Following on Musicophilia, with its accounts of patients whose brain injuries caused various sorts of phantom musical experiences, the literary neurologist Oliver Sacks here tells tales of his own youthful Hallucinations (Random House, $26.95). They started when he was a medical resident, and, “seeking a holiday from inner and outer restrictions,” he experimented with a smorgasbord of drugs, including LSD, cannabis, opium, and amphetamines. The resulting head trips were so memorable that he can still describe them in detail. Later, while working in a migraine clinic, Sacks used amphetamines to stimulate his intellectual curiosity. During the last of these trips, he received the revelation that would become his now classic study of migraines—but he had to quit the drugs in order to realize his vision.
Jon Meacham won the Pulitzer for his life of Andrew Jackson, American Lion; his new biography, Thomas Jefferson (Random House, $35), reads like another prizewinner. With access to his subject’s unpublished letters, Meacham explores the wide range of qualities that he believes made Jefferson the most successful political figure of America’s early years. Among the founder’s many attributes, Meacham focuses especially on the wide-ranging, inquisitive mind that led Jefferson to become an inventor, astronomer, and gardener— to name just a few of his pursuits. Meacham’s Jefferson is a true Renaissance man, and one whose idealism successfully achieved workable form with The Declaration of Independence. As the nation’s third president, his most important responsibility was to ensure the safety of his country, a duty that reinforced his desire both to acquire and to maintain power.
I first read and admired David Lodge’s work twenty-five years ago in his laugh-aloud satirical novel of academia and political correctness, Nice Work. In A Man of Parts (Viking, $26.95), his new fiction based on the life of H.G. Wells, Lodge applies his creative license to substantial biographical research. His subject, known for the science-fiction classics The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine, was a short, dumpy man with a squeaky voice— none of which deterred an active sex life. An early Fabian, Wells was also an unabashed advocate of Free Love and during his quarter-century-long marriage had numerous affairs; his lovers included birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger and author Rebecca West, by whom he had a son, the novelist Anthony West. Such colorful material, with its many a ménages à trois, filtered through Lodge’s rich imagination, makes for some very funny scenes and also presents a vivid intellectual portrait of Edwardian London and the period leading up to World War I.