Island of the Colorblind

The Island of the Colorblind (1997)
Paperback, Vintage Books, ISBN 0-375-70073-0

An exploration of a society where total congenital colorblindness is the norm, this book is also a meditation on islands and the strange neurologic malady on Guam which resembles parkinsonism and Alzheimer’s, and may provide the key to these diseases.

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Island of the Colorblind

Oliver Sacks has always been fascinated by islands–their remoteness, their mystery, above all the unique forms of life they harbor. For him, islands conjure up equally the romance of Melville and Stevenson, the adventure of Magellan and Cook, and the scientific wonder of Darwin and Wallace.

Drawn to the tiny Pacific atoll of Pingelap by intriguing reports of an isolated community of islanders born totally colorblind, Dr. Sacks finds himself setting up a clinic in a one-room island dispensary, where he listens to these achromatopic islanders describe their colorless world in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow. And on Guam, where he goes to investigate the puzzling neurodegenerative paralysis endemic there for a century, he becomes, for a brief time, an island neurologist, making house calls with his colleague John Steele, amid crowing cockerels, cycad jungles, and the remains of a colonial culture.

The islands reawaken Sacks’ lifelong passion for botany–in particular, for the primitive cycad trees, whose existence dates back to the Paleozoic–and the cycads are the starting point for an intensely personal reflection on the meaning of islands, the dissemination of species, the genesis of disease, and the nature of deep geologic time. Out of an unexpected journey, Sacks has woven an unforgettable narrative which immerses us in the romance of island life, and shares his own compelling vision of the complexities of being human.

Dr. Sacks on Island:

“Here, as in Seeing Voices , I was concerned not only with individuals, but with whole populations; thus, I felt as much an anthropologist as a doctor when seeing the impact on the chammoros of a terrible neurodegenerative disease in Guam, and of a hereditory total color-blindness in the tiny coral atol of Pingelap. But these two little books often broke away from the purely medical, and became journals of travel and enchantment in the tropical islands.”

Reviews For The Island Of The Colorblind

“A book of beguiling beauty.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Sack’s total immersion in island life makes this luminous, beautifully written report a wondrous 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.”
–Publisher’s Weekly

“Dr. Sacks conjures up his subjects’ lives with enormous compassion and insight, writing simultanteously as a doctor and metaphysician, scientist and father confessor.”
–The New Yorker

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