Sacks: Uncle Tungsten (2)
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Oliver W. Sacks, Uncle Tungsten : Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. viii + 337 pages.
I think I’ve said this before, but I adore Oliver Sacks. To the point that discovering he’s not married made me happy, even though he was born in the same year as my grandfather. I think we could make a spring-winter romance work. Can you even imagine being able to have lots of conversations with him whenever you wanted?! *sigh* But I suppose you want to hear about the book, not just about my author crush.
As the title implies, this is a memoir of Sacks’ years growing up. It’s much more personal than his other books, and it was marvelous to see so many sides to his personality. That being said, while Sacks’ family was one of those super-cool genius style ones, he didn’t always have a happy childhood. Like many other parents, Sacks’ sent him away from their London home during the Blitz of World War II in an effort to keep him safe. Unfortunately, his boarding school was quite Dickensian (love that adjective) and inflicted major psychological trauma.
Fortunately for us, that’s not what most of the book is about. Most of it is about how curious and precocious Sacks was as a child, and the wonderful, zany family members who encouraged his scientific explorations. It was quite marvelous to read about the experiments he got up to with chemicals that nowadays no young boy could get a hold of. And Sacks brought chemistry to life in a way I’ve never seen done before; chemistry was my least-favourite class in high school, but while reading this book I became insanely excited over and enamoured with the periodic table.
Sacks seems to effortlessly combine personal stories with mini-biographies of famous scientists (primarily chemists) and mini-histories of different inventions. Meanwhile, his own considerable intellect and perfect writing style are on full display.
I’ve read five Sacks books now, and this is my favourite; I was so sad to put it back through the library’s book chute and plan to buy my own copy to savour. I highly recommend it to everyone.
-- Notes by EVA