Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood

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9780330523660: Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood
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'If you did not think that gallium and iridium could move you, this superb book will change your mind' The Times In Uncle Tungsten Oliver Sacks evokes, with warmth and wit, his upbringing in wartime England. He tells of the large science-steeped family who fostered his early fascination with chemistry. There follow his years at boarding school where, though unhappy, he developed the intellectual curiosity that would shape his later life. And we hear of his return to London, an emotionally bereft ten-year-old who found solace in his passion for learning. Uncle Tungsten radiates all the delight and wonder of a boy's adventures, and is an unforgettable portrait of an extraordinary young mind. 'This book is both a heartwarming account of a delightful, eccentric family life and an inspiring record of a remarkable intellectual odyssey' Mail on Sunday 'The amalgamation of personal recollection and scientific history makes a luminous, inspiring book' Sunday Telegraph 'Uncle Tungsten is really about the raw joy of scientific understanding; what it is like to be a precocious child discovering the alchemical secrets of reality for the first time: the sheer thrill of finding intelligible patterns in nature' Guardian

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Review:

Oliver Sacks's luminous memoir charts the growth of a mind. Born in 1933 into a family of formidably intelligent London Jews, he discovered the wonders of the physical sciences early from his parents and their flock of brilliant siblings, most notably "Uncle Tungsten" (real name, Dave), who "manufactured lightbulbs with filaments of fine tungsten wire." Metals were the substances that first attracted young Oliver, and his descriptions of their colors, textures, and properties are as sensuous and romantic as an art lover's rhapsodies over an Old Master. Seamlessly interwoven with his personal recollections is a masterful survey of scientific history, with emphasis on the great chemists like Robert Boyle, Antoine Lavoisier, and Humphry Davy (Sacks's personal hero). Yet this is not a dry intellectual autobiography; his parents in particular, both doctors, are vividly sketched. His sociable father loved house calls and "was drawn to medicine because its practice was central in human society," while his shy mother "had an intense feeling for structure ... for her [medicine] was part of natural history and biology." For young Oliver, unhappy at the brutal boarding school he was sent to during the war, and afraid that he would become mentally ill like his older brother, chemistry was a refuge in an uncertain world. He would outgrow his passion for metals and become a neurologist, but as readers of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat know, he would never leave behind his conviction that science is a profoundly human endeavor. --Wendy Smith

From the Back Cover:

"Dr.Sacks mourns, with a Wordsworthian sense of loss, the passing of those 'lyrical, mystical perceptions of childhood', those 'sudden landscapes of glory and illumination'. And yet the mixture of rekindled passion, humility and humour with which the older man pays homage to the boy, shows just how little he has faded into the light of common day."

-The Economist

"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

"Artful, impassioned memoir of a youth spent lost in the blinding light of chemistry from neurologistessayist Sacks. . . . . In a kind and gracious voice, Sacks guides readers on his journey of passionate discovery into the romance of chemistry. . . . The realm of science is alchemy in Sacks's hands as he spins pure gold from base metals."
- Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"In Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks weaves together the wonders of chemistry and his boyhood experiences with grace, ease, and just the right comedic touch. The result is a rich, unique, and compelling glimpse into the development of an enormously fertile and creative mind."
-Brian Greene

"A gift from a wonderful man and a masterful scholar and writer. This sharing of life can only merit the chemist's symbol for Tungsten: W --a winner!" -Stephen Jay Gould

"Oliver Sacks is an extraordinary soul-scientist and artist, healer and explorer-and he has given us an extraordinary memoir. Uncle Tungsten is profoundly illuminating and continually surprising."
-James Gleick

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