Insomniac City

Insomniac City : New York, Oliver, and Me

4.44 (2,297 ratings by Goodreads)
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Amazon's Best Biographies and Memoirs of 2017 List

"This touching memoir of the late neurologist Oliver Sacks, by a photographer and writer with whom he fell in love near the end of his life, turns a story of death into a celebration." --The New Yorker

"A beautifully written once-in-a-lifetime book, about love, about life, soul, and the wonderful loving genius Oliver Sacks, and New York, and laughter and all of creation." --Anne Lamott

Bill Hayes came to New York City in 2009 with a one-way ticket and only the vaguest idea of how he would get by. But, at forty-eight years old, having spent decades in San Francisco, he craved change. Grieving over the death of his partner, he quickly discovered the profound consolations of the city's incessant rhythms, the sight of the Empire State Building against the night sky, and New Yorkers themselves, kindred souls that Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, encountered on late-night strolls with his camera.

And he unexpectedly fell in love again, with his friend and neighbor, the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks, whose exuberance--"I don't so much fear death as I do wasting life," he tells Hayes early on--is captured in funny and touching vignettes throughout. What emerges is a portrait of Sacks at his most personal and endearing, from falling in love for the first time at age seventy-five to facing illness and death (Sacks died of cancer in August 2015). Insomniac City is both a meditation on grief and a celebration of life. Filled with Hayes's distinctive street photos of everyday New Yorkers, the book is a love song to the city and to all who have felt the particular magic and solace it offers.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 304 pages
  • 140 x 210 x 20.32mm | 272.16g
  • Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • B&W photos throughout
  • 162040494X
  • 9781620404942
  • 55,138

Review quote

Insomniac City is a beautiful memoir in which Oliver Sacks comes wonderfully to life--a double portrait that also provides a vivid picture of New York City's neighborhoods and people. The ending is exquisitely wrought, heartrending and joyous. - Joyce Carol Oates

Like New York, the city he celebrates so poignantly in this book, Bill Hayes mixes 'memory with desire' to create a heartbreakingly gorgeous story of love, loss, and renewal. - Azar Nafisi, author of READING LOLITA IN TEHRAN

Insomniac City is a love story to New York and the people we cherish, for Bill Hayes, the late Oliver Sacks. With prescience and tenderness, written with a sharp eye and a camera attuned to life on the streets, Hayes has composed a gorgeous memoir on why place matters to the soul of our humanity. I loved every single sentence in this quiet night-book, erotic and evocative, at once. - Terry Tempest Williams, author of THE HOUR OF LAND

Remarkably poignant. Readers will find themselves wishing the two men had more time, but as Hayes makes clear, they wasted none of the time they had. - Publishers Weekly

"A unique and exuberant celebration of life and love." - Kirkus Reviews

Bill Hayes has an unusual set of skills . . . He is part science writer, part memoirist, part culture explainer. - The New York Times

All laud and honor to Hayes. - The Washington Post on THE ANATOMIST

This beguiling brew of fascinating scientific facts and illuminating, poignant anecdotes makes Five Quarts something like blood itself: vital and pulsing with energy. - Entertainment Weekly

Playful and powerful . . . profoundly moving . . . Hayes writes with so much panache that reading this book is thrilling. - The Boston Globe on FIVE QUARTS

Bill Hayes is on his way to becoming one of those rare authors who can tackle just about any subject in book form, and make you glad he did. . . . [Five Quarts] equips even a casual reader with the knowledge to gain new insights into life. - San Francisco Chronicle

Hayes, a lifelong insomniac, pursues sleep as avidly and lyrically as Nabokov pursued butterflies. - San Francisco Chronicle on SLEEP DEMONS

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About Bill Hayes

Bill Hayes is the author of Insomniac City, The Anatomist, Five Quarts, Sleep Demons, and the forthcoming How New York Breaks Your Heart. He is a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in nonfiction and was a visiting scholar at the American Academy in Rome. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, and his writing has appeared in the New York Review of Books, BuzzFeed, and the Guardian, among other publications. His photographs have been featured in Vanity Fair, the New York Times, and the New Yorker. He lives in New York. Visit his website at
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Rating details

2,297 ratings
4.44 out of 5 stars
5 59% (1,357)
4 29% (677)
3 9% (212)
2 2% (41)
1 0% (10)
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