Book Review: On the Move

September 5, 2017

 

This is a guy who lived a life.

 

I read a lot of fiction, and subsequently fall into what I think of as the Batman mindset: where people can do all number of incredible things in incredibly short timeframes, or with incredibly limited skills and/or resources. You know, like Batman. Who's mastered literally everything short of forging emotional bonds. Of course, ordinary people don't usually measure up to such fictitious characters... unless you're this guy.

 

Oliver Sacks is a marvel for his prolific writing alone. He wrote countless books, letters, essays and articles over nearly three-quarters of a century. Yet he also managed to be a groundbreaking neurologist, set a world record for squatting, trip out on drugs, and travel to all corners of the globe in search of new information and new experiences. His autobiography isn't enough to sum up his life, so there's no way a blog post ever could, but the measure of what he accomplished, and learned, and taught during his life is nothing short of staggering. And it's certainly inspiring.

 

I get this idea sometimes that life should be easy. That you should always be moving forward, never side-tracking or making any mistakes, until eventually you get to where you wanted to go and then everything's sunshine and rainbows. I think this idea comes from only looking at the results: in Sacks' case, looking at how many books he wrote, at his weightlifting record, at his passport, at his remarkable friends and colleagues. Look at the results, and it's easy to think he did things right. But if you examine the journey, the before, during, and after, it looks a little different.

 

He became a doctor, a highly original, forward-thinking neurologist. Yet for most of his career he wasn't employed in a hospital. He set a world record for squatting, yet a couple decades down the road he suffered injuries he attributed to such extreme overloading of his body. He wrote millions and millions of words, yet it often took him years to produce a final product he was happy with. He traveled the world and met incredible people, yet he spent much of his life alone.

 

For me, someone perpetually obsessed with getting things right, living life right, often to the point of paralysis by analysis, it's incredibly reassuring to read a book like this. To know it's okay, even normal, to change your mind, or make a mistake, or follow a different path than the one you originally set off on. It's comforting to be reminded that actions have consequences and that it's not just me who's occasionally taken by surprise. And ultimately, it's inspiring to imagine the scope of what can be accomplished in 80+ years.

 

A life, indeed. And a good one at that. Thanks for sharing, Dr. Sacks.

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