June 25, 1997

The Island of the Colorblind and Cycad Island

Author Affiliations

Pensacola, Fla


by Oliver Sacks, 298 pp, with illus, $24, ISBN 0-679-45114-5, New York, NY, Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.

JAMA. 1997;277(24):1980. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540480080046

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This interesting and easily read book contains two long narratives, both appealing stories about unique medical conditions on Pacific islands. "The Island of the Colorblind" is about an isolated tribe on the island of Pingelap with a high incidence of achromatopsia. In "Cycad Island" Dr Sacks describes the peculiar neurological condition of Parkinson-dementia-amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, called "lytico" and "bodig" by the islanders on Guam. The clinical descriptions are compelling, and Sacks' recounting of how the disease has been studied is intriguing. In both narratives his explanations about the neurological features and pathology demonstrate his rare talent of making medical science intersting and helping the reader feel, even at a lay level, why scientific thought is both a worthy and a fun enterprise. The book also contains an exhaustive bibliography.

The preceding is reason enough to strongly recommend the book. But there is so much more! First, in content alone, Sacks