Archive for the ‘Oliver Sachs’ Category

This book is more of a travelogue than his usual neurological/fantastical tales. He undertook quite a long and grueling trip—in tiny planes and tinier boats– to a couple of the islands that make up Micronesia. His object in the first part of the book is to study a population with a much higher proportion of colorblind people than is usual, on the tiny atoll of Pingelap. He not only writes movingly of their plight (and its probable genetic history) but also of the astonishing beauty of the island. Botany, it appears, is another passion of the good doctor, and he rapturously describes the amazing richness of the rain forest flora.
MicronesiaIn the second part of the book, he travels to Guam, and writes about horrible wasting disease called Lytico-bodig, which afflicts a large proportion of the native people. It is fatal, and wide spread among the older population–younger people are not affected. Lytico-bodig has a horrible resemblance not only to ALS, but also Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s. Looking it up, I see that later research (by Sachs and others) seemed to link the disease to the consumption of a certain kind of bat, which fed on cycads, and concentrated a poison derived from them in its body fat. The bat is now nearly extinct, and the disease is dying out.
The book is an odd combination of neurological, geographical, and botanical observations, and is very engrossing—he also includes pages of historical and other references (Melville’s Typee, 17th century traveler accounts), quite fascinating.


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