On the Move | Oliver Sacks

Summary of: On the Move : A Life
By: Oliver Sacks

Introduction

Embark on a captivating journey through Oliver Sacks’ ‘On the Move: A Life,’ a memoir that delves into the life and career of a renowned neurologist and author. This summary offers glimpses into Sacks’ passions, struggles, and accomplishments as he navigates his life’s various phases. Key themes include the intertwining of science and storytelling, his exploration of morality and sexuality in a largely conservative era, and his search for life’s purpose amidst personal and professional challenges. By presenting fascinating anecdotal accounts and insights, this book summary provides an in-depth look at the man behind the acclaimed books for a wide audience of readers aged 20-40 years.

Ulysses and Aquavit

In his youth, Oliver Sacks was inspired by books, notably Ulysses by James Joyce. On a ferry back to England from Norway, he was drawn into the novel and drank from a two-liter bottle of aquavit. Feeling unaffected, he stood up only to fall straight down. Oliver’s love of storytelling and science began as a child reading with his mother, and he continued as a teenager, becoming president of his school’s literary society.

Confronting Family Intolerance

As a young man, Oliver reluctantly confesses to his father that he’s attracted to men. His Orthodox Jewish mother, who has rigid views, learns of this and erupts in fury. Despite Oliver later understanding the origins of his mother’s intolerance, her words leave him struggling with internalized shame and fear for years.

Oliver Sacks’ Journey to Becoming a Writer-Scientist

Oliver Sacks, despite having an impressive academic background, was unsure of his career path. He vacillated between zoology and medicine, and struggled with pressure from his parents to become a doctor. At Oxford University, he ranked second-to-last in his human anatomy class and turned to drinking when faced with the disappointment of his mother, a surgeon and anatomist. However, he had a talent for writing essays and decided to compete for a prestigious scholarship, which he won. This sparked his love for storytelling and led him on a path to become a writer-scientist, fusing his passions for science and storytelling.

Confronting Inhibitions

After a dismal research project and social isolation, Oliver, a recent college graduate, heads to Israel and then Amsterdam to lose his virginity. Despite feeling shy and anxious, he gets drunk at a bar, blacking out and waking up in a stranger’s bed. The encounter leads him to cry tears of relief over the man’s message of acceptance. Although Amsterdam becomes his favorite city and he returns many times, Oliver only has a few fleeting sexual encounters and romantic relationships before becoming celibate for 35 years.

The Many Lives of Oliver Sacks

Follow Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, as he trades his white doctor’s coat for a black leather jacket and takes on a more adventurous lifestyle.

Oliver Sacks, a neurologist, is not your typical medical professional. In the 1960s, he traded his white doctor’s coat for a black leather jacket, rode a motorcycle, and explored the American West. Despite this, he still found time to excel in his profession, completing an internship at Mount Zion Hospital and securing a residency in the neurology department at UCLA.

Sacks’ adventures were not limited to the open road. He also focused on weightlifting, determined to set a state squat record, which he succeeded in doing by lifting a 600-pound bar. He also met a muscular Navy sailor named Mel at a San Francisco gym, and their ambiguous but intimate relationship included camping trips and wrestling sessions.

Moving to Los Angeles with Mel, Sacks became immersed in the bodybuilding scene at Venice’s Muscle Beach, befriending unique characters such as Jim, a mathematician who played chess against programs he developed on supercomputers. A budding neurologist interested in the nature of consciousness, Sacks experimented with psychoactive drugs such as LSD and morning glory, cannabis, and amphetamine.

Sacks’ life may have seemed like a California dream, but it soon took a dark turn.

Oliver Sacks’ Journey from Addiction to New York

Oliver Sacks, a resident of California, spiraled into depression after a massage session with his roommate turned intimate. This led him to experiment with drugs, and he soon became addicted. His obsession with pleasure was comparable to a science experiment involving rats dying of exhaustion from repeated stimulation. Sacks eventually moved to New York City at the age of 32, hoping to leave his California lifestyle behind and find his true calling.

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