Author: Oliver Sacks
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Oliver Sacks made the medical world, neuroscience in particular, accessible and interesting for thousands of people through his books. The first book I ever read of his was The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, a touching and deeply fascinating series of stories in which he recounts the mental deficiencies of his patients, one of whom literally did mistake his wife for a hat.
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He also helped us to better understand ourselves and his latest (and unfortunately last) book Gratitude, which was published posthumously in late 2015, is no exception. Sacks meditates and reflects on the death and joy he has encountered in his own life, grappling with an experience that is unique to every individual—in a way that only he could. He allows us to understand his journey and acceptance of the inevitable, but he also leaves us with a feeling of reassurance, a feeling that we should not fear death but celebrate life instead.
The book is short and consists of four individual essays each touching on a slightly different topic. He takes us through childhood memories, his early fascination with the periodic table, his Orthodox Jewish upbringing, his first diagnosis with the melanoma that would kill him, and his reconciliation with being terminally ill.
If ever you feel down, depressed, or anxious about what might be and what hasn’t been done, I can almost guarantee that reading this book will make you feel at least a little bit better. Take it from Sacks: “I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life—achieving a sense of peace within oneself.”