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On the Move: A Life
by Oliver Sacks

Published: 2015-04-28
Hardcover : 416 pages
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“Intimate. . . . Brim[s] with life and affection.” —The New York Times

“[A] wonderful memoir, which richly demonstrates what an extraordinary life it has been. . . . A fascinating account—a sort of extended case study, really—of Sacks’ remarkably active, iconoclastic ...

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“Intimate. . . . Brim[s] with life and affection.” —The New York Times

“[A] wonderful memoir, which richly demonstrates what an extraordinary life it has been. . . . A fascinating account—a sort of extended case study, really—of Sacks’ remarkably active, iconoclastic adulthood.” —Los Angeles Times

“A glorious memoir. . . . In this volume Sacks opens himself to recognition, much as he has opened the lives of others to being recognized in their fullness.” —The Atlantic

“Pulses with his distinctive energy and curiosity.” —The New York Review of Books

When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.” It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction, and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.

With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions—weight lifting and swimming—also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists—Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick—who influenced him. On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer—and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.

Editorial Review

An Amazon Best Book of May 2015: Oliver Sacks’ On the Move is a disarming book. His honesty, energy, and clear restlessness illuminate each page, drawing the reader in to a life of great achievement in spite of some hurdles. The highest of those hurdles may have been his difficulty with romantic love. The origin of that difficulty can be traced to his mother’s severe reaction upon learning that he was gay: she called him “an abomination.” Sacks forgave his mother for that, even if he couldn’t shake her words. His solution appears to have been just to move on and keep moving—and the entire book is imbued with a sense of movement. This can be seen in his love of motorcycles and weight lifting, in his desire to travel, in his move from England to the United States, and even when he writes of his former addiction to amphetamines. Of course his mind was moving at all times as well, and in this book Sacks continues to write convincingly about the ways our minds make us human. Despite claiming shyness, Sacks amassed an impressive list of friends and acquaintances—from the poets Thom Gunn, Richard Selig, and W.H. Auden, to Francis Crick and Stephen Jay Gould, to Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. And there was always the writing. “I am a storyteller, for better and for worse,” he writes at the end of the book. When I read that line, I realized that I felt like he was sitting in the same room with me. -- Chris Schluep


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Discussion Questions

1. After reading his autobiography, what do you think of Oliver Sacks? How would you describe him—both as a man and as a physician? How familiar were you with Sacks and his work before reading On the Move? Have you read any other books by Oliver Sacks? if so, how does this one compare?

2. During the London Blitz, Oliver and his brother Michael were sent to a boarding school where he was bullied and beaten. What effect, both good and bad, did this treatment have on his life? In what way does Sacks see those experiences as aiding him in his work with patients?

3. Talk about the various influences in Oliver's young life, including this brother's schizophrenia, that prompted him to enter medicine.

4. Sacks is open about his shyness. Elsewhere, he has likened it to a disease, although most of us would consider it simply a personality trait. What do you think? How did Sacks's shy personality shape his life?

5. Follow-up to Question 4: Given Sack's excessive shyness, how does one explain his years in California, during the 60s—his biker days, drug addiction, and obsessive body building? This immoderate risk-taking would seem at odds with a painfully shy individual. Or would it?

6. How would you describe Sacks's gifts as a physician?

7. What do you think of his mother's reaction to Sack's homosexuality? What part might her anger have played in Sacks's adult life? Although Sacks himself doesn't speculate, do you want to give it a try?

8. What do you make of Sacks's 35-year celibacy?

9. Sacks has been accused of exploiting his patients for gain and fame and for substituting empirical evidence with anecdotal evidence. If medicine is based on a strict adherence to hard data, what room is there for the "soft" patient narratives of Oliver Sacks?

10. Talk about what you found most surprising in this book—or inspiring, humorous, offensive, or anything especially memorable about Oliver Sacks and his life. (From Litlovers)

Suggested by Members

by [email protected] (see profile) 06/14/17

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by [email protected] (see profile) 06/14/17
I don't

Member Reviews

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by nellysteele (see profile) 03/10/20

  "Loved it"by [email protected] (see profile) 06/14/17

An epic journey through an incredibly rich life. The story left me hungry for more Sacks books

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