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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > June 2019 > Books in brief

Books in brief

Everything in its Place: First Loves and Last Tales

by Oliver Sacks (Picador, £20)

Oliver Sacks died in August 2015 at the age of 82, but four years on he still seems prolific. Everything in its Place is his third posthumous work. Given the technological and alienating currents of modern medicine, perhaps we cannot afford to let him go.

A writer’s juvenilia are often uneven and revealing; so is this assortment of “senilia.” The 33 essays—many previously published— draw on Sacks’s legendary professional work as a neurologist, and span the breadth of his personal interests. These include ferns, astronomy, hiccups, Tourette’s, dream interpretation, the periodic table and herring. There are revised medical articles, autobiographical vignettes and even just musings.

Sacks is at his best when making observations about humans. The strongest essay, “Telling,” is on dementia. He describes a retired colleague, Dr M, who returned to the hospital where he once worked, but now as an inpatient. He had developed Alzheimer’s, yet still at times thought of himself as a practising physician eager to write prescriptions. “Should we have taken away his accustomed and well-rehearsed identity and replaced it with a ‘reality’ that, though real to us, would have been meaningless to him?” Sacks wonders. He was interested in how illness can be not life-limiting but life-altering, so as to retain—even enrich—meaning.

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