In Memory of Oliver Sacks: Revisiting ‘Island of the Colorblind’

The People of Pingelap. (Image: Hannes von der Fecht)
The People of Pingelap. (Image: Hannes von der Fecht)


British neurologist Oliver Sacks died at his home in Greenwich village last week, aged 82 to cancer.

The first time I came across his work, was as a teenager reading his book The Man That Mistook His Wife For A Hat.  He often wrote books that were best-selling case histories about his patients disorders. The way he wrote was with enormous compassion and insight and that is how I remember him.

Oliver Sacks. (Image: Maria Popova/Creative Commons)

Oliver Sacks. (Image: Maria Popova/Creative Commons)

The other book of his that captured my fascination was one called Island of the Colorblind.

In this book he writes about his journey to a remote island that he heard was home to the largest community of colourblind people on the planet.

Pingelap is this ‘Island of the Colorblind,’ a tiny Pacific island, six degrees north of the equator and hundreds of miles from the nearest landform. The islanders there are born completely colorblind and Oliver Sacks sets up a small room in a make-shift clinic on the island where he hears the accounts of the people as they describe a world without color in rich terms of pattern and tone, luminance and shadow.

Oliver Sacks ho Mistook His A Ha 'Island ' Book Cover. (Image: Picador Publishing)

Oliver Sacks Book Covers. (Image: Picador Publishing)

From his journey, Sacks weaves together an intriguing narrative capturing the beauty of remote island life and we take a curious step into the world of people with achromatopsia. The second part of the book he travels to Guam and Rota to investigate a puzzling neurological disease called lytico-bodig. It is suspected the source of the disease comes from eating the fruits of the cyclads that flourish on the islands.


A mini-series documentary was made with Oliver Sacks on the Island of the Colorblind and can be seen in six parts.

Part 1 of 6:

Part 2 of 6:

Part 3 of 6:

Part 4 of 6:

Part 5 of 6:

Part 6 of 6:

Photographer Hannes von der Fecht has a series of beautiful black and white photos showcasing a more recent look into the island of Pingelap,  which can be found on his website.

Oliver Sacks inspired a lot of people over the years with his warmth, curiosity and insight and The Island of the Colorblind is one that is hard to forget.

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