Oliver Sacks was a well-known neurologist best known for his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. The River of Consciousness is a posthumously published collection of essays (many previously published) all roughly related to consciousness. I say roughly as they span topics ranging from the mental lives of plants and worms to Freud’s early career flirting with neurology to the fallible nature of our memories.
I had high expectations for this, my first Oliver Sacks read. Sadly, those expectations did not bear out. I had a really tough time getting into and then following the points Sacks was often trying to make in these essays. Sometimes the information felt too academic, sometimes the points Sacks was trying to join together into an argument seemed too disparate for me to connect the way he was arguing. I didn’t hate this book, but I did feel frustrated (re-reading back pages when it felt I’d missed a point) and since I’ve finished I don’t feel like I have retained much- a bummer for a non-fiction book I’m reading for pleasure. I think I might have done better by starting with a Sachs book that focused more on one one topic. (And on this point, as a caveat to my negative review, I will note that both the Guardian and the New York Times Review of Books give this one a much more glowing assessment than I have, so if you’re an Oliver Sachs fan you shouldn’t be dissuaded. Surely, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, a book on consciousness is not only enjoyed but finds its own meaning in the mind of the reader).