am 13. Juli 2000
Having thoroughly enjoyed 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat' I opted to make this my second Dr. Sacks outing. Once again the good doctor provides compelling, humane, interesting stories about odd physiological conditions and the cultures that foster and contend with them. In multiple episodes that have him traveling to small volcanic islands in Micronesia, the entertaining neurologist studies a group of people who have been born without the ability to see color. Accompanying him is a Nordic specialist in this genetic trait, and one who also happens to share the same condition. As the troupe moves about the islands, they meet and talk with the achromatopes; the natives and Knut evince a feeling of camaraderie. Dr. Sacks plumbs their depths to hear them describe their world in terms of textures and monochrome shades, completely barren of color. Along the way, he experiences a taste of their 'night' lives, the skills they have developed to compensate for their lack of color sight. The next topic in the island hopping takes them to Guam where Sacks sees the patients of an associate who suffer from lytico-bodig, a degenerative condition which causes paralysis [not unlike Dr. Sacks' own neurological patients] and eventual dissolution. Having struck only a certain age bracket on the islands, the mysterious disease has confounded science for almost four decades and has almost killed off its victims. Finally, he treks to Rota to walk among the ancient Cycad plants that have captured his imagination since childhood. This novel appealed to the adventurer's spirit while I was reading it, listening to Dr. Sacks describes the beauty of the island culture and the supremely languid pace of life. Dr. Sacks' writing is not only aesthetically entertaining, but his case studies continue to pique the interest of the intellect. However, one is never so bowled over by the beauty of the surroundings as to forget the real human cases being presented. It is indeed an odd combination, this beauty and tragedy, but one that works very well in this novel producing an enjoyable read.
am 12. Juli 2000
"There is a grandeur in this view of life." -- Charles Darwin, Origin of the Species
In The Island of the Colorblind, Oliver Sacks embarks upon an adventure that must have been nearly as exciting for him as Darwin's enlightening journey to the Galapagos Islands. The famous neurologist, who also is the author of Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars, first conceived of the trip when he discovered that one of the Caroline Islands--Pingelap--held an unusually large community of achromatopes. Individuals with achromatopsia are born not only colorblind, but they also are light intolerant and unable to see fine detail.
Inspired by childhood readings of H.G. Wells (The Country of the Blind), Sacks wondered about the condition of such a uniquely individuated group of people living in isolation. He wished to explore what it meant to be colorblind and to live in a colorblind community. Sacks was joined by an American ophthalmologist named Robert Wasserman and Knut Nordby, a Norwegian physiologist and achromatope. These unlikely trailblazers converged in Hawaii and began island-hopping their way towards Pingelap.
Since Sacks was the one who wrote the book, the resulting work is not a dry, detached account of interactions with these unusual people; rather, The Island of the Colorblind is a thoroughly engaging, often humorous and touching account. Much of the joy in reading Sacks lies in witnessing the sheer glee and childlike wonder with which he approaches every escapade. Never just a neurologist, Sacks proves also to be a capable botanist, an incisive sociologist, and even a sort of secular missionary, cheerily dispensing sunglasses and other visual aids to the optically impaired natives of Pingelap.
The second section of the book describes Sacks' trip to Guam to study the cycads, palm-like evergreens found throughout that area, and their possible relationship to a neurological disorder the natives call lytico-bodig. The book concludes with a section of helpful and interesting notes.
As this book confirms, the characteristic of Sacks which endears him to readers the most is his love for humanity: he is capable of discovering and describing beauty in any person, no matter how seemingly disturbed, disfigured, or impaired.
