Oliver Sacks


The Island of the Colour-blind




I think Sacks is only as interesting as his subject matter - he’s not really a witty raconteur. Just as well some of the cases in his profession are so interesting. I don’t think this book would have been published except for his reputation. It’s really two short books combined. The first is about groups prone to achromatopsia (oversensitive to light and colour-blind), and there’s some attempt to push the line that they are not necessarily deprived because they’re so aware of tiny changes within the spectrum they work in. But Sacks actually didn’t find isolated communities of them so there wasn’t the unique social organisation he was hoping for. The title of the book was more what he hoped to find to make an interesting book, but it didn’t pan out.


The second book is largely about Cycads - a vegetable he’s quite taken with. He checks out some islands where they are, and raves a bit about his heroes like Darwin and his sense of ‘deep time’, quoting, for example, Freud on mankind having to endure from science ‘two great outrages on upon its naďve self-love’ - the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions (Freud added ironically egotistically the Freudian revolution). Sacks clearly identifies with the turn of the (last) century scientists who felt they’d disproved God with the realisation that earth isn’t the centre of the universe, nor mankind essentially different from animals. We’re a speck on a speck in time, space and life.


But this is as interesting as it gets. Overall, I bothered to finish it, but it was a good book to put me to sleep.


March 2002