…Even when Oliver Sacks is bad, he’s still not that bad. And this isn’t bad, it’s just my least favorite of his books.
As Sacks himself allows, this is more like two books sandwiched together, and they both suffer for length. I may be biased as I work for a pediatric ophthalmologist, but I was really excited for the first half, with the titular island where a disproportionate percentage of residents have achromatopsia, or complete colorblindness, along with the associated low vision, photophobia, and nystagmus. And it was incredibly interesting, but too brief! Sacks is accompanied by a researcher with achromatopsia himself, and the team gives the residents sunglasses to help (imagine having difficulty seeing in bright light and living on a tropical island). They speculate on why the incidence is so high on the island, and sample the local fare. The end, on to the next mystery!
What? Nooooo! I was even able to fill in some of the extra blanks that the lay reader wouldn’t because of my ophthalmology background and I still wanted more. More explanation, more detail, more of the islanders’ experiences (the achromatopsic member of the team noticed increased clarity of the stars relative to his normal-sighted companions, though he could only speculate as to why – what if that was an advantage in navigation? So many interesting possibilities only to be abandoned).
The second half deals with parkinsons-like symptoms on another island, likely due to cycad poisoning, and I’ve already admitted my bias toward the vision half of the book, but this was also compelling and deserved more than a hundred odd pages.
I think it says something about Oliver Sacks’ brilliance that my least favorite of his books is the one I wanted more of. If the worst you can say about an author is that he didn’t write enough, that’s high praise.