am 11. Januar 1999
Oliver Sacks takes all those with an interest in science on a journey to the Island of The Colorblind. A neurologist that has both an extensive medical knowledge and a special respect for his patients, uses specific examples, imagery, and particular diction to express that everyone is unique and has their own distinct qualities that make them special, no matter how they are disabled. In his journey through the islands, Dr. Sacks discovers that being colorblind can bring out other capabilities and adaptations to everyday life. The journey begins with Dr. Sacks on his way to the island of Pingelap, one of the many small islands located in the Pacific. To familiarize the reader to the subject of which he is studying, the achromatope condition, and show his fascination for the inevitable disability, Oliver Sacks tells of past findings of colorblind colonies and other isolated conditions. He provides several allusions to Darwin, Conan Doyle, and other explorers. All this is done while "island hopping" and provides an experience of making a voyage for the reader. Once on the island, many ecstatic islanders greet Dr. Sacks, and with them they bring their intricate culture. While Oliver Sacks experiences the island, he conducts studies and is fascinated by how well the achromatopes have adapted their culture and lifestyle to being colorblind. After offering medical assistance to the people of the island, he then moves on to Pohnpei, a larger island just West of Pingelap. It is here that Dr. Sacks discovers the rich heritage of the island. He also studies the lifestyles of the islanders and runs several tests, eventually distributing visors and special sunglasses, similar to his work on Pingelap. The last two sections of the book are not related to the first two and contribute only little to the overall purpose and message, mollifying the respect the reader had for the achromatopes. Dr. Sacks provides a vivid account of his journey and medical finding through specific examples. Whether it's a flashback or a fishing trip on Pingelap, examples are used to vitalize the island experience and create a respect for the islanders and their condition. In one of Oliver Sacks' experiences, he discovers that being an achromatope can be advantageous. By removing color, objects can be seen in greater detail, viewing every crack, curve, and texture. The appearance of movement may also be enhanced. "...They seem to be able to see the fish in their dim course underwater, the glint of moonlight on their outstretched fins as they leap, as well as, or perhaps better than, anyone else." In the particular example, fishing is made easier and may be done at night due to the colorblindness of the islanders. Ironically, the islands themselves are very colorful. But achromatopes do not respect the island for its color. In another instance, the island of Pingelap is only seen, by the colorblind, for it's beauty. To us, "color-normals," it seems rather meaningless, a jumble of a single color. The reader is also introduced and familiarized with several specific people of the islands. "Apart from the social problems it causes, Entis does not feel his colorblindness a disability." Specific examples are important in the development of sympathy and respect for the achromatopes and in taking the reader on the same journey that Oliver Sacks experienced. Imagery creates a vivid description of each encounter experienced by Dr. Sacks. This does anything but mitigate the reader; in contrast, the audience becomes more involved and therefore has a greater respect for each of the achromatopes of the islands. It is seen through Oliver Sacks' descriptions, that each individual is a special person in his or her own way. "While our equipment was loaded onto an improvised trolley - an unstable contraption of roughhewn planks on trembling bicycle wheels..." As Dr. Sacks shares his first experience with the people of Pingelap, he expresses through vivid imagery the unimportance of technology and the simplicity of the natives to the island. This helps to alleviate the misconcieved attitudes towards all the properties we hold dear, wealth and prosperity. Imagery also develops each example Oliver Sacks uses to take his audience on his excursion through the islands. For example, after fishing at night, Sacks describes and concludes the experience with glowing detail. "The sand itself, broader with the tide's retreat, was still wet with the phosphorescent sea, and now, as we walked upon it, our footsteps left a luminous spoor." Also, in the book of Guam, Sacks uses imagery, though his focus is not as much on his message of sympathy and respect for these who are achromatopes, he shares his experience well. "Clouds of tiny iridescent blue zebra fish swam around me, between my arms, between my legs, unstartled by my, movements" Here, Sacks is sharing his snorkeling adventure. Being a neurologist and an explorer/researcher, Dr. Oliver Sacks Iluminates himself through many medical terms and with professor like phrases that help create his tone for sharing his experiences of the islands. This diction used by Sacks can be seen through several examples from the text. His word choice, defined as scholarly, emphasizes a doctor like tone of voice. In most instances, Sacks uses medical terms to asseverate himself. "...He has difficulty fixating, hence his eyes make groping, hystagmic jerks." Diction can help the reader create a more focused and in depth thought or idea. This is used to develop respect and empathy for the patients and whose lives are effected by colorblindness through the author's journey to the islands. Specific examples, imagery, and diction coincide with one another to take the reader on a vivid jaunt through the Island of the Colorblind. This gives birth to a certain respect for the unique and indeed special islanders. It also teaches the audience to appreciate people for who they are and not for their incapability's. For many things "cannot be seen by color-normals," but only by the colorblind.
am 9. Februar 2000
This is a good book.Sacks is a good writer, he tells a moving story, his descriptions of diving are fine, and the ending is truly beautiful.
