As he approached sixty, Oliver Sacks ‘started to experience a curious phenomenon – the spontaneous, unsolicited rising of early memories into [his] mind, memories that had lain dormant for upwards of fifty years’. Over the last twenty years of his life, these memories inspired two hugely popular volumes of autobiography (Uncle Tungsten and On the Move) and a steady flow of shorter pieces for the New York Review of Books. The River of Consciousness includes many of them and is dedicated to Robert Silvers, the NYRB’s late editor, whose openness to their idiosyncratic mix of personal anecdote and panoramic insight, often constructed around obscure episodes in the history of science, enabled this profuse late flowering.
Through these early memories, Sacks discovered the roots of his life’s work in childhood and in play, an activity both imitative and creative that allows children, plant-like, to embed themselves in their surroundings while at the same time pushing outwards into the unknown. In Uncle Tungsten, his childhood fascination