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Oliver Sacks

Uncle Tungsten

'Uncle Tungsten' is a description of Sacks' life between the age of 10 and 14, when he was discovering the joys of science, interspersed with historical material about scientists who inspired him. The title of the book comes from an uncle who ran a factory making tungsten light bulb filaments, but many of the Sacks family were involved in metals in one way or another giving Oliver a ready source of answers to his questions as well as material for his chemical laboratory. The book needs no prior scientific knowledge and is recommended for all readers for its fascinating story of how Sacks developed his enthusiasm for science.

The one problem with the book is that it is written long after the fact. This is reasonable for an autobiography, but I couldn't help feeling that the historical chapters were based on later knowledge, and so they tended to break up the flow. Towards the end as Sacks moves away from physical science to medicine, he seems a bit introverted - but again I wondered if this was a later analysis of the situation.

The book illustrates how much the attitudes to safety have changed. Anything called a chemical nowadays is considered dangerous. Now when I was young I bought some nitric acid and walked home with the bottle in my pocket. Sacks managed to get a small container of hydrofluoric acid, which is definitely nasty (although he never opened it).

Amazon.com info
Hardcover 352 pages  
ISBN: 0375404481
Salesrank: 589563
Published: 2001 Knopf
Amazon price $17.95
Marketplace:New from $17.95:Used from $1.44
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Amazon.co.uk info
Paperback 337 pages  
ISBN: 0330390287
Salesrank: 712870
Weight:0.84 lbs
Published: 2010 Picador
Marketplace:New from £2.99:Used from £0.01
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Amazon.ca info
Hardcover
ISBN: 0375404481
Salesrank: 1401227
Weight:1.25 lbs
Published: 2001 Knopf
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 43.33:Used from CDN$ 10.15
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Product Description
"In Uncle Tungsten Sacks evokes, with warmth and wit, his upbringing in wartime England. He tells of the large science-steeped family who fostered his early fascination with chemistry. There follow his years at boarding school where, though unhappy, he developed the intellectual curiosity that would shape his later life. And we hear of his return to London, an emotionally bereft ten-year-old who found solace in his passion for learning. Uncle Tungsten radiates all the delight and wonder of a boy's adventures, and is an unforgettable portrait of an extraordinary young mind. 'If you did not think that gallium and iridium could move you, this superb book will change your mind' The Times 'Uncle Tungsten is really about the raw joy of scientific understanding . . . Sacks perfectly captures the sheer thrill of finding intelligible patterns in nature' Guardian 'His boyhood passion was for chemistry: and this is a marvelous memoir of his early "love affair" with it . . . It is rare to read so rich and honest a description of an intellectual coming of age" Daily Telegraph