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Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales


Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales

Oliver Sacks died from complications of metastatic cancer in August 2015, just a few months after the release of his “last” book, ON THE MOVE.

But the famed neurologist, who mindfully popularized one of the most difficult and complex areas of health science, wasn’t finished with us yet. Best known to many through the critically acclaimed movie (with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams) based on his remarkable case studies, Awakenings, Sacks wasn’t one to coast along on the popularity it brought him.

At the time of his passing, Sacks had more than a dozen books to his credit, many of them bestsellers, and now his legacy includes one more --- the aptly titled EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE. This delightfully varied anthology contains nearly three-dozen articles written from the mid-1980s until just weeks before his death at age 82. But it really spans much of his abundant life among us, delving back into formative childhood memories and looking optimistically toward a human future he knew he wouldn’t get to experience.

"Reading this elegant and diverse collection reminded me that the unannounced encore often turns out to be the concert’s most memorable performance."

Arranged in three sections --- First Loves, Clinical Tales and Life Continues --- EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE weaves a rich tapestry of influences, obsessions, curiosities, passions and achievements worthy of the often-misused phrase “Renaissance Man.” In Sacks’ case, the distinction is a perfect fit. Not only did he seek knowledge on a prodigious and eclectic scale, he sought to share it with his fellow humans through anecdotes, narratives, close personal observations and thoughtful reflections. There was no dumbing-down in his writings, and a lot of lifting-up.

Among his Clinical Tales, Sacks recounts a number of medical mysteries and anomalies, such as unexplained dementias, severe conditions that appear and disappear for no apparent reason, unusual body language, perceptions of nothingness and existence resulting from spinal cord injury, how vitamin deficiencies may cause cognitive decline, things most of us don’t know about how our brains age…and so on. On the face of it, such “tales” may seem abstract, irrelevant or just plain boring. But Sacks places each case within a very human and empathic context, building connections and relationships that are both memorable and compelling. He writes for people, not specialists.

Similarly, among the dozen pieces in Life Continues, he brings together an odd but magical suite of literary musings that range from playful to poignant: reprising his love for science fiction, following fern hunters around New York City, a moment of rapport with an orangutan on both sides of a glass wall, and (among the half-dozen never-before-published essays) a charming and evocative gem on why we need gardens.

And finally, the First Loves group that sets the stage (or perhaps, the table) for EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE should fully satisfy the nostalgia gene in all types of readers. We learn here of Sacks’ fondness for swimming and water sports, his delight in the museums of his native Britain, how he came to love science, libraries and (of course) the enticing secrets of the human brain.

Reading this elegant and diverse collection reminded me that the unannounced encore often turns out to be the concert’s most memorable performance. In so many ways, this literary encore, the unannounced “one more thing,” beautifully sums up the remarkable legacy of Oliver Sacks.

Reviewed by Pauline Finch on June 14, 2019

Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales
by Oliver Sacks

  • Publication Date: March 31, 2020
  • Genres: Essays, Nonfiction, Science
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage
  • ISBN-10: 1101972327
  • ISBN-13: 9781101972328