An interesting account of two trips made by the author to the islands of Oceania, where the remoteness of the locations has led to two different illnesses among the locals. The first section of the book - and to me, by far the most readable - was his visit to Pingelap atoll in Micronesia, where interbreeding of a small population has led to 1 person in 12 being totally colour-blind. Finding out how life 'feels' to such people, along with a fascinating travelogue, made this a wonderful read:"And in that first long moment, with the children coming out of the forest...and the tropical luxuriance of vegetation in all directions - the beauty of the primitive, the human and the natural took hold of me...I had a sense of paradise, of an almost magical reality."Little black-and-white piglets darted across our path...we were struck by the fact that the pigs were black and white and wondered, half seriously, if they had been specially bred for, or by, an achromatic population."In the second section, Sacks visits Guam, where the illness of lytico-bodig (similar to motor neurone disease) was endemic - although the younger generation is no longer affected. Again the travel aspect was fascinating - Sacks' experience of arrival in a US military base seems as bad as any totalitarian state. And the efforts of scientists to crack the reason for the disease (blamed by many on the toxic cycad trees, whose roots were once used as flour) was fairly interesting. But I found the end of the chapter starting to get a bit too scientific for me! In the third, short chapter, Sacks visits Rota, close to Guam but unspoiled. Here he visits the cycad jungle, similar to the primeval world, and observes that "it seemed as if my senses were actually enlarging, as if a new sense, a time since was opening within me, something which might allow me to appreciate millennia or aeons as directly as I had experienced seconds or minutes....Continua
The stories in this book revolved around four islands and two medical conditions namely achromatopsia (colour blindness) and lytico-bodigo (a neurological condition).
There was a lot of description involved which isn't my cup of tea. And Oliver Sacks has an intense liking for plants, so botany enthusiasts may want to look into this book. In particular, i gathered that Cycads were one of Oliver Sack's favourites.
I was quite bored with the description of the high incidence of achromatopsia on the island of Pingelap but i felt the pace picked up when it came to lytico-bodigo on the island of Guam. The medical findings regarding this condition were fascinating and this is when i found the book slightly more bearable.
Oliver Sacks described many of the patients he saw and their clinical signs and symptoms. Perhaps it is because i have a medical background but i found this aspect to be quite interesting. And that was the only plus point in this book for me.
If you like descriptive books particularly about plants and islands, this book would probably be a joy to read. If you are interested in rare isolated genetic conditions, this book may appeal a little. Otherwise, read only when you have little else to do....Continua