June 19, 2016
Hardback, Picador, £9.99, out now
Gratitude is a final gift from the excellent neurologist and writer of popular science, Oliver Sacks, who died in 2015. These short but beautiful pieces encapsulate all that is best about his writing. Humane, kind, interesting and funny, they offer his reflections on a life well lived from one who knew its end would come shortly. Shortly after finding out his cancer was back and inoperable, he wrote: “Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight”.
Probably best known for his books Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks’ own life has not been without bumps, as his two volumes of autobiography show. Here, we learn more about his deeply personal love of science. How excellent that as an 11 year old fan of the periodic table, he was delighted to be able to say “I am Sodium” and remained equally pleased at 79 to say “I am gold”. His reflections on his different experiences of Jewish family life, in London and beyond, are intriguing. A book to read, and read over.
Review by Bethan
November 3, 2015
Allen and Unwin, £16.99, paperback out now
A worthy winner of the Samuel Johnson non-fiction book prize, this is a fascinating and highly readable history of autism. We also get to meet several interesting people affected by autism, and an invitation to reconsider what we think we know about it.
Silberman, a journalist for Wired magazine, became interested in autism in 2001 when he heard of an ‘epidemic’ of autism among the children of Silicon Valley employees – parents who tended to be computer programmers and engineers. The book opens with The Wizard of Clapham Common Henry Cavendish, genius 19th century scientist and inventor, who Silberman retrospectively diagnoses as autistic. Silberman is an informative guide through geek culture, disability in Nazi Germany, faulty diagnoses of toxic parenting, Rain Man and more.
Critically, the author is respectful of autistic people. Oliver Sacks in his foreword notes that Silberman particularly sought out autistic people for his research. A further mark of quality is that it is dedicated to Lorna Wing, a psychiatrist and doctor who transformed thinking about autism for the better first in the UK and then internationally both through her work and her involvement in the establishment of the National Autistic Society. He concludes: “Designing appropriate forms of support and accommodation is not beyond our capabilities as a society, as the history of the disability movement proves. But first we have to learn to think more intelligently about people who think differently”. This is an excellent, accessible book, and a worthwhile call to consider the riches that can come from diversity.
Review by Bethan