Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical BoyhoodUncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

i do not understand science.

most phenomena i just dismiss with accusations of magic: the moon controls the tides?? but they are so far away!! oh, maaaagic!! leap year?? account for thyself!! magic?? got it. how did you make this pluot, sir?? ah, i see you are an alchemist!

much of it i have to blame on my high schooling because i have not studied any aspect of the sciences since then, but it’s not like i have gone out of my way to do any research now that i am grown. i mean, they do make books after all. but i feel like i lack a foundation for this material and anything i learn at this point with my senile old-lady swiss-cheese brain would be a crumbling waste. i am not a complete sped – biology i get: genetics, reproduction, evolution, chromosomes, etc – i can handle myself in a trivial pursuit scenario, but don’t ask me to be making any new species or anything. chemistry was fun when it was hands-on, but i only understood the short-term: do some paper chromatography, blow this shit up – i never really understood the knowledge behind the explosions, i was too dazzled by the craft-project elements. and it is best to not talk about karen and physics in the same sentence.

i know that amino acids are a kind of protein molecule because of a singsong rhyme i made up in third-grade to help me study, and i still hum sometimes. this is the extent of my science, although i swear i am going to read this book i have owned for years that makes “science” interesting to me.

i had a great teacher for AP english, and i also had him for a class called “reading appreciation” which was a class where students would read quietly for the period and submit a book report/review for every book completed. many students took this as an “easy A” class. i took it because it was like someone offering me a kitten that laid cadbury eggs and would live FOREVER. i opted to take this class instead of AP biology. in retrospect, i probably should have gone with the learning-class, but i was seventeen, and someone was offering me exactly what i wanted. i figured if i really wanted to dissect something, i could just do it in my spare time.

my science teachers i remember being very nice and very patient with me, but nothing stuck and no one inspired me to be all gung-ho about science.

and while i have been told that i am not stupid, i can’t help feeling i am stupid when confronted by things that i just do not understand. and that confusion makes me resentful and makes me lash out and call you all robots and then go sulk in the corner and watch you figure out the half-lives of chemicals. show-off robots. but oliver sacks manages to humanize you science machines. and i am finally getting around to talking about the book.

man, oliver sacks… i have never read him before, even though i have heard him speak a number of times when he has given readings at my store. mostly just me half-listening, running around taking care of the books… he always struck me as a very personable older gentleman that people just got all starry-eyed over, but i never understood why. now i get it. he is just a delight. this book is about his early love of chemistry and his enviable understanding of all things chemical. his enthusiasm is seriously contagious and even though i can’t get all worked up about it myself, the fact that he is bouncing in his seat over the elegance of the chemical world and how everything is structured and fits perfectly together – well, it makes me see the human underneath all the robot-makeup.

i really enjoyed reading this book, even if sometimes i would grumble at a ten-year-old whose understanding of the universe was greater than my own.

so i thank you, nick black, for the christmas miracle of allowing me to see how the other half lives, even if i will still refer to evaporation as “water-magic.”

read my reviews on goodreads

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Amazon Disclaimer is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon properties including but not limited to,, or,,, or


this feels gauche, but when i announced i was starting a blog, everyone assured me this is a thing that is done. i’m not on facebook, i’ve never had a cellphone or listened to a podcast; so many common experiences of modern life are foreign to me, but i’m certainly struggling financially, so if this is how the world works now, i’d be foolish to pass it up. any support will be received with equal parts gratitude and bewilderment.

To Top