cover image On the Move: A Life

On the Move: A Life

Oliver Sacks. Knopf, $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-35254-3

The celebrated bard of the brain's quirks reveals a flamboyant secret life and a multitude of intellectual passions in this rangy, introspective autobiography. Picking up from his boyhood memoir, Uncle Tungsten, neurologist Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) explores the complexities of his adult experience, including his homosexuality, which yielded a number of intense but transitory affairs; obsessions with weight lifting and motorcycles (complete with leather wardrobe); and a ravaging addiction to amphetamines. While Sacks's physical and emotional lives are more prominent here than in past writings, he's still fascinated with the mind and presents absorbing disquisitions on Tourette's syndrome, autism, visual processing, and the Darwinian struggle of mental processes. His loosely structured narrative takes innumerable detours, rambling among memoiristic snippets (including a pungent story about a journey through America's truck stop culture), sketches of writers and celebrities (W.H. Auden, Robin Williams, Francis Crick), moving portraits of close friends and family, and, as always, engrossing case studies of neurology patients. Sacks's writing is lucid, earnest, and straightforward, yet always raptly attuned to subtleties of character and feeling in himself and others; the result, closely following his announcement that he has terminal cancer, is a fitting retrospective of his lifelong project of making science a deeply humanistic pursuit. Photos. (May)