Oliver Sacks Victimized by Richard Powers?

As bad as William Deresiewicz’s Echo Maker review was, it doesn’t hold a candle to the silly leaps in logic laid down by Craig Seligman, who accuses Richard Powers of victimizing Oliver Sacks:

Modeling Weber so closely on Sacks was mildly insane, because it points you toward Sacks’s rigorous prose — next to which the heated emotions and the elaborate literary scaffoldings in this book seem overcomplicated and false. If there’s exploitation here, the victim is Oliver Sacks.

Given that there are probably no more than a few pages of “Weber”‘s work within The Echo Maker, I’m wondering precisely how Powers has pointed towards Sacks’ prose (Sacks’ ideas and techniques, perhaps; but what does Sacks’ prose style have to do with it?). I believe it can be safely stated that Sacks was certainly one of the inspirations for the Weber character, but I think it’s up to the reader to determine these implicit connections.


  1. Richard Powers is one of the greatest writers of his (or any) generation, and THE ECHO MAKER is his most accessible and moving and fully realized novel to date. It probably won’t win the NBA, because books that deserve to win major awards rarely do, but it should.

    That a low-rent hackjob like Craig Seligman–who belongs to that most unfortunate club, critics who want to be Great American Writers–would try to pull off a “hatchetjob” on Powers comes as no surprise, no doubt. He’s after shock value, after all–no different than Jerry Bruckheimer. Oh, and then there’s the fact that he’s been demoted into role of companyman critic, from Salon to Bloomberg in how many stock options?

    But comparing an admittedly brilliant writer of neuroscientific narrative nonfiction to a man who has written only novels–no collections of top-drawer essays, no self-aggrandizing memoirs–is like comparing kiwis and kumquats. Or, say, a critic and a careerist.

  2. Gerald’s books may resemble Oliver Sack’s popular work, but Powers has drawn on a wide range of neuroscientists in his wonderful novel. In particular, he makes use of the work of Nobel laureate Gerald M. Edelman, whose first name Powers bestows on Weber. Lest we miss the echo, Powers also borrows the title of one of Edelman’s books, Wider than the Sky (2004), for one of Weber’s books.

  3. If Powers weren’t trying to identify the Weber character as Oliver Sacks specifically, why would he have had the man in the seat next to him on the plane, at the very end of the book, ask him suspiciously if he’s “The brain guy… Sure. The Man Who Mistook His Life for a …” Was that merely a clever play on words, appropriate to the theme of the book, or a tightly knotted bow to let the reader tie up the threads that have lead us all along to the conclusion that he’s based the Weber character on Sacks?

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