August 25, 2004
Director of Media Relations
AMHERST, Mass.- When they arrive at Amherst College next week for orientation, all 430 first-year students will have read the same book, An Anthropologist on Mars. They then will have the chance to hear author Oliver W. Sacks speak and to ask him questions, as part of the common intellectual experience with which they will start their college careers. The first-year students at Amherst will share a "common reading" for the first time in recent memory, and the first time ever meet the author.
The Dean of Students Office sent each first-year student at Amherst a copy of the book, which consists of seven clinical tales of patients adapting to neurological conditions including autism, Asperger's syndrome, amnesia, epileptic reminiscence, Tourette's syndrome, acquired colorblindness and the restoration of vision after congenital blindness. It's not required reading for any course. Allen Hart, the dean of first-year students, says his "expectation is that virtually everybody will have taken a look at the book-hopefully most will have read it fairly thoroughly." Behind the suggestion that all first-year students share a "common reading" is a goal that they'll share a "common intellectual experience."
As a practicing neurologist, researcher and writer, Sacks ponders how people survive various anomalies of their nervous systems, and what their adaptations say about the human condition. His best-selling books are taught widely in college courses on neuroscience, writing, ethics, philosophy and sociology; and have inspired poetry, drama, painting, dance, cinema and fiction. Sacks is the author of Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and many other books. A regular contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, as well as various medical journals, Sacks is an honorary fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences and Queen's College. The New York Times has called Sacks "the poet laureate of medicine," and a Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote, "It is Dr. Sacks's gift that he has found a way to enlarge our experience and understanding of what the human is." In 2002 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet.
In their new student orientation, the first-year students at Amherst will enjoy a full week of activities from Sunday, August 29 through Monday, September 6, which will introduce them, in addition to the intellectual experience, to the social life at the college and in the Amherst community.