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on 29 March 1999
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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on 20 December 2012
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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on 12 June 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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on 10 August 2013
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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on 16 July 2013
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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on 4 January 2016
If proof were ever needed that fact is stranger than fiction, this book, by the remarkable neurologist Oliver Sacks, provides it.
Awakenings is an account of what happened when patients affected by a strange kind of sleeping sickness - encephalitic lethargica - contracted after the first world war, were 'reawakened' by L-DOPA, a drug usually given to people with Parkinson's Disease, in 1969. The drug had an astonishing, explosive, “awakening” effect and in some cases the fallout was horrific; worse even than the semi-comatose state that many of those afflicted had inhabited for decades. For others it provided a welcome release from their frozen state, albeit with complications.
The book takes the form of case studies so you get to know about the person before they contracted the illness.
It is not an easy read - I did have to read it in small sections so that I could absorb all the information - and at points it is very sad, but Sacks' gift for story telling and seeing his patients as human beings shines through.
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on 5 September 2008
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 Parkinsonian symptoms. Real Rip-Van-Winkles woke up to changed selves and changed worlds.

This account of the disease's progress, the patients' experience, and the effects of L-dopa is overwhelming in its truth, sincerity, and above all, its humanity.

I particularly enjoyed the section at the end of the book in this edition, where one gains an insight into other ways to understand the disease, including the use of non-linear equations, and the application of Chaos theory to understand the side effects of L-dopa.
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on 30 June 2015
Excellent book, factual and insightful. Tracing back through a family history, it has been so informative and allows access to how this illness affected families and future lives. It has such relevance today with so many neuronal antibodies being newly identified. A must for any enquiring neurologist, neuroimmunologist and psychiatrist, and an excellent reference book for future clinicians.
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on 1 February 2013
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. There are a lot of medical terms in his book, I was not expecting this so I was very pleased to be able to instantly refer to my on -screen dictionary at click of a button on my kindle. He is a very sensitive author and doctor and I feel quite strongly for the plight the patients found themselves in after contracting the sleeping sickness. The mind and the chemicals within us are a fascination to me. Are we just a bunch of chemicals, our personalities and very being controlled by chemicals/hormones within us? Fascinating subject matter.

It is amazing how the right medication managed to awaken these patients who had been effectively asleep for decades.
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on 29 October 2015
Fascinating in depth study of people affected by post encephalitis lethargic a. And their awakening by el dopa. Quite technical but should be of interesting to anyone with a medical background, will definately look at authors other books.
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