Awakenings (book)

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Front cover: black background, title above author's name, below author's name is quote from Frank Kermode, "This doctor's report... is written in a prose of such beauty that you might well look in vain for its equal among living practitioners of belles lettres."
First edition, 1973
Author Oliver Sacks
Country United States
Language English
Subject Neurology, psychology
Genre Case history
Publication date
1973, revised 1990
Pages 408 (First Edition)
ISBN 0-375-70405-1
OCLC 21910570
Preceded by Migraine (1970)
Followed by A Leg to Stand On (1984)

Awakenings is a 1973 non-fiction book by Oliver Sacks. It recounts the life histories of those who had been victims of the 1920s encephalitis lethargica epidemic.[1] Sacks chronicles his efforts in the late 1960s to help these patients at the Beth Abraham Hospital (now Beth Abraham Health Services) in the Bronx, New York. The treatment used the then-new drug L-DOPA.

In 1982, Dr. Sacks wrote:

I have become much more optimistic than I was when I […] wrote Awakenings, for there has been a significant number of patients who, following the vicissitudes of their first years on L-DOPA, came to do – and still do – extremely well. Such patients have undergone an enduring awakening, and enjoy possibilities of life which had been impossible, unthinkable, before the coming of L-DOPA.[2]

The book inspired a play by Harold Pinter (A Kind of Alaska) in 1982, performed as part of a trilogy of Pinter's plays titled Other Places, and a documentary television episode, the pilot of the British television programme Discovery. It was also made into a 1990 Oscar-nominated film, Awakenings starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

The 1976 edition of the book is dedicated to the memory of poet W. H. Auden, and bears an extract from Auden's 1969 poem The Art of Healing:

Papa would tell me,
'is not a science,
but the intuitive art
of wooing Nature.'

Auden himself wrote: "Have read the book and think it a masterpiece".[3]


  1. ^ MacCarthy, Fiona (5 December 1985), "Travels round a couch", The Times .
  2. ^ Sacks, Oliver, Awakenings, Amazon .
  3. ^ Sacks, O. (1976), Awakenings, Harmondsworth, Pelican Books, back cover blurb

External links[edit]

  • Other Places – Listed in "Plays" section of Includes photograph of playbill, production details, and retyped performance review by Alan Jenkins, originally published in TLS entitled "The Withering of Love", reproduced with permission.