Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

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Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Dec 11, 2013 - Biography & Autobiography - 352 pages
From the distinguished neurologist who is also one of the most remarkable storytellers of our time—a riveting memoir of his youth and his love affair with science, as unexpected and fascinating as his celebrated case histories.

“A rare gem…. Fresh, joyous, wistful, generous, and tough-minded.” —The New York Times Book Review

Long before Oliver Sacks became the bestselling author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, he was a small English boy fascinated by metals—also by chemical reactions (the louder and smellier the better), photography, squids and cuttlefish, H.G. Wells, and the periodic table. In this endlessly charming and eloquent memoir, Sacks chronicles his love affair with science and the magnificently odd and sometimes harrowing childhood in which that love affair unfolded.

In Uncle Tungsten we meet Sacks’ extraordinary family, from his surgeon mother (who introduces the fourteen-year-old Oliver to the art of human dissection) and his father, a family doctor who imbues in his son an early enthusiasm for housecalls, to his “Uncle Tungsten,” whose factory produces tungsten-filament lightbulbs. We follow the young Oliver as he is exiled at the age of six to a grim, sadistic boarding school to escape the London Blitz, and later watch as he sets about passionately reliving the exploits of his chemical heroes—in his own home laboratory. Uncle Tungsten is a crystalline view of a brilliant young mind springing to life, a story of growing up which is by turns elegiac, comic, and wistful, full of the electrifying joy of discovery.


Uncle Tungsten
37 3 Exile
An Ideal Metal
Light for the Masses
The Land of Stibnite
Chemical Recreations
Stinks and Bangs
Lines of Force
Home Life
A Pocket Spectroscope
Madame Curies Element
The World Set Free
Brilliant Light

A Chemical Language
A PoetChemist
Mr Daltons Round Bits of Wood
The End of the Affair
The Periodic Table of the Elements

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About the author (2013)

OLIVER SACKS was a neurologist, writer, and professor of medicine. Born in London in 1933, he moved to New York City in 1965, where he launched his medical career and began writing case studies of his patients. Called the “poet laureate of medicine” by The New York Times, Sacks is the author of thirteen books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Awakenings, which inspired an Oscar-nominated film and a play by Harold Pinter. He was the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, and was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2008 for services to medicine. He died in 2015.

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