The Island of the Colorblind

by Oliver Sacks | Science |
ISBN: 0375700730 Global Overview for this book
Registered by winggorydetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 12/14/2014
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4 journalers for this copy...
Journal Entry 1 by winggorydetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Sunday, December 14, 2014
I found this fair-condition softcover at the Book Cellar, and nabbed it for another release copy.

As always, Sacks' writing is enjoyable, meandering between fascinating clinical reporting and some really lovely descriptions of places and people. This book has two separate sections (with another third of the book devoted to extensive footnotes); the first features the island of Pingelap, where there is an unusually high percentage of people suffering from achromatopsia, which means not only that they have no color vision at all but are extremely sensitive to light. The second section is set on Guam and deals with a neurological syndrome that reminds Sacks of his early studies in Parkinson's disease.

In the first section, Sacks discovers a weaver among the colorblind people who specializes in intricate patterns of differing brightness. (Knut, a Norwegian scientist who also suffers from achromatopsia and had accompanied Sacks on this trip describes a jacket that his sister had knitted, in 16 different but subtle colors; to the ordinary eye the patterns were almost invisible but people with achromatopsia could see them clearly.)

There are lots of wonderful bits here, from the presentation of sunglasses to many of the sufferers, allowing them to be out in daylight without squinting for the first time in their lives to the descriptions of the impressive megalithic construct Nan Madol, which I'd never heard of before.

The second section deals with the occurrence of lytico-bodig, a syndrome that resembled Parkinson's in some ways, ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease) in others, and Alzheimer's. There was speculation that it was caused by overindulgence in fadang, the flour made from the seeds of cycads, an ancient type of tree; as Sacks adores cycads (among his many other interests) he was especially interested in this aspect. I learned quite a lot about Guam's history and present situation here. (I knew that it was a US territory, of course, and had a significant military presence, but hadn't realized just how locked-down much of it was.) I already knew about the ecological disaster caused by the brown tree snakes that have caused the extinction of most wild-bird species on the island, but reading about it here made it more depressing; among other things, they caused regular blackouts by climbing into wiring.

Sacks found some very puzzling patterns in the disease, which had frustrating inconsistencies in the symptoms, time to onset, and other details - not to mention the problem of what caused it. And while it's a good thing that it seems to be fading out - no new cases in young people in some time - that makes it even less likely that a definitive cause can be discovered. [Side note: I found an item online suggesting that the cause of lytico-bodig may have had to do with fruit bats; if so, the predation of the snakes on the bat population might have something to do with the ebbing of the disease. Hmmm...]

As I mentioned, the notes section takes up almost a third of the book, and contains elaborations, anecdotes, background and other fascinating material, so don't miss it!

[I was pleased to spot a reference to one of the primary researchers mentioned in Deadly Feasts.]

Journal Entry 2 by winggorydetailswing at Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Monday, December 15, 2014

Released 9 yrs ago (12/15/2014 UTC) at Nashua, New Hampshire USA

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I'm sending this to BCer NancyNova in Pennsylvania as part of the US/Canada Wishlist Tag game. Enjoy!

*** Released as part of the 2014 What's In A Name release challenge, for the embedded "Lin" in the title. ***

Journal Entry 3 by wingNancyNovawing at Lansdale, Pennsylvania USA on Saturday, December 27, 2014
The book arrived! I have no idea why this was on my wishlist - maybe spotted it on someone's reading list?

Alas, not including territories in the states challenge this year, but Guam is considered Oceania, so setting aside and marking for the 666 challenge.

Journal Entry 4 by wingNancyNovawing at Lansdale, Pennsylvania USA on Sunday, August 16, 2015
rabck from GoryDetails; I don't think I'll look at all the green tropical plants the same way again. Although the title purports the neurologist's investigation into the incidence of color blindness on an island in Micronesia, the author also ventures to other islands to study other diseases, and his side passion for cycads. Definitely read the notes at the end - they provide more valuable insight into the different chapters.
Read for the SIY and 66 challenges. This one will likely move along in a bookbox.

Journal Entry 5 by wingNancyNovawing at Lansdale, Pennsylvania USA on Monday, January 25, 2016
This one is heading out in a VBB round #11

Journal Entry 6 by wingNancyNovawing at -- Bookbox, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- USA on Monday, January 25, 2016

Released 8 yrs ago (1/25/2016 UTC) at -- Bookbox, -- By post or by hand/ in person -- USA

CONTROLLED RELEASE NOTES:

VBB round 11 pick. Enjoy!

If you aren't familiar with Bookcrossing, take a few minutes to check out this very cool site. Bookcrossers LOVE books, and more than anything, they love to read books and then set them free for other people to find and enjoy. I would love it if you would leave a journal entry -- you can say where you found the book or how you liked it when you read it. Then, when you are ready, pass it along for someone else to enjoy! Thanks and happy reading!

Journal Entry 7 by rhythmbiscuit at Northglenn, Colorado USA on Friday, February 5, 2016
Thank you for sharing this book. I've read Sacks' work before, but it's been a long time.

Journal Entry 8 by rhythmbiscuit at Northglenn, Colorado USA on Sunday, July 31, 2016
I don't read a lot of nonfiction (although I always feel I should), but I was highly interested while reading this book. Sacks has a lot of knowledge and interests. I didn't really know about cycads before, and I'm amazed at their hardiness and how ancient they are.

What I found most fascinating was the other conditions that come with achromatopsia, such as extreme sensitivity to light and, particularly, their ability to perceive stars so much better than the rest of us.

I'm offering this book back up in Booklady331's Nonfiction VBB. I hope the next reader enjoys it as much as I did!

Journal Entry 9 by BooksandMusic at Seattle, Washington USA on Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Thank you for sending this to me, it looks good.

Journal Entry 10 by BooksandMusic at Seattle, Washington USA on Thursday, April 30, 2020
Slated to be read before the end of the year.

Journal Entry 11 by BooksandMusic at Seattle, Washington USA on Thursday, July 13, 2023
I didn't know that there was such a thing as complete color blindness, just seeing in black and white and shades of grey. This means extreme sun sensitivity but much better sight at night. Night fishing is a popular occupation for achromatopes. But what a situation to have on a South Pacific Island with the sun shining oh so brightly. Bringing sun glasses and sun visors to this population allowed some people to go outside during the day.
I haven't yet mentioned that the Island of the Colorblind is a Pacific atoll called Pingelap. A typhoon in 1776 killed 90% of the population. About 20 survivors were left. Re-population, with in-breeding, commenced.

"genetic traits previously rare began to spread"

"The first children with the Pingelap eye disease were born in the 1820's, and within a few generations their numbers had increased to more than five percent of the population, roughly what it remains today."

The Pingelap eye disease is achromatopsia.

"genealogical studies indicate that it was the surviving nahnmwarki (the chief) himself who was the ultimate progenitor of every subsequent carrier."

The book covers other atolls, islands and diseases. Guam is one of the islands. What fascinated me about Guam is that an invasive species, a brown tree snake, has eaten all the bird eggs reducing the bird population so greatly that no bird song is heard on the island and the jungles are festooned with spider webs from the huge population of spiders that would normally have been eaten by birds. Snakes and spiders Guam. Not visiting, no.

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