Long before Oliver Sacks became a distinguished neurologist and best-selling 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 14-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.
"Good prose is often described as glowing: luminous, numinous, glimmering, shimmering, incandescent, radiant. Sacks's writing is all that, and sometimes, no matter how closely you read it, you can't quite figure out what makes it so precisely, unsparingly light... By the time he was 15... Sacks's attention began drifting away from chemistry.... He can't quite say why he abandoned his first love and Mendeleev's Garden. His 'intellectual limitations? Adolescence? School?.... The inevitable course, the natural history, of enthusiasm, that burns hotly, brightly... and then, exhausting itself, gutters out?' No matter. With 'Uncle Tungsten,' Sacks has reignited the fire, so the rest of us can read by its glow." (The New York Times Book Review)
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