Friday, February 8, 2013

My hero / Oliver Sacks by Hilary Mantel

Oliver Sacks

My hero: Oliver Sacks

by Hilary Mantel

He has been a patient, too, and is wise enough to know he cannot leave himself out of the story

Hilary Mantel
The Guardian, Friday 8 February 2013 13.31 GMT

"Which book changed your life?" is a question it's tempting to answer with a shrug; the truth is, books can seldom do that by themselves. But in 1970, before he was a household name, Oliver Sacks wrote a book called Migraine. More modest and more technical than his big hits – Awakenings or The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat – the book is still remarkable in its shrewd perceptions and breadth of reference. It changed my life, and I dare say that of thousands of other sufferers, by increasing my knowledge of this strange condition. And for a patient, knowledge is power.
Everything Sacks writes has his unique stamp. Clinical acumen combines with understanding of people. Scientific precision is wedded to a spirit of optimism and benevolence. Like Freud before him, he has elevated the case history into literature. But as a neurologist, he has not had to abandon hard science to do it. We trust him because of his practicality, his hands-on experience, as well as the fact that he writes with such clarity about the human body and the human condition. He observes, but he is not afraid of empathy. Describing himself as a "neuroanthropologist", he voyages into the unknown territory inside our heads. Informed by 25 years of hospital experience, he sees the soul within the symptoms. He has been a patient, too, and he is wise enough to know he cannot leave himself out of the story.
Perhaps my favourite of his books is An Anthropologist on Mars, "tales of survival" that illustrate the resilience of the body and brain, our capacity to adapt and renew ourselves. He never makes the reader feel like a voyeur; his approach is subtle, and what emerges from all his work is his respect for his subjects. He seems to love human beings, which is sometimes a hard feat to sustain. He doesn't love humanity in the abstract, but admires and learns from each individual, however damaged. He reminds us that though medicine is a science, healing is an art.

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002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
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043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
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048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
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051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
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053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
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190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
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