And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 13 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

I read one book by Dr. Sacks when I was in high school. It was fascinating, but I was also at an age that I didn't really feel the need to explore more into the background of the author. When this book came across Netgalley, I immediately picked it up given how much I enjoyed The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. 

What I came to realize is that Oliver Sacks is a fascinating man. He subverts everything I think of when I think of scientist. Sacks road motorcycles and took so many drugs. Yet he was brilliant and loved, and the author clearly had a great relationship with him. 

The book does suffer a bit because it was written and put down several times and feels that way. It just occasionally has flow issues and feels a bit a repetitive. But the author definitely cares for Oliver Sacks and does his life justice in this book. And in the end, I definitely will give more of Sacks' books a try.
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I do not know much of Oliver Sacks except for that one book of his: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. It is this which made me want to know more about the great mind behind it.
This biography is written by a very close friend of Oliver Sacks and I can see the love and respect for him, despite all his flaws and pain. I always expect biographies to cut through into the shadows of the subject, but this book reaches out further than that: it is grounded and neutral.
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This biography was well researched and contained a lot of information that I hadn’t previously read in other books.  The author’s attention to detail is evident in the writing.  Highly recommend!
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And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? is an intricately crafted, honest, and fascinating memoir and biography of Dr. Oliver Sacks by nonfiction titan Lawrence Weschler. Released 13th Aug by Macmillan on their Farrar, Straus & Giroux imprint, it's 400 pages and available in hardcover, ebook, and audio formats.

The point for me with biography is that the book captures the voice of the subject. This book really made Oliver Sacks live for me. The author had an enduring friendship and access to Dr. Sacks over decades. Additionally, he had detailed notes and interviews with friends and acquaintances as well as papers, journals, and letters.

I was familiar with Dr. Sacks through his works, Awakenings , and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat , and thought at the time that he would be a fascinating person to know. This book has cemented that to a certainty. What a fascinating man he was!

In a lot of ways, Sacks reminded me of Richard Feynman, both polymaths, both incredibly brilliant, both quite odd in a lot of ways, brutally (unwittingly?) honest, especially with people. There's also a lot of wit and humor here. The retelling of him being in a rage and, in the absence of alcohol, chugging a bottle of Worcestershire sauce which made him hiccup violently, made me giggle out loud.

This is a brilliant biography and is told with honesty, kindness, and warmth. The author is a prodigiously talented writer and the prose (even with difficult or sad subjects) is written with generosity and fairness. The story of his and his brother's experiences as children at boarding school moved me to tears.

Five stars. I recommend it unreservedly to lovers of biography, science bio, nonfiction, medical bios, etc.
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And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? by Lawrence Weschler is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in early August.

A biography sourced from Weschler’s correspondence and closeness to Dr Oliver Sacks, which is often sidetracked by interviews with Sacks’ colleagues, and ultimately guided for it all to be published after Sacks’ death. Quite, quite intelligent, philosophical, and dynamically sourced, it amounts to being 85% a steady, yet chatty set of dialogues during four years in the 1980s, before tapering off to his latter years where it's more longform, paragraphed, and entwined partially by Weschler's own life. I was most impressed by the smaller, quirkier aspects of Sacks' personality, like being a voracious, appreciative eater and injuring himself in the most uncanny and fateful ways.
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I first starting reading Oliver Sacks in college and grew to appreciate his humane approach to medicine and science. Aspects of his work, like Jane Goodall's were pointed to as problematic but both have provided great insight into the depth and breadth of what can be philosophically called the soul.

Lawrence Weschler's book shines a light on Sacks in a way that continues in the spirit of Sacks' accounts of his patients. One can see why Sacks had the patience to delve deeper into the lives of people that other doctors were uninterested in exploring beyond the surface. The exploration of Sacks is compassionate without trying to conceal his aspects of his character that were brittle or difficult. It helps that Weschler became Sacks' friend over the years and was able to know him beyond interviews for a profile. Although the Biography/Memoir is focused on Sacks it is a wonderful place to start for anyone interested in the questions of modern medicine, the difficulties of the current system and the type of commitment that a different type of medicine necessitates.

