Sacks at the 2009 Brooklyn Book Festival
|Born||Oliver Wolf Sacks
9 July 1933
Willesden, London, England
|Died||30 August 2015
Manhattan, New York, United States
|Cause of death||Melanoma|
|Education||The Queen's College, Oxford|
|Known for||Popular books containing case studies of some of his patients|
|Profession||Physician, professor, author|
|Institutions||Columbia University, Albert Einstein College of Medicine|
Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was an English neurologist and author, known for writing best-selling case histories of his patients' disorders. Some of his books have been adapted for film and stage.
After studying at The Queen's College, Oxford (he received his medical degrees in 1960), he moved to the U.S. for his internship at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He relocated to New York in 1965 where he became professor of Neurology at New York University School of Medicine. Between 2007 and 2012, he was professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, where he also held the position of "Columbia Artist", which recognized his contributions to art and science. He had also been on the faculty of Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine and had been a visiting professor at the University of Warwick.
Sacks was the author of numerous best-selling books, including collections of case studies of people with neurological disorders. His writings have been featured in a wider range of media than any other contemporary medical author, with The New York Times referring to him as a "poet laureate of contemporary medicine". His books describe cases with a wealth of narrative detail about the experiences of patients and how they coped, often illuminating how the normal brain deals with perception, memory and individuality.
Awakenings (1973), an autobiographical account of his efforts to help people with encephalitis lethargica regain proper neurological function, was adapted into the Academy Award-nominated film of the same name in 1990 starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. He and his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain were the subject of "Musical Minds", an episode of the PBS series Nova. In 2008 Sacks was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to literature.
Sacks was born in Willesden, London, England, the youngest of four children born to Jewish parents: Samuel Sacks, a physician (died June 1990), and Muriel Elsie Landau, one of the first female surgeons in England. Sacks had a large extended family; his first cousins include Israeli statesman Abba Eban, writer and director Jonathan Lynn and Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann.
When Sacks was six years old, he and his brother Michael were evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, retreating to a boarding school in the Midlands where he remained until 1943. Unknown to his family, at the school, he and his brother Michael "... subsisted on meagre rations of turnips and beetroot and suffered cruel punishments at the hands of a sadistic headmaster." He attended St Paul's School in London. During his youth he was a keen amateur chemist, as recalled in his memoir Uncle Tungsten. He also learned to share his parents' enthusiasm for medicine and entered The Queen's College, Oxford, in 1951, receiving a BA degree in physiology and biology in 1954, promoted to an MA degree in 1958. At the same institution he also studied for his BM BCh degree which he gained in 1958.
Sacks left England for Canada, then made his way from there to the United States. He explains: "After I qualified as a doctor in 1960, I removed myself abruptly from England and what family and community I had there, and went to the New World, where I knew nobody." He completed a residency in Neurology at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco, and fellowships in Neurology and Psychiatry at UCLA. During his time at UCLA he lived in Topanga Canyon and experimented with various recreational drugs. He described his experiences in a 2012 New Yorker article, and his book Hallucinations. He said that an amphetamine-facilitated epiphany that came as he read a book by the 19th century migraine physician Edward Liveing inspired him to chronicle his observations on neurological diseases and oddities; to become the "Liveing of our Time". In San Francisco, Sacks became a friend of poet Thom Gunn, saying he loved his wild imagination, his strict control and perfect poetic form.
After converting his British medical qualifications to American recognition (i.e., an MD), Sacks moved to New York, where he lived and practiced neurology beginning in 1965.
Sacks began consulting at chronic care facility Beth Abraham Hospital (now Beth Abraham Health Services, a member of CenterLight Health System) in the Bronx, in 1966. At Beth Abraham, Sacks worked with a group of survivors of the 1920s sleepy sickness, encephalitis lethargica, who had been unable to move on their own for decades. These patients and his treatment of them were the basis of Sacks' book Awakenings.
