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had been, nor ever would be" the world's center. It's a mature discovery for him, and for us, as readers, it provides a wonderful moment of grace in the coUection . Not only does it reflect our own uncertainties but it reminds us of the poise that's needed to tolerate them and the strength that aUows us, every so often, to move beyond such vulnerability . 0L) Uncle Tungsten: Memories ofa Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks Knopf, 2001, 337 pp., $25 A neurologist and medical nonfiction writer for years in the United States, Oliver Sacks has written such popularbooks as TheMan WhoMistook His Wifefor a Hat and Awakenings. In these he explores the medical conditions of his patients and writes of his treatment of and relationships with them, always projecting the humanity of his subjects rather than overshadowing it with a dry, clinical discourse. Now, in Uncle Tungsten, Sacks tackles the subject of Oliver Sacks himself and his curious boyhood in Great Britain during the 1930s and '40s. It is an endearing portrait that combines the story of Sacks's formative years with a narrative of the formative years of chemistry from its beginnings, as it broke away from alchemy, to the discovery of elements, the periodic table, atoms, the atomic bomb and finally quantum mechanics. Surrounded by a scientific household —both parents were doctors, his brothers were in medical school and his numerous aunts and uncles were involved in chemistry or biology as weU—Sacks was encouraged to be ever curious, mixing, boiling, handling, smelling and experimenting with a variety of dangerous and sometimes explosive chemicals. Instruction and suppUes often came from his Uncle Tungsten (Uncle Dave), so named for his factory that manufactured tungsten -wire filaments for Ught bulbs. Sacks's love of chemistry and its order sustained him throughout his shy childhood as he experienced separation from his family at Braefield school during World War ?, enduring a food shortage because of rationing and an evU headmaster who whipped him; it continued to sustain him as he returned to a battered, unstable London after the war. Sacks provides a compelling story of passion, not for another person but for experimentation, the periodic table and the inorganic. So how did it lead to his love for humanity and the organic, the biological—the neurology that he practices today? Sacks's own love affair with chemistry waned as adolescence and his parents' expectations that he become a doctor took over, a metamorphosis he cleverly paraUels with the changes in the science of chemistry. Ultimately, Uncle Tungsten is a rich memoir, an inspiring story of the insatiable yearning for knowledge. It makes us aU yearn for those blissful days of youth before the "'growing up' [that] makes one forget the lyrical, mystical perceptions of chUdhood . . . of which Wordsworth wrote."(AH) Reviews by: Angie Bailey, Patricia Schultheis , Jack Smith, Steve Yates, Walter Bargen, Leslie Wootten, Pam Ullman, Jonathan Liebson, Amy Hummel The Missouri Review · 211 ...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
p. 211
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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