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Uncle Tungsten

Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

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Paperback published by Vintage (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)

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About This Book
Long before Oliver Sacks became a distinguished neurologist and bestselling writer, 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, the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings 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.
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Long before Oliver Sacks became a distinguished neurologist and bestselling writer, 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, the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings 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.
Product Details
Paperback (352 pages)
Published: September 17, 2002
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Imprint: Vintage
ISBN: 9780375704048
Other books byOliver Sacks
  • Musicophilia

    Musicophilia
    Tales of Music and the Brain
    Revised and Expanded With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music. Illuminating, inspiring, and utterly unforgettable, Musicophilia is Oliver Sacks' latest masterpiece.

    The Mind's Eye

    The Mind's Eye
    With compassion and insight, Dr. Oliver Sacks again illuminates the mysteries of the brain by introducing us to some remarkable characters, including Pat, who remains a vivacious communicator despite the stroke that deprives her of speech, and Howard, a novelist who loses the ability to read. Sacks investigates those who can see perfectly well but are unable to recognize faces, even those of their own children. He describes totally blind people who navigate by touch and smell; and others who, ironically, become hyper-visual. Finally, he recounts his own battle with an eye tumor and the strange visual symptoms it caused. As he has done in classics like The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings, Dr. Sacks shows us that medicine is both an art and a science, and that our ability to imagine what it is to see with another person's mind is what makes us truly human.

    Awakenings

    Awakenings
    Awakenings--which inspired the major motion picture--is the remarkable story of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen for decades in a trance-like state, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Oliver Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, "awakening" effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of his patients, their lives, and the extraordinary transformations which went with their reintroduction to a changed world.

    The Island of the Colorblind

    The Island of the Colorblind
    "An explorer of that most wondrous 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 meaning of islands, the genesis of disease, the wonders of botany, the nature of deep geological time, and the complexities of being human.

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  • Many of my childhood memories are of metals: these seemed to exert a power on me from the start.

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  • But my favorite dream is of going to the opera (I am Hafnium), sharing a box at the Met with the other heavy transition metals - my old and valued friends - Tantalum, Rhenium, Osmium,...

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