November 11, 1974


Author Affiliations

Veterans Administration Hospital Iowa City


by Oliver Sacks, 249 pp, $7.95, Doubleday & Co, 1974.

JAMA. 1974;230(6):906-907. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03240060070046

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In Awakenings, a humanistic physician provides a compassionate account of his observations over a five-year period (1967 to 1972) of postencephalitic parkinsonian patients and their strange and often tragic reactions when treated with levodopa.

The author's various digressions add to an already interesting book. He gives a concise history of the influenza epidemic (1918 to 1926) that led to these patients' eventual illness, along with evidence that such epidemics have occurred frequently in the past and are very likely to recur. In addition, interspersed among his case histories, Sacks includes his observations of the deleterious effects on patients when institutions for the chronically ill are run for efficiency rather than for human needs.

However, going far beyond the individual case descriptions, the book reaches substantial depth in its final chapters and the copious footnotes that accompany the 20 case histories. These detail the philosophical implications as Sacks draws on the