The island of the colorblind: and, Cycad island

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Knopf, 1997 - Medical - 298 pages
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Oliver Sacks has always been fascinated by islands - their remoteness, their mystery, above all the unique forms of life they harbor. For him, islands conjure up equally the romance of Melville and Stevenson, the adventure of Magellan and Cook, and the scientific wonder of Darwin and Wallace. Drawn to the tiny Pacific atoll of Pingelap by intriguing reports of an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind, Sacks finds himself setting up a clinic in a one-room island dispensary, where he listens to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow. And on Guam, where he goes to investigate the puzzling neurodegenerative paralysis endemic there for a century, he becomes, for a brief time, an island neurologist, making house calls with his colleague John Steele, amid crowing cockerels, cycad jungles, and the remains of a colonial culture. The islands reawaken Sacks' lifelong passion for botany - in particular, for the primitive cycad trees, whose existence dates back to the Paleozoic - and the cycads are the starting point for an intensely personal reflection on the meaning of islands, the dissemination of species, the genesis of disease, and the nature of deep geologic time. Out of an unexpected journey, Sacks has woven an unforgettable narrative which immerses us in the romance of island life, and shares his own compelling vision of the complexities of being human.

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Contents

Island Hopping
3
Pingelap
28
Pohnpei
58
Copyright

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About the author (1997)

Oliver Wolf Sacks is a neurologist and writer. He was born in London, England on July 9, 1933. Sacks earned his medical degree at Oxford University and performed his internship at Middlesex Hospital in London and Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He completed his residency at UCLA. In 1965, Sacks became a clinical neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor and Beth Abraham Hospital. He also worked with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Sacks' work in a Bronx charity hospital led him to write the book Awakenings in 1973. The book inspired a play by Harold Pinter and became a film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. Sacks was also elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.