However, I am going to take this opportunity to comment on a trend I have noticed, and take exception to. This book has 199 pages of text followed by 67 pages of notes. In other words, the notes are about one third of the text. This is inexcusable. Six pages in the final chapter are accompanied by no less that TEN pages of notes. Frankly, I got tired of being interrupted by the author.
I feel that writers are getting sloppy. Rather than work an aside gracefully into the text, writers just dump all these digressions into footnotes and let the reader flip.
If we are going to pile up footnotes, we need to revise the format, maybe even return to the old usage of putting footnotes at the foot of the page.
am 15. Februar 1999
I was transformed and transported by this book. As a physician, I was caught up totally and completely in the medical Sherlock Holmesian "whodunnit" quest for scientific answers. As a human being residing for a time on planet earth, I was immersed in the beauty and the mystery of places that seem almost fairy-like and magical through the keenly observant eyes of Dr. Sacks. As a soul flickering briefly on that continuum of deep time, I felt a profound sense of awe and existential brevity, but also a sense of connectedness and immortality.
Having just finished the book today, I am aware of a sadness within me, a sadness that my journey to the South Pacific with Dr. Sacks has ended. I return to my clinic tomorrow morning to see patients, but my heart for some days to come will be on Pingelap, or Guam, or.......
am 10. Februar 1998
I've been a big fan of Sacks since _Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,_ and have often reread that, his best book. This book, however, is dull and lame. No surprise to learn that Sacks' vacations are pleasant for him -- less surprise to learn they're tedious for us. Illustrated history of cycads -- bah. In a rare dilletantish mood, Sacks rambles around Micronesia shaking hands and looking at vegetation. Absent are the usual meticulous studies of the human mind; the passion is diluted by a rambling, shambling pseudostructure of historical fragments, slogging through ruins, and hanging out with old chums. Then... there are 100 pp of notes about an already tiresome text! Any writer is entitled to a mistake--I will buy Sacks' next book. This one, however, is going into my storage bin.
am 1. April 1997
The book is a nicely done overview of the achromats of Pingelap, some of whom I have the pleasure of having as students at the College of Micronesia-FSM. As maintainer of the only sakau en Pohnpei market review web page, I feel compelled to note that in regards pages 88-89 sakau has differing effects on different people. This may be exactly because sakau only cuts off sensory input from the voluntary muscles. The loss of accustomed input likely has different effects on different minds, possibly somewhat akin to sensory deprivation tank experiences. The mind itself is not affected as the active ingredients, kavanoid proteins, are apparently too large to cross the blood brain barrier. - Dana Lee Ling, Palikir, Pohnpei, 1997
am 28. Mai 2000
What I've liked about reading an Oliver Sacks book is that he offers you a variegated read with a thick & juicy notes section. He writes about all manner of things; sunsets & airplane flights; friends with maskun & scotopic times; coconut crabs & cycad ferns; all in a colorful & articulate language. He is a rare scientist who has not lost his awe, wonder & keen observational skills. On the tiny Pacific atoll of Pingelap thrives a community born totally colorblind who can describe their world in rich terms of patterns & tones. Oliver Sacks sets off to explore, taking you along from Jutland to the South Seas & points & times in between. Lovely read. Highly recommended. ()
am 22. Dezember 1998
Throughout his collected works Sacks dispenses his accumulated wit and wisdom with uncommon respect for his case studies. To Oliver, his patients are not just objects for study, but also people. He gives them grace and self-respect even among the most bizarre neurologic symptoms.
"Island of the Colorblind" is no exception, as he explores the compensatory visual acuity of his achromatics, and the good-natured fatalism of his Guam studies. The reader is left with real affection for the afflicted.
Sacks is a rare combination of inquiring mind and caring physician -- not to mention engaging writer. This book is a treat.
am 17. Dezember 1999
When is a disability not a disability? When everyone is disabled, perhaps.
Sacks takes us to an island where a large proportion of the population are achromatopes; they can't see colour. He then contrasts their struggles with that of an achromatope living in Western society. The differences in their experiences are remarkable.
I always like how Sacks brings the entire setting to life. He doesn't interest you in just the patients; he paints a living, even colourful, picture of their life and society. (Pun not intended.)