'On the Move: A Life' by Oliver Sacks

On the Move

Anyone who knows Oliver Sacks as the kindhearted, white-bearded doctor and author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat might look at the cover of his new book and think: When did he look like that? But the photo of him as a leather-clad, Muscle Beach-ready Adonis riding a motorcycle sums up his memoir well. On the Move is the story of a man who was adventurous in his career and in his personal life. While he describes himself as a quiet, shy, solitary figure, Sacks writes vividly about the early years he spent motorbiking around California, hooking up with strangers, and experimenting with drugs. Sent away from his family during World War II and crushed by his mother’s refusal to accept his homosexuality, he writes that he always had trouble with “the three Bs”: bonding, belonging, and believing. Though he seems to thrive in those areas, considering his rich friendships with many important thinkers, including the poets W.H. Auden and Thom Gunn, and his lifelong faith that he could break new ground in research on Tourette’s syndrome, autism, and other mental-health conditions. On the Move—released months after an emotional New York Times op-ed piece in which Sacks announced he had terminal cancer—might be his most personal book, filled with diary entries and letters from friends. It’s also the most open he’s ever been about his professional reputation: He was celibate for 35 years after being accused (falsely, he says) of having inappropriate relationships with patients, and he’s still hurt by the medical community’s refusal to acknowledge his literary reputation. What’s missing here, though, is deeper insight into what earned him that reputation in the first place: his intense devotion to his patients, whose stories are mostly relegated to other books. B+

On the Move
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