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The Island of the Colorblind


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About the Author

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.


Avid users of audiobooks often risk their listening time on works they might never choose to read. Anyone stuck in commuter traffic, washing dishes, or waiting at an airport will know the welcome relief of becoming lost in a foreign subject. This unique audiobook certainly provides the listener with an unusual and refreshing experience. Out in the middle of the Pacific, not terribly far from Guam, exists an island where an unusually large percentage of the population suffer from a severe and very rare form of colorblindness. The author uses his investigation of this phenomenon to introduce the compelling story of the islands, genetics, human migration, and unusual kindness. Sacks himself reads, providing a flawless narration. This program is not for everyone's taste, but it merits inclusion in any collection where serious subjects are addressed.‘Ray Vignovich, West Des Moines P.L., Ia.

Neurologist Sacks, famed for his investigations of unusual medical conditions (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, etc.), went to Micronesia in 1993 to study firsthand two rare disorders: achromatopsia, or total congenital color blindness, which afflicts more than 5% of the population on the islands of Pingelap and Pohnpei; and lytico-bodig, a fatal, progressive neurodegenerative disease common in Guam, causing paralysis, dementia and catatonia. His total immersion in island life makes this luminous, beautifully written report a wondrous voyage of discovery. Most of those born color-blind never learn to read because they can't see the teacher's writing on the board; they can't work outdoors in bright light, and are unable to see fine detail; yet many achromatopes, Sacks found, develop acute compensatory memory skills and curiosity and thus live in a world of heightened reality. On Guam he visited families tragically scarred by lytico-bodig, a disease blamed by some scientists on the natives' ingestion of cycad trees' toxic seeds; other researchers suspect that the cause can be traced to a virus, diet as a whole or genetics. With aplomb, Sacks wears many hats‘cultural anthropologist, naturalist, explorer, ethnographer, neuroscientist‘as he delves into the islands' volcanic origins, their archeological wonders (e.g., Pohnpei's megalithic ruins, remnants of a monumental civilization), their unique flora and fauna (nocturnal tree-climbing snakes, iridescent ferns, dwarf forests), their bloody colonial history under Spanish and German rule, their still active indigenous myths. As a travel writer, Sacks ranks with Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin. As an investigator of the mind's mysteries, he is in a class by himself. Illustrated with drawings, maps. 150,000 first printing; Literary Guild selection; Random House audio. (Jan.)

YA‘Fans of Sacks's previous publications will be enchanted by the newest work of the famous neurologist. Written as a travelogue/medical adventure, the book is actually an account of two separate observational journeys. The first, to an island in Micronesia called Pingelap, was to observe a community with an extraordinary large number of the population suffering from an inherited colorblindness. The author offers a vivid description of this handicap: extreme sensitivity to light, less than one tenth of normal vision, and a lack of fixation of the eyes resulting in repeated "nystagmic jerks." The second voyage was to Guam to observe the sufferers of lytico-bodig. Victims can have progressive paralysis, Parkinson-like symptoms, or even dementia. The clear way in which the author portrays the human spirit coping with vast disabilities will appeal to YAs interested in medical and science oddities. From night fishing with achromotopes on Pingelap to playing catch with a "frozen" bodig sufferer on Guam, Sacks carries readers along on a wave of interest and opens a fascinating, little-known world. Students who are looking for science, medical, or travelogue literature‘or just attention-grabbing reading‘will be swept away by The Island of the Colorblind.‘Carol DeAngelo, formerly at Fairfax County Public Library, VA

"Magical . . . Sacks's fans are in for a treat." --Kirkus

"An explorer of that most wonderous of islands, the human brain," writes D.M. Thomas in The New York Times Book Review, "Oliver Sacks also loves the oceanic kind of islands." Both kinds figure movingly in this book--part travelogue, part autobiography, part medical mystery story--in which Sacks's journeys to a tiny Pacific atoll and the island of Guam become explorations of the time, and the complexities of being human. "Sacks's total immersion in islands life makes this luminous, beautifully written report a wonderous voyage of discovery. As a travel writer, Sacks ranks with Paul Theroux and Bruce Chatwin. As an investigator of the mind's mysteries, he is in a class by himself."
--Publishers Weekly

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