THE RIVER OF CONSCIOUSNESS
By: Oliver Sacks
Narrated by: Dan Woren, Kate Edgar
Length: 5 hrs and 50 mins
Release date: 10-24-17
Publisher: Random House Audio
More about The River of Consciousness
Oliver Sacks is beloved by readers, as a scientist and a storyteller, for the extraordinary neurological case histories (The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, An Anthropologist on Mars) in which he introduced and explored many now familiar disorders–autism, Tourette’s syndrome, face blindness, savant syndrome. He was also a memoirist who wrote with searing honesty and humor about the remarkable and strange encounters and experiences that shaped him (Uncle Tungsten, On the Move, Gratitude).
Sacks, an Oxford-educated polymath, had a deep familiarity not only with literature and medicine but with botany, animal anatomy, chemistry, the history of science, philosophy, literature and psychology. The River of Consciousness is one of two books Sacks was working on up to his death, and it reveals his ability to make unexpected connections, his sheer joy in knowledge, and his unceasing, timeless project to understand what makes us human.
I first read Sack’s best-selling book THE MAN WHO MISTOOK HIS WIFE FOR A HAT around 1989 and was fascinated by the cases he discussed. After all our perceptions define the world around us via our senses and when those go awry we humans compensate, or we do not.
That Sacks, who passed away in 2015, was a brilliant, erudite, and articulate writer could never be in question. Indeed even dead he is a thousand times smarter than I ever was or will be.
That disparity in intelligence made this book a great read but not a great listen for me as I generally listen and do manual tasks, chores, drive or paint at the same time. This audio book contains essays that present “seminal ideas of human endeavor.” (http://www.penguinrandomhouseaudio.com/author/26646/oliver-sacks/) in a way that requires concentrated listening. I am too antsy to listen and not engage in non-linguistic tasks. My mind had a hard time following the essays to their conclusions. They sure sound brilliant, but I had a hard time following the well-researched and scholarly essays when I only listened to the book. However, if I listened and read at the same time the work makes more sense.
The narrator, Dan Woren, has a smooth and easy voice, like a new anchor or a favorite teacher. His narration was pleasant to hear without nasality or stentorian volume. I am pretty sure the second narrator, Kate Edgar, only does the introduction.
Sometimes it seems to go around the block a bit more than necessary to tell us about how Darwin was not just a geologist but a botanist and how he altered what the science of botany encompassed. I am still not sure if that was the thrust of the essay. I did follow and enjoy “The Fallibility of Memory.” I also found the essay “Mishearing” easier to follow and enjoyed its humor.
Reading fiction and non-fiction in audio format is distinctly different from reading the printed word. I think this is a hard listen to follow and absorb, but while it is not an easy read, it is easier to follow the thoughts and ideas expounded by this brilliant doctor in print.