Reading a book published after its author’s death, especially if he is as prodigiously alive on every page as Oliver Sacks, as curious, avid and thrillingly fluent, brings both the joy of hearing from him again, and the regret of knowing it will likely be the last time ... However youthful, that combination of wonder, passion and gratitude never seemed to flag in Sacks’s life; everything he wrote was lit with it. But it was his openness to new ideas and experiences, and his vision of change as the most human of biological processes, that synthesized all of his work ... To fill oneself with the consciousness of others, and then to forget deeply enough, and long enough, that the collective world can be welded to what is unique and original to oneself — this is as precise and moving a definition of creativity as I have come across. On page after page in this collection, drawing on the rich history of ideas he absorbed over a lifetime, Sacks illustrates how it is done.
The River of Consciousness reveals Sacks as a gleeful polymath and an inveterate seeker of meaning in the mold of Darwin and his other scientific heroes Sigmund Freud and William James ... Storytelling, Sacks tells us in the essay The Creative Self, is one of our 'primary human activities.' As this volume reminds us, in losing Sacks we lost a gifted and generous storyteller.
... the reader is in thrall to Sacks’ ability to braid wide reading, research and experience with his neurology patients to reach original and subtle conclusions ... We are gently shepherded through Darwin’s obsession with the deeper meaning of plant lives (Darwin and Sacks, with their expansive abilities to look deeply into small matters and uncover, with evident delight, large truths, seem like brothers separated by a mere century) ... Sacks himself is the expression of just this mental agility, a mind at play in the world, capable of profound insights into the pain of his patients.
Sacks's love of the natural world as well as the human one is contagious. The breadth of his interests encourages his readers to expand their own horizons. 'I rejoice in the knowledge of my biological uniqueness and my biological antiquity and my biological kinship with all other forms of life. This knowledge roots me, allows me to feel at home in the natural world, to feel that I have my own sense of cultural meaning, whatever my role in the cultural, human world.' His curiosity and erudition, and his joy in both intellectual and physical life are in full bloom on these pages ... A brilliant, beautiful and funny collection of essays.
... The River or Consciousness, a charming and informative new collection of 10 essays that Sacks wrote mostly in the last decade of his life, is longer and more wide-ranging in subject but no less cohesive and satisfying ...this collection is thematically as well as stylistically consistent may not seem obvious at first. Sacks writes with equal passion and precision...he gravitates toward several overarching subjects again and again — memory, perception, the relationship between mind and brain — as if turning them in the light so that readers may appreciate them from different angles ...Sacks peppers this new book with personal reminiscences that offer a vivid portrait of the development of his omnivorous intellectual life ... What really unifies The River of Consciousness is the unique combination of intellectual rigor and childlike amazement, of bookishness and warmth, which characterizes all of Sacks’s writing.
Their subject matter reflects the agility of Sacks’s enthusiasms, moving from forgetting and neglect in science to Freud’s early work on the neuroanatomy of fish; from the mental lives of plants and invertebrates to the malleability of our perception of speed ... Some of the slighter pieces here suffer from being placed between more substantial work, and in one, only one, Sacks’s argument loses coherence. But even then I was conscious of the great premium he placed on flights of ideas ... Two years after his death, he’s still reminding us that a unified vision is long overdue.
Two weeks before his death, Sacks completed the outline for The River of Consciousness, a collection that serves as a valedictory, as well as a useful introduction to his restless intellect and elegant sentences and a tribute to his scientific and philosophical heroes: Darwin, Freud and William James. There is no unifying theme or subject — no meditation on autism or field study from an atoll in the South Pacific with a high incidence of colorblindness — but the passage of time is much on Sacks’ mind ... The River of Consciousness is more meditative and serves as a selective tour of the history of science, with Sacks serving as an enthusiastic guide.
Although a number of the essays in this collection appeared previously in The New York Review of Books, they read as if they’ve been written just for us. In the essays, Sacks moves over and through topics ranging from speed and time, creativity, memory and its failings, disorder, consciousness, evolution and botany ... Sacks’ golden voice and his brilliant insights live on in the essays collected in The River of Consciousness, and for that we’re fortunate.
Readers of Oliver Sacks have much to celebrate here. Already a fan of his work, I expected a random collection of well-written essays, with some pleasant insights. But the new book is a revelation: River gives us a wide-ranging collection of ten essays, many of which originally appeared in the New York Review of Books — but fresh here, thanks to the connections among them ... Sacks the aggregator manages to pull together Darwin’s observations... Oliver Sacks shed much light on the human experience, and continues to do so ... His fans, including this reviewer, will eagerly await more posthumous essay collections.
And yet, after collecting his life story and his thoughts on living, Sacks chose to write another book, published only now: The River of Consciousness. What subject was so important to Sacks that he couldn’t bear to leave this book unwritten? As it turns out, everything ... Sacks goes on to investigate the consciousness of earthworms and jellyfish, accidental plagiarism, hearing loss, and colorblindness ...the dominant sense in The River of Consciousness is that of awe. Sacks approaches his various subjects with obsessive detail and nearly childlike curiosity, laying bare the wonder of each topic ... Again and again, Sacks demonstrates our great fortune to be alive, to explore the natural world, to have sight and memory and health ... If The River of Consciousness is to be taken as a message or a gift for Sacks’s readers, then it is an abundant and expansive one, as each essay contains numerous reading suggestions, a road map to future discovery.
...an immensely satisfying volume that can be read by newcomers as an introduction to the work of an author of unusual breadth of knowledge, and equally by aficionados as the final scintillation of one of the most invigorating and appealing writers of recent decades ... One characteristic that made this possible is his books and essays are rich in case studies and narratives about his patients ... These essays explore Dr. Sacks‘ conviction that 'Science is not an ineluctable process but contingent in the extreme' ...a joy to read: a delicious supply of information and commentary organized by a gifted writer of a curious and humane intelligence.
...bears the qualities that endeared him to countless readers: his ability to turn clinical cases into literature, to make unexpected connections among far–flung disciplines, and to relate nearly any topic to historical arcs ... The River of Consciousness does not have a typically unifying theme. Rather, Sacks engages one last time with the heady topics of time, memory, creativity, evolution, subjectivity, and consciousness ...The essays are strewn with profound questions, such as how a sprinter 'can be off the blocks in 130 milliseconds,' when 'the conscious registration of the gunshot requires 400 milliseconds or more?' ...he explores the fallibility of memory and the reawakening of memories that have lain dormant for decades.
The book is a tribute to his appreciation of all that’s beautifully complex in humans ... One of the most moving pieces, 'The Fallibility of Memory,' argues that humans are 'landed with memories which have fallibilities, frailties, and imperfections—but also great flexibility and creativity.' Sacks pays homage to Freud in 'Mishearings,' asserting that Freudian slips are more than expressions of repressed feelings: 'They reflect, to some extent, one’s own interests and experiences.' Sacks also writes about his own cancer in 'A General Feeling of Disorder' and how a respite from sickness filled him with gratitude. Readers will feel a similar sense of gratitude for the extraordinary work that Sacks left behind.
Interestingly, the collection can be seen as a subtle reminder of this polymath’s previous works, for references to a number of these appear throughout the text and in footnotes. A collection of dissimilar pieces that reveal the scope of the author’s interests—sometimes challenging, always rewarding.