Uncle Tungsten

Uncle Tungsten

Memories of A Chemical Boyhood

Book - 2001
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From his earliest days, Oliver Sacks, the distinguished neurologist who is also one of the most remarkable storytellers of our time, was irresistibly drawn to understanding the natural world. Born into a large family of doctors, metallurgists, chemists, physicists, and teachers, his curiosity was encouraged and abetted by aunts, uncles, parents, and older brothers. But soon after his sixth birthday, the Second World War broke out and he was evacuated from London, as were hundreds of thousands of children, to escape the bombing. Exiled to a school that rivaled Dickens's grimmest, fed on a steady diet of turnips and beetroots, tormented by a sadistic headmaster, and allowed home only once in four years, he felt desolate and abandoned. When he returned to London in 1943 at the age of ten, he was a changed, withdrawn boy, one who desperately needed order to make sense of his life. He was sustained by his secret passions: for numbers, for metals, and for finding patterns in the world around him. Under the tutelage of his "chemical" uncle, Uncle Tungsten, Sacks began to experiment with "the stinks and bangs" that almost define a first entry into chemistry: tossing sodium off a bridge to see it take fire in the water below; producing billowing clouds of noxious-smelling chemicals in his home lab. As his interests spread to investigations of batteries and bulbs, vacuum tubes and photography, he discovered his first great scientific heroes, men and women whose genius lay in understanding the hidden order of things and disclosing the forces that sustain and support the tangible world. There was Humphry Davy, the boyish chemist who delighted in sending flaming globules of metal shooting across his lab; Marie Curie, whose heroic efforts in isolating radium would ultimately lead to the unlocking of the secrets of the atom; and Dmitri Mendeleev, inventor of the periodic table, whose pursuit of the classification of elements unfolds like a detective story. Uncle Tungsten vividly evokes a time when virtual reality had not yet displaced a hands-on knowledge of the world. It draws us into a journey of discovery that reveals, through the enchantment and wonder of a childhood passion, the birth of an extraordinary and original mind.
Publisher: New York : Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780375404481
Branch Call Number: B Sacks, Oliver
Characteristics: viii, 337 p. : 22 cm.


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Apr 26, 2019

Remarkable recollections by the brilliant mind of Oliver Sacks. That being said, I am a chemist, but enjoyed the personal stuff more than the endless detail about the salts and metals that he loved. My head started spinning at about Page 120. I never had chemistry sets as a kid, but came to love chemistry during college when I saw how it represented everyday life.

May 17, 2017

It's amazing to learn about how smart Dr. Sacks was since he was a little boy and his passion to chemistry. It's even more amazing that he had such open-minded and encouraging parents.

Mar 08, 2016

What a wonderful book! His love for the sciences really shines through and that enthusiasm extended to me! This was the very first book written by Oliver Sacks that I read. He's a wonderful writer and I highly recommend reading this book.

Apr 02, 2012

His autobiography seemed to be written more for himself than for other readers.


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Apr 03, 2019

katboxjanitor thinks this title is suitable for 10 years and over


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Apr 03, 2019

This memoir is a demonstration of a deep, abiding love for metals and science from within a family deeply involved in both medical and industrial fields. Not fast-paced, I had to check this puppy out 3, yes THREE times to finish it. I let the first try expire, but Dr. Sacks' story and perspective through some impressive decades of discovery and development of metallurgic and elemental sciences was quite intriguing and would not leave me alone.

I have read \ listened to a couple of Stephen Hawking's writings and the elements and periodic table was a concept I had not fully appreciated until now.

Making Science, Chemistry, Metallurgy and even Medicine relatable is quite a skill. And the fact he survived his childhood physically, emotionally, intellectually or professionally makes us all fortunate.


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