Can't wait to read this again!
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Weschler befriended Oliver Sacks back in the 1980s and planned to write a biographical piece about him, which Sacks later asked him not to publish.  Then several years ago as he was dying, he changed his mind and insisted Weschler write the book after all.  This is the book.  I just love Oliver Sacks.  You know those "who would you like to eat dinner with, dead or alive?" questions that I hate because I never know how to answer them?  Well, in reading just the prologue to this book, I realized my answer is Oliver Sacks.  I adore his books and the picture I've gotten of him over the years.  It is rare that I am very much affected by the deaths of "famous" people, but I found myself repeatedly crying for several days after finding out he had died.  All of this is just to say that I was very excited to be able to read this book, and it did not disappoint.  The majority of the book is focused on the time around when Weschler met Dr. Sacks and originally planned to write about him, in the 80s, and it's very interesting to see him from the perspective of someone who knew him.  He was such an odd man and I imagine quite a difficult one at times, but if anything, I feel even more sad that he is gone after having read this.  I loved it.  Five stars.
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I have read only two of Oliver Sacks's books, but already I was very moved by how incredible this man was.  Reading Lawrence Weschler's book further cemented that opinion.  Weschler writes from the authority of having befriended Dr. Sacks for 30 years and offers up funny stories.  It is a long read, one that tempted me to skim through particularly tedious passages, but it is worthwhile.


Thank you to NetGalley, Farrar, Straus and Giroux , and Lawrence Weschler for allowing me to access an advance release copy in exchange for my honest review.
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The world is largely indifferent to opinions, but everybody needs a good laugh, so I offer up two funny passages from this book.

    His housekeeper regularly writes him lists of things he should buy. “The other day,” he tells me, “prominent on the list was the word 'FAIL.' I figured this must be some prodigiously self-deprecatory detergent and set about looking for it. But no stores had it – and I decided the name must have been self-fulfilling. Or so I reported to my housekeeper when I came home, to which she countered, 'No no, you idiot – not fail – FOIL!' .” (Kindle location 4033)

    … Oliver is, he tells me over the phone, in a “parasuicidal rage. Indeed,” he goes on, “in the absence of alcohol I have just consumed an entire bottle of Worcestershire sauce and it is making my hiccup violently.” (l. 4201)

Those nice people at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Netgalley allowed me to have a free electronic review copy of this book, so I dived in at the beginning and read it through to the end, trying to keep up a momentum because I think the implicit promise here is that the review should be written before the book is published. Although I enjoyed the book well enough in this way, I think the book might be enjoyed better if you picked it up, read an entertaining chapter, and then perhaps put it aside for a few weeks. Alternately, you could borrow it from the library, read a few chapters (perhaps reading out of order would even be better), return it to the library, and borrow it again a few weeks later. The reason I suggest this eccentric method is that there is a certain amount of overlap in consecutive chapters, which can be a little tiresome if you are speeding through the book in a linear fashion, but would probably be completely welcome if you haven't opened it for a few weeks.

I thought I read once that Kurt Vonnegut jokingly suggested that his memoirs would be entitled Hell to Live With. I can't find immediate confirmation of this on the internet, so I suggest it as an alternate title to this book. Sachs, as portrayed by his longtime friend, comes off as some madcap offspring of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, super-brainy, but tending to get into scrapes due to a combination of bad judgment, stubbornness, indifference to social norms, and the desire to do good.

A small amount of previous experience with the work of Sachs will also add to the enjoyment, which is to say, it's sort of a book for fans. I read Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, and that was certainly enough context for this book.

I plead guilty to occasional skimming. Sachs apparently spent a long time with writer's block during composition of the book that would ultimately be titled A Leg to Stand On (ALTSO), and sometimes I just wanted to yell at my ebook reader, “Just finish the damn book already.” I imagine many of his friends must have felt the same way. Another skimming episode occurred when the author re-printed parts of a long negative review of ALTSO from a British magazine. It should say something to the reader that, while Sachs is often a pleasure to read, the negative review is eye-wateringly dull and pompous.

In lieu of a traditional “you should read this book”, I think I will conclude this recommendation by stating that it made me vow to go back to the some of works of the man himself that I have yet to read, because he comes off as somebody who would be great to be with in book form, where you can easily close him up and put him down.
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And How Are You, Dr. Sacks? By Lawrence Weschler is a BIographical memoir.
Mr. Weschler was originally writing a piece for the New Yorker and formed a great friendship with Dr. Sacks.
The best way to describe this book is by saying that it's like a 30-year long interview.
I have read multiple books by Dr. Sacks so I enjoyed this greatly.
Very well written and interesting.
Thank you NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the opportunity to read this book.
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I reaceived this copy of And How Are You, Dr. Sacks from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through Netgalley.

The quickest way I can describe this book is an interview and a friendship that spanned over 30 years.

Weschler's affection for Sacks shines through but somehow manages not to come off as a kiss-up.

Chock with fascinating interviews this book is a must read for Sacks fans.
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This is a MARVELOUS paean/biography to a truly amazing man whose larger-than-life life was even more intriguing than I realized... Weschler has written a lovely tribute to a pioneer that recognizes not only Sacks' brilliance but also his humanity and manages to pay homage to - and reveals the warts associated with - both. The writing is clear and yet still descriptive, walking the line between too much and not enough information with a delicate touch that feels respectful yet still never pulls punches. There is a lot of material here, and the read takes time - but it's time well spent.
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