Sonderbooks Book Review of


by Oliver Sacks

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by Oliver Sacks

Review posted December 11, 2018.
Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2015. 45 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in 2016, from a library book

This tiny book is short, but lovely. It contains four essays Oliver Sacks wrote in the last two years of his life.

When he wrote the first one, “Mercury,” about turning eighty, he didn’t know that cancer was soon to come back into his life and limit that life. But it fits beautifully with the others, about what’s important in life, and aging, and facing the end of life with gratitude.

In the second essay, “My Own Life,” written after receiving the diagnosis, he wrote:

Over the last few days, I have been able to see my life as from a great altitude, as a sort of landscape, and with a deepening sense of the connection of all its parts. This does not mean I am finished with life. On the contrary, I feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight.

This will involve audacity, clarity, and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).

Here’s where the title of the book comes from:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

The final essay, “Sabbath,” was written at the end of his life. He concludes:

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life – achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

This book won’t take much of your time, but it will lift your spirits and perhaps get you thinking about what it means to live life well.