Lawrence Weschler first met Dr. Oliver Sacks in the early 1980s, when he set out to profile the neurologist for The New Yorker. At that time, Sacks had just published Awakenings, an account of his long-dormant patients’ miraculous but troubling return to life in a Bronx hospital ward. But the book was not an immediate success, and the rumpled clinician was immersed in a deep writer’s block as he struggled to complete his next book, A Leg to Stand On. Over the next several years, the two men became close friends, and Sacks duly appointed Weschler as his official biographer. It was the start of the joint voyage of intellectual discovery that is chronicled in And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?
In this book, Weschler sets Sacks’s brilliant table talk and extravagant personality in vivid relief, casting himself as a beanpole Sancho to Sacks’s capacious Quixote. We see Sacks rowing and ranting and caring deeply; composing the essays that would form The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; recalling his turbulent drug-fueled younger days; helping his patients and exhausting his friends; and waging intellectual war against a medical and scientific establishment that fails to appreciate his greatest concern: the spontaneous vitality of the human soul. And all the time he is pouring out a stream of glorious, ribald, hilarious, and often profound conversation that establishes him as one of the great talkers of the age. Here is the definitive portrait of Sacks as our preeminent romantic scientist, a self-described “clinical ontologist” whose entire practice revolved around two questions he asked his patients: How are you? How do you be?
Finalist for National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction
Pronged ants, horned humans, a landscape carved on a fruit pit--some of the displays in David Wilson's Museum of Jurassic Technology are hoaxes. But which ones? As he guides readers through an intellectual hall of mirrors, Lawrence Weschler revisits the 16th-century "wonder cabinets" that were the first museums and compels readers to examine the imaginative origins of both art and science.
Lawrence Weschler is not simply a superb reporter, essayist, and cultural observer; he is also an uncanny collector and connector of wonders. In Vermeer in Bosnia, whether he is reporting on the aftermath of the Yugoslav wars (and noticing, for example, how centuries earlier Vermeer had had to invent the peace and serenity we so prize in his work today from a youth during which all of Europe had been as ravaged as Bosnia) or dissecting the special quality of light in his beloved hometown of Los Angeles, Weschler’s perceptions are often startling, his insights both fresh and profound.
Included here is Weschler’s remarkable profile of Roman Polanski–written years before the release of The Pianist, yet all but predicting the director’s confrontation with the Holocaust in that film–alongside an equally celebrated portrait of Ed Weinberger, a young designer crushed and yet hardly bowed by an extreme form of Parkinson’s disease. Here is Weschler limning his own experience as the grandson of an eminent Weimar-era composer, and then as the befuddled father of an eminently fetching daughter. Here is Weschler on Art Spiegelman, David Hockney, Ed Kienholz, and Wislawa Szymborska.
Here, in short, are some of the most dazzling pieces from Lawrence Weschler’s own brimming cabinet of marvels.
Now, New Yorker staff reporter Lawrence Weschler tells the extraordinary story of how, against tremendous odds, torture victims and human-rights activists in two Latin American countries—Brazil and Uruguay—tried to bring their torturers to justice and to rehabilitate their whole societies from harrowing periods of silence and repression. In this first of his two accounts, he tells how a tiny group of torture victims, clerics, and human-rights activists in Brazil launched an extremely risky, nonviolent plot to get even with the former torturers by publishing an indisputable account of their savage system of repression—indisputable because it is drawn from the regime’s own files. In the second, set in Uruguay, he tells how a more broadly-based movement attempted to bring to light the dark history of a military regime engaged in more political incarceration per capita than any other on earth at that time.
In this illuminating and beautifully written book (portions of which appeared in five issues of The New Yorker), Weschler examines what a small number of individuals can do to retrieve history and truth from the hands of torturers.
Uncanny Valley continues the page-turning conversation as Weschler collects the best of his narrative nonfiction from the past fifteen years. The title piece surveys the hapless efforts of digital animators to fashion a credible human face, the endlessly elusive gold standard of the profession. Other highlights include profiles of novelist Mark Salzman, as he wrestles with a hilariously harrowing bout of writer’s block; the legendary film and sound editor Walter Murch, as he is forced to revisit his work on Apocalypse Now in the context of the more recent Iraqi war film Jarhead; and the artist Vincent Desiderio, as he labors over an epic canvas portraying no less than a dozen sleeping figures.
With his signature style and endless ability to wonder, Weschler proves yet again that the “world is strange, beautiful, and connected” (The Globe and Mail). Uncanny Valley demonstrates his matchless ability to analyze the marvels he finds in places and people and offers us a new, sublime way of seeing the world.
For film aficionados, Walter Murch is legendary--a three-time Academy Award winner, arguably the most admired sound and film editor in the world for his work on Apocalypse Now, The Godfather trilogy, The English Patient, and many others. Outside of the studio, his mind is wide-ranging; his passion, pursued for several decades, has been astrophysics, in particular the rehabilitation of Titius-Bode, a long-discredited 18th century theory regarding the patterns by which planets and moons array themselves in gravitational systems across the universe. Though as a consummate outsider he's had a hard time attracting any sort of comprehensive hearing from professional astrophysicists, Murch has made advances that even some of them find intriguing, including a connection between Titius Bode and earlier notions--going back past Kepler and Pythagorus--of musical harmony in the heavens. Unfazed by rejection, ever probing, Murch perseveres in the highest traditions of outsider science.
Lawrence Weschler brings Murch's quest alive in all its seemingly quixotic, yet still plausible, splendor, probing the basis for how we know what we know, and who gets to say. "The wholesale rejection of alternative theories has repeatedly held back the progress of vital science," Weschler observes, citing early twentieth-century German amateur Alfred Wegener, whose speculations about continental drift were ridiculed at first, only to be accepted as fact decades later. Theoretical physicist Lee Smolin says "It is controversy that brings science alive"--and Murch's quest does that in spades. His fascination with the way the planets and their moons are arranged opens up the field of celestial mechanics for general readers, sparking an awareness of the vast and (to us) invisible forces constantly at play in the universe.
Gomez, born in 1986 in San Bernardino, California, to undocumented Mexican immigrant parents, bridges the divide between the affluent wealthy and their usually invisible domestic help—the nannies, gardeners, housecleaners, and others who make their lifestyles possible—by inserting images of these workers into sly pastiches of iconic David Hockney paintings, subtly doctoring glossy magazine ads, and subversively slotting life-size painted cardboard cutouts into real-life situations.
Domestic Scenes engages with Gomez and his work, offering an inspiring vision of the purposes and possibilities of art.