After a long career helping others, the great Oliver Sacks passed away from cancer in August, 2015. I grabbed this book to distract me from my own cancer reading, but kept discovering the overlaps instead. One client is a severe patient of aphasia, which often harms people with brain tumors. In Sacks’ words: “Aphasia means, etymologically, a loss of speech, yet it is not speech as such which is lost but language itself — its expression or its comprehension, in whole or in part….” The minimal form is difficulty finding words or using the wrong words for the items seen — i.e., nouns. With more intense forms, the person can be challenged to generate full sentences. For me, the worst occasionally lies between the two.
The second half of the book was even more of a surprise, when Sacks reveals the sudden onset of his own failing eyesight — a dangerous form of melanoma that later spreads to his liver. The author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings (later made into a movie with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams), Musicophilia and many other books and articles will be missed. His clear-headed but compassionate writing reaches the expert and non-expert, the encouraged and the determined.