurology. Since this is of course the aspect of Sacks that attracts most people to his books this will be a complete surprise to most people. The detail of the history of chemistry is certainly too some extent interesting, but it becomes far too in-depth and specific. Unless you have an explicit interest in chemistry then this may well become somewhat tedious and boring, as it did for me. I finished the book feeling that I had learnt nothing new and gained little. Although the other reviews rate the book highly I can not help thinking that many people will ultimately be disappointed by this biography that is really anything but a biography. Had Sacks opted to scrap the small fraction of the book that relates to himself and his family and titled the book as a history of chemistry then it might be more appealing to an audience that might fully appreciate it.
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on 17 May 2014
In this childhood autobiography Oliver Sachs revisits his childhood growing up in a North London Jewish family the son of two G.P. parents.
Young Oliver had an extended family full of many unusual characters including the eponomous "uncle tungsten" - his Uncle who ran a light bulb manufacturing plant, and was a mine of information about chemistry. another uncle was a Physicist and introduced Oliver to many of the wonders of science and nature.
The book traces the historical origins of Chemistry, interwoven with Olivers own discovery of Science set against a background of impending war in Europe in the late 1930's.
Oliver Sachs eventually went on the become a "celebrity" Neurologist & author in the U.S. but it is clear from this book that he retains many profoundly moving and exciting memories of a childhood in Britain learning the wonders of Chemistry.
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on 20 April 2009
Well written and a really enjoyable read. Boyhood in North London spanning WW2 years playing around with chemicals which you just wouldn't get to touch these days what with HSE regs. Also background to the man who went on to write so entertainingly about the brain and its workings.
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on 10 May 2010
I read Uncle Tungsten a long time ago, so cannot recall many details; but I do recall being totally gripped. I bought the book recently as a present for a friend who was next to me in hospital after an operation and we were chatting about chemistry and stuff. He had heard of Oliver Sacks, but not this particular title. I thought it would be of particular interest to him as he is a chemist (I am not). I have since learned that he too is reading it with total absorption. I can also highly recommend "Seeing Voices" about being deaf and the evolution of sign language in different parts of the world and between hearing adults and deaf children. Told almost in the manner of a thriller, it was a riveting page turner and very moving. Oliver Sacks writes with extraordinary lucidity and with great compassion and is a must for any reader.
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on 18 September 2013
Oliver Sacks is a really good writer, and here again he shows what he can do. A fascinating and privileged childhood despite some parts (boarding school) which were far from. His family was clearly wonderful, gifted, and willing to devote a lot of time to the young Oliver. His enthusiasm for chemistry as a lad mirrors my own; but his dedicated pursuit by far surpasses mine, and the fact that the family could afford to set him up with his own lab reminds me of Charles Darwin rather than either myself of my childhood friends. For anyone with an interest in chemistry, or just an interest in how a boy destined to be a real original thinker and therapist was raised, this is highly recommended.
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on 6 January 2014
OK I have read and enjoyed his books covering psychology, neurology, ferns, eye conditions, illusions, and music, and now I find he is also pretty much a self-trained chemist with a strong understanding of physics. Oliver Sacks is clearly something of a polymath, which is rare enough in itself, but a polymath who can write engaging popular science on all these topics (while sprinkling each book with scattered chunks of equally interesting autobiography) must surely be close to unique.
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on 6 June 2013
I chose this rating becouse I loved the content. The information and most particularly the way it is presented.
I would certenally advise it for a student (undergrad or even grad) as a "companion" book.
It would have been fantastic to have more illustrations and photographs inside.
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on 17 May 2014
To follow the burning enthusiasm of a small boy is most touching. The progress of Chemistry alongside his own growth as a thinker is exciting and touching. I am not a chemist, but this has not spoilt my delight in his enjoyment . I have still 30 % to read.
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"... I wanted to lay hands on cobaltite and niccolite, and compounds or minerals of manganese and molybdenum, of uranium and chromium ... I wanted to pulverize them, treat them with acid, roast them, reduce them - whatever was necessary - so I could extract their metals myself."
In the life of a pre-pubescent boy, whatever happened to the simple pleasures of sports, chasing girls to pull their pigtails, or playing cowboys and Indians?
UNCLE TUNGSTEN is the childhood memoir of Oliver Sacks, who, as the son of two physicians in 1930s and 40s London, adopts more cerebral interests. Actually, let's call them obsessions, e.g., Mendeleev's Table of the Elements:
"I copied it into my exercise book and carried it everywhere ... I spent hours now, enchanted, totally absorbed, wandering, making discoveries, in the enchanted garden of Mendeleev."
Oliver's propensity for intellectual pursuits was further encouraged by his two maternal uncles, Dave and Abe, two scientist/business entrepreneurs, the former nicknamed UNCLE TUNGSTEN for his preoccupation with that element and his process for manufacturing tungsten light bulbs.
This engaging and instructive volume is the author's narrative of his life from age 6 to 15, beginning in 1939 at the beginning of WWII, when he was protectively sent out of London to a boarding school. Returning in 1943, he set up his own household lab and began experimenting with a vengeance, his chief interest being metals and their properties. The text is leavened with descriptions of his home life, his parents and brothers, and summaries of the achievements of giants in the field of Chemistry: John Dalton, Robert Boyle, the Curies, Antoine Lavoisier, Dmitri Mendeleev, Ernest Rutherford, Michael Faraday, and others. UNCLE TUNGSTEN is a short, popular history of the science.
I'm not awarding 5 stars because obsessions, especially someone else's, can become tiresome. Even Oliver's parents, responsible as any for his scientific curiosity, could be driven to distraction. At one point on a family auto trip, the young Sacks blathers on about one of his favorite elements for twenty minutes in the back seat until his father shouts, "Enough about thallium!"
By the age of 15, Oliver's preoccupation with chemistry began to ebb as the hormones of adolescence began to flow. The boy, becoming a young man, discovers music and sex. Those then around him should thank the Almighty for puberty; he was becoming an insufferable eccentric. He grew up to be a neurologist.
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