Oliver Sacks On His Burning Love Of 'Fire' Neurologist Oliver Sacks' earliest and fondest memories are of fire — the coal fires of his childhood home, Hanukkah candles. Today he deals more with the firing of neurons, but he still gets his fix through flame-inspired literature like Hazel Rossotti's Fire, about the culture and science of fire.


Oliver Sacks On His Burning Love Of 'Fire'

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GUY RAZ, host:

And now the latest in our series, My Guilty Pleasure, where authors talk about a book they're embarrassed to admit they love. Today, neurologist Oliver Sacks recommends a book about a subject that has fascinated him since he was a boy, "Fire."

Dr. OLIVER SACKS (Neurologist): Many of my earliest and fondest memories are of fire. In our house in London, in the 1930s, we had coal fires in every room, and I knew nothing more peaceful and satisfying than gazing at the flames.

When I was older, I was able to set up a little chemistry lab near the kitchen. Now, living in a New York apartment without a fireplace, I can only recapture the joys and terrors of fire vicariously. I have a whole shelf of books on fire. My favorite of these is�"Fire"�by Hazel Rossotti. Rossotti is a chemist by profession. She is a born teacher and writer, incapable of writing a dull word, and is at home in cultural history as in the intricacies of atomic structure. Her book on fire, then, covers every aspect, from the chemistry of fire to fireworks, fire worship to fire-walking, fire eaters to cooking with fire.

Nowadays, as a neurologist, I am more concerned with the firing of neurons, and the slow molecular fires that burn in every cell. It is not entirely metaphorical to speak of a fire of life or the fire of inspiration. But secretly, I yearn for something harsher, more primal: blazing, superheated infernos, devouring sheets of flame, beautiful and terrible explosions. Rossotti's book, which would be best read, of course, by firelight, satisfies this slightly guilty love of fire at a primordial level.

RAZ: Neurologist Oliver Sacks is the author of "The Mind's Eye" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat."

You'll find more My Guilty Pleasures, including author Susan Jane Gilman's roundup of the year's best at our website, NPR.org.

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