Oliver Sacks' Reading List

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The late neurologist, naturalist and best-selling author was a keen reader who had plenty of books to recommend. Of course, it comes as no surprise that books about the psyche and brain are on his must-read list, but there are some fiction titles that may just surprise you.
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What happens to the brain when it's on mind-altering drugs? Forget Hunter S. Thompson for now. Aldous Huxley gives us all a first-hand account of his experiences with mescaline, writing what perhaps may be a great example of essay writing and journal keeping.
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Oliver Sack's isn't the first, and neither will he be the last to recommend this epic tale of seafaring revenge. It's a great study of a psyche behind a man who's hell bent on achieving his goals.
Moby Dick, Herman Melville
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Aldous Huxley is one of the rare fiction writers who work gets repeatedly recommended in Sack's list. Brave New World, much like 1984, was a fantastic piece of sci-fiction dystopian writing of what might be very plausible in the future.
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Dostoevsky is one of the great Russian writers that gets on many people's recommended list. And The Idiot is arguably one of his more accessible work, if you want to get started.
The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoevsky
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Love him or hate him, Charles Dickens is the definition of Victorian writing. Great Expectations is not an easy read, given its volume and length, but one thing's for sure, it's one of the classics that will stick.
Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
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Oliver Sacks was a man much intrigued by the brain and the workings of it. William James' The Principles of Psychology is perhaps one of the earliest works in trying to decipher the way we think, react and respond to stimuli and surroundings.
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This one is not so much Jurassic Park, but more Heart of Darkness maybe. The Lost World is a splendid look into the South American basin where dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures still exist. One of the fears of Victorian writing is that they may seem droll and uninspiring sometimes, but Sir Arthur writes with such vividness and clarity that we couldn't bear to put it down.
The Lost World, Arthur Conan Doyle
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Medicine isn't just about cold, hard science. It involves stories of healthcare workers, patients and the families that are involved. Cecil Helman, who trained in South Africa and worked in London for 27 years shares the social, political and cultural context of medicine and healing.
Suburban Shaman, Cecil Helman
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H.G. Wells is best known for War of the Worlds, but Oliver Sacks chose one of his more underrated works. The sci-fi maestro definitely has a knack and skill when it comes to this genre, and this collection of short stories definitely shine.
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Tolstoy is also another Russian writer that gets recommended, and for good reason. And instead of the acclaimed Anna Karenina, Oliver Sacks chooses short story Master and Man. The detailing of protagonist Vasili Andreyitch's existential crisis as he freezes to death allows Tolstoy to show off his literary skill, as well as his philosophical take on life.
Master and Man, Leo Tolstoy
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Schopenhauer's work is one of the most important philosophical works of the nineteenth century, and the basic statement of one important stream of post-Kantian thought. He's regarded as one of the more optimistic and original philosophers around. And with this work being fairly easy to understand, it's one to be slowly digested over the months
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For a lot of us, our sight may perhaps be the most important function with our eyes send visions to the brain. Touching the Rock is John Hull's own memoir shortly after he went blind, touching on how food and sex lose much of their allure and playing with one's child may be agonizingly difficult. It's an eloquent insight into a life that may be lacking in one aspect, yet also rich in others.
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As a scientist, The Descent of Man was surely a must-read for him. But as laypeople, this book maps out just how different we are from the rest of the species. From evolutionary psychology to evolutionary ethics and differences between human races, The Descent of Man covers a wide range of discussion topics. So even if you don't read it from cover to cover, you'll still walk away with something.
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The Anatomy of Melancholy seems to read like a medical textbook about mental disorders - their causes, symptoms, and cures. But Robert Burton writes in so much detail, and with such astute observance that it becomes almost philosophical. Oliver Sacks must have realised how useful it is to his own area of work, but more than just that, it's also a great insight into mental disorders, which at this point, still has much to uncover.
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The big question: can the "soul" survive without a body. Can our consciousness go beyond the flesh? Published nearly 100 years ago, this book still remains essential and at the forefront of telepathy and the unconscious.
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Nietzche is the one philosopher who drags the rest before him. Beyond Good and Evil sees him move beyond the binary of good and evil and instead, wants us to free ourselves from these definitions and mental tyranny.
Beyond Good and Evil, Friedrich Nietzsche
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This heavyweight is definitely no easy read, but James Joyce's epic is one of those must-reads in life. It's one of the most important pieces of literature to define the Modernist movement. Declan Kiberd also declared, "Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking." If you want to pick up a novel so profound and deep, then this one's for you.
Ulysses, James Joyce
James Joyce
Ulysses
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Oliver Sacks said that this book was "... [a] gentle founding myth that pleased my romantic side."
The Jungle Book, Joseph Rudyard Kipling
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Sci-fi fans will definitely love this, but one thing we love about Childhood's End is its Buddhist philosophy behind it - that nirvana is the goal to the future. Kurt Vonnegut said of this novel that it is one of the few masterpieces in the science fiction genre.
Childhood's End, Arthur Clarke
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