Uncle Tungsten

  • by Oliver Sacks
  • Narrated by Jonathan Davis
  • 10 hrs and 43 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Long before Oliver Sacks became a distinguished neurologist and best-selling writer, he was a small English boy fascinated by metals - also by chemical reactions (the louder and smellier the better), photography, squids and cuttlefish, H.G. Wells, and the periodic table.
In this endlessly charming and eloquent memoir, the author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings chronicles his love affair with science and the magnificently odd and sometimes harrowing childhood in which that love affair unfolded.
In Uncle Tungsten we meet Sacks' extraordinary family, from his surgeon mother (who introduces the 14-year-old Oliver to the art of human dissection) and his father, a family doctor who imbues in his son an early enthusiasm for housecalls, to his "Uncle Tungsten", whose factory produces tungsten-filament lightbulbs. We follow the young Oliver as he is exiled at the age of six to a grim, sadistic boarding school to escape the London Blitz, and later watch as he sets about passionately reliving the exploits of his "chemical heroes" in his own home laboratory.
Uncle Tungsten is a crystalline view of a brilliant young mind springing to life, a story of growing up which is by turns elegiac, comic, and wistful, full of the electrifying joy of discovery.


What the Critics Say

"Good prose is often described as glowing: luminous, numinous, glimmering, shimmering, incandescent, radiant. Sacks's writing is all that, and sometimes, no matter how closely you read it, you can't quite figure out what makes it so precisely, unsparingly light... By the time he was 15... Sacks's attention began drifting away from chemistry.... He can't quite say why he abandoned his first love and Mendeleev's Garden. His 'intellectual limitations? Adolescence? School?.... The inevitable course, the natural history, of enthusiasm, that burns hotly, brightly... and then, exhausting itself, gutters out?' No matter. With 'Uncle Tungsten,' Sacks has reignited the fire, so the rest of us can read by its glow." (The New York Times Book Review)


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If I had a wish to come true of meeting a living person to spend an hour with, I think It would be Oliver Sacks. Whole-brained thinker and creative as well as scientific and always wide open senses. Great book. Fascinating life as well as person.

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- Dayle

The curious child

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) grew up in North London surrounded by scientific aunts and uncles. Both his parents were physicians. His mother was a well-known obstetrician and one of England’s first female surgeons. His brothers also went on to become physicians, as did Oliver.

Oliver’s Uncle ‘Tungsten’ Dave owned a light bulb factory on Farringdon Road. Uncle Dave helped Oliver with experiments in the laboratory and taught him about all the elements. Oliver was fascinated with Tungsten and its properties and resilience. When age 6 in 1939, he was sent off to Braefield, a boarding school. The school moved from London to the countryside because of the war. The school was run by a sadistic headmaster. Sacks tells the usual horror stories of the British boarding school. Sacks provides a history of the development of modern day chemistry and compares this to alchemy. As he learned about the founders of modern chemistry he followed their experiments step by step. He was primarily interested minerals.

Sacks taught himself photography and had a passion for chemistry. He found its elegant simplicity in a world of chaos during World War II. The book ends at adolescence. At age 14 he decided he wanted to be a physician.

The book is well written and the curiosity of young Oliver shines through. Sacks went on to become a famous neurologist and has written many books. His most popular one is called “Awakening” about sleeping sickness. His parents were ardent Zionist and he discussed his Jewish faith. Oliver was surrounded by relatives that were physicians and scientist; it is no wonder he was fascinated by the world of science and had a gift for scientific inquiry.

Jonathan Davis did a good job narrating the book. Davis is a voiceover artist and a three-time winner of the Audie award for audiobook narration.
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- Jean

Book Details

  • Release Date: 10-11-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios