On The Move: A Life
When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.” It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction and then in New York, where he discovered a long forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.
With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions — weightlifting and swimming—also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists—Thom Gunn, A.R. Luria, W.H. Auden, Francis Crick — who influenced him. On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer — and of the man who illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.
Starred review in Publishers Weekly:
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 had terminal cancer, is a fitting retrospective of his lifelong project of making science a deeply humanistic pursuit.