Sacks served as an instructor and later clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine from 1966 to 2007, and also held an appointment at the New York University School of Medicine from 1992 to 2007. In July 2007 he joined the faculty of Columbia University Medical Center as a professor of neurology and psychiatry. At the same time, he was appointed Columbia University's first "Columbia University Artist" at the University's Morningside Heights campus, recognising the role of his work in bridging the arts and sciences.
In 1966, Sacks became a neurological consultant to various New York City nursing homes that are run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, and from 1966 to 1991 was a consulting neurologist at Bronx Psychiatric Center. Sacks returned to New York University School of Medicine in 2012, serving as both a professor of neurology and consulting neurologist in the center's epilepsy center.
Sacks' work at Beth Abraham helped provide the foundation on which the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function (IMNF) is built; Sacks was an honorary medical advisor. The Institute honoured Sacks in 2000 with its first Music Has Power Award. The IMNF again bestowed a Music Has Power Award on Sacks in 2006 to commemorate "his 40 years at Beth Abraham and honor his outstanding contributions in support of music therapy and the effect of music on the human brain and mind".
Beginning in 1970, Sacks wrote of his experience with neurological patients. His books have been translated into over 25 languages. In addition to his books, Sacks was a regular contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, as well as other medical, scientific and general publications. He was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science in 2001.
Sacks' work was featured in a "broader range of media than those of any other contemporary medical author" and in 1990, The New York Times said he "has become a kind of poet laureate of contemporary medicine". His descriptions of people coping with and adapting to neurological conditions or injuries often illuminate the ways in which the normal brain deals with perception, memory and individuality.
Sacks considered his literary style to have grown out of the tradition of 19th-century "clinical anecdotes", a literary style that included detailed narrative case histories. He also counted among his inspirations the case histories of the Russian neuropsychologist A. R. Luria. After the publication of his first book, a review by W. H. Auden encouraged Sacks to adapt his writing style to "be metaphorical, be mythical, be whatever you need". 
Sacks described his cases with a wealth of narrative detail, concentrating on the experiences of the patient (in the case of his A Leg to Stand On, the patient was himself). The patients he described were often able to adapt to their situation in different ways despite the fact that their neurological conditions were usually considered incurable. His most famous book, Awakenings, upon which the 1990 feature film of the same name is based, describes his experiences using the new drug levodopa on Beth Abraham post-encephalitic patients. Awakenings was also the subject of the first documentary made (in 1974) for the British television series Discovery.
In his other books, he describes cases of Tourette syndrome and various effects of Parkinson's disease. The title article of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is about a man with visual agnosia and was the subject of a 1986 opera by Michael Nyman. The title article of An Anthropologist on Mars, which won a Polk Award for magazine reporting, is about Temple Grandin, an autistic professor. Seeing Voices, Sacks' 1989 book, covers a variety of topics in Deaf studies.
In his book The Island of the Colorblind Sacks wrote about an island where many people have achromatopsia (total colourblindness, very low visual acuity and high photophobia), and describes the Chamorro people of Guam, who have a high incidence of a neurodegenerative disease known as Lytico-Bodig disease (a devastating combination of ALS, dementia and parkinsonism). Along with Paul Alan Cox, Sacks published papers suggesting a possible environmental cause for the cluster, namely the toxin beta-methylamino L-alanine (BMAA) from the cycad nut accumulating by biomagnification in the flying fox bat.
In November 2012, Sacks released his book Hallucinations. In this work Sacks takes a look into why ordinary people can sometimes experience hallucinations and removes the stigma placed behind the word. He explains, "Hallucinations don't belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness or injury." Sacks writes about the not so well known phenomenon called Charles Bonnet syndrome, which has been found to occur in elderly people who have lost their eyesight. The book has been described by Entertainment Weekly as, "Elegant… An absorbing plunge into a mystery of the mind."
Sacks sometimes faced criticism in the medical and disability studies communities. Arthur K. Shapiro for instance, an expert on Tourette syndrome, said Sacks' work was "idiosyncratic" and relied too much on anecdotal evidence in his writings. Researcher