Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
  • Title: Gratitude
  • Subtitle: None
  • Author(s): Oliver Sacks
  • Publisher: Knopf Canada
  • Year: 2015-11-24
  • ISBN-10: 0345811364
  • ISBN-13: 9780345811363


Gratitude” is a profound collection of essays by renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks. Published posthumously, this book offers readers a glimpse into Sacks’ personal reflections, thoughts, and experiences as he faced the final chapter of his life. Sacks, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer, grapples with his own mortality and uses these essays to explore themes of gratitude, illness, aging, and the human condition.

The book opens with Sacks’ discovery of a rare and unique fern that he brings into his home, an emblem of his enduring curiosity and appreciation for the natural world. Throughout the essays, Sacks recounts moments of gratitude, both small and profound, that have enriched his life. From simple pleasures like swimming or listening to music to more complex emotions tied to his patients and friends, Sacks masterfully reflects on the power of gratitude in shaping our perspective on life and death.

As he contemplates the inevitable end of his own life, Sacks also reflects on the lives of his patients, some of whom he has cared for over several decades. Through these poignant anecdotes, he illuminates the resilience of the human spirit and the transformative potential of gratitude in the face of adversity. “Gratitude” serves as a moving testament to Oliver Sacks’ intellectual curiosity, empathy, and deep reverence for the wonders of existence, leaving readers with a profound sense of the beauty that can be found even in life’s most challenging moments.


Book Review

A Journey of Appreciation: "Gratitude" by Oliver Sacks

Gratitude” is a deeply contemplative and poignant collection of essays by the renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks. As someone who had spent a lifetime exploring the intricacies of the human brain and the quirks of the human condition, Sacks offers a unique perspective on life, illness, aging, and, ultimately, his own mortality. These essays, penned during the last two years of his life as he faced terminal cancer, provide readers with an intimate look into the mind of a man who had dedicated his life to understanding the complexities of the human experience.

Sacks begins the book with the story of a rare and ancient fern, which he discovers in a New York City flower market. This simple act of purchasing a plant sets the stage for the overarching theme of the book: gratitude. Through his interactions with this fern, he reflects on the joy he finds in nurturing and observing its growth. This seemingly trivial event serves as a metaphor for the importance of finding beauty and wonder in the everyday aspects of life, even when confronted with the inevitability of death.

One of the most striking aspects of “Gratitude” is Sacks’ ability to extract profound insights from seemingly mundane experiences. For instance, he writes about the pleasure he derives from swimming, a pastime that has brought him joy throughout his life. Swimming becomes a metaphor for his journey through life, and he describes how the water’s embrace provides a sense of weightlessness and freedom, temporarily freeing him from the constraints of illness and age. This essay, like many in the collection, is a meditation on the value of simple pleasures and the profound gratitude that can be found in them.

Sacks also delves into his relationships with friends, colleagues, and patients, sharing personal anecdotes that reveal his deep compassion and empathy. In one essay, he writes about a close friend who, like him, faces the harsh reality of terminal illness. Sacks’ reflections on friendship, love, and the shared human experience are touching and resonate deeply with anyone who has grappled with the complexities of mortality. His ability to extract meaning from these relationships, even in the face of adversity, is a testament to his wisdom and emotional depth.

The heart of “Gratitude” lies in Sacks’ contemplation of his own mortality. As a physician who had spent his career diagnosing and treating others, he now found himself on the other side of the equation. He grapples with the challenges of accepting the finite nature of life, yet his reflections are infused with a sense of grace and acceptance. Sacks doesn’t shy away from the fear and uncertainty that accompany his diagnosis, but he approaches them with a remarkable sense of equanimity.

What makes “Gratitude” particularly powerful is its brevity and conciseness. Each essay is a gem of introspection and emotional resonance, and Sacks’ writing is clear, eloquent, and deeply moving. At just over 40 pages, this collection can be read in one sitting, yet its impact lingers long after the final page is turned. Sacks’ ability to distill profound insights into concise essays is a testament to his literary prowess and his capacity to touch the hearts of readers.

In conclusion, “Gratitude” is a remarkable literary gift from Oliver Sacks. It is a poignant and introspective exploration of the human condition, mortality, and the enduring value of gratitude. Sacks’ ability to find beauty, wonder, and meaning in the ordinary moments of life, even in the face of death, is a testament to his profound wisdom and deep humanity. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking to gain perspective on life’s complexities and find solace in the simple yet profound act of being grateful. Oliver Sacks’ legacy as a brilliant writer and compassionate physician shines brightly in these pages, making “Gratitude” a timeless and deeply moving work.


Appreciation shifts perception! Cultivating gratitude, even for life's challenges, opens a doorway to joy, inner peace, and a deeper connection to the world around us.

Key Ideas

Oliver Sacks’ “Gratitude” is a collection of four deeply reflective essays that were written during the last two years of his life. In these essays, Sacks, a renowned neurologist and writer, explores several key ideas:

  1. Gratitude Amidst Mortality The central theme of the book is gratitude, and Sacks’ contemplation of this concept takes on particular poignancy given his terminal illness. He reflects on the idea that even in the face of death, there is room for gratitude. Sacks reminds us that acknowledging and appreciating the beauty and wonder of life, both large and small, can be a source of solace and even joy in the face of mortality.

  2. Finding Meaning in Everyday Experiences Sacks demonstrates how he finds profound meaning in the seemingly mundane aspects of life. He writes about the joy of nurturing a fern, the pleasures of swimming, and the value of human connections. Through these reflections, he invites readers to reexamine their own lives and find meaning in everyday experiences, encouraging them to savor life’s simple pleasures.

  3. Facing Mortality with Equanimity Sacks does not shy away from discussing his own impending death. Instead, he approaches it with a sense of equanimity and acceptance. He writes about the challenges of accepting the finite nature of life, acknowledging fear and uncertainty, but ultimately embracing the reality of mortality. Sacks’ perspective offers a unique insight into how one can come to terms with their own mortality and find peace.

  4. Compassion and Connection Throughout the essays, Sacks emphasizes the importance of human connections, whether they are with friends, colleagues, or patients. His deep compassion and empathy shine through as he shares personal anecdotes about the people who have touched his life. Sacks’ writings underscore the significance of relationships and the profound impact they can have on one’s sense of self and purpose.

In summary, “Gratitude” is a contemplative and deeply moving book that invites readers to reflect on the profound themes of life, death, and gratitude. Oliver Sacks’ ability to find beauty and meaning in the ordinary moments of existence, even when faced with his own mortality, is a testament to his wisdom and humanity. The book serves as a poignant reminder of the power of gratitude and the importance of cherishing life’s simple joys, even in the midst of life’s greatest challenges.


Target Audience

The target audience for Oliver Sacks’ “Gratitude” is quite broad, spanning a wide range of readers who can benefit from its profound insights and reflections. This book is recommended reading for several reasons:

  • Patients and Caregivers Sacks was not only a neurologist but also a deeply compassionate physician. His writings, including “Gratitude,” offer a unique perspective on illness, suffering, and the doctor-patient relationship. Patients dealing with chronic illness and their caregivers can find solace and wisdom in Sacks’ compassionate approach to medicine.

  • Healthcare Professionals Healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, and therapists, can gain valuable insights into the emotional and psychological aspects of patient care. Sacks’ emphasis on empathy, compassion, and the importance of truly seeing and understanding patients as individuals can inspire better patient-provider relationships and care.

  • General Readers “Gratitude” is a book that speaks to the universal human experience. Sacks’ reflections on life, death, gratitude, and the simple joys of existence are relevant to anyone. It encourages readers to take a step back, appreciate the beauty in everyday moments, and find meaning in their own lives. It’s a book that can provide comfort and insight to anyone dealing with life’s challenges.

  • Philosophers and Thinkers Sacks’ contemplation of profound topics such as mortality, the human experience, and the nature of consciousness can resonate deeply with philosophers and thinkers. His nuanced exploration of these themes adds to the ongoing discourse on the human condition.

  • Spiritual Seekers While not a religious book, “Gratitude” touches upon spiritual themes such as acceptance, equanimity, and the search for meaning. Those on a spiritual journey may find resonance in Sacks’ reflections.

  • Those Facing Mortality This book can be especially meaningful for individuals who are confronting their own mortality, either due to a terminal illness or as a result of aging. Sacks’ acceptance of death as a part of life and his ability to find gratitude even in the face of death can provide comfort and guidance.

In summary, “Gratitude” is recommended reading for its universal themes, accessible writing style, and the profound wisdom it imparts. It’s a book that reminds us of the importance of living fully, cherishing the ordinary moments, and finding gratitude even in the most challenging circumstances. Its target audience is essentially anyone seeking a deeper understanding of life’s complexities and a greater appreciation for the human experience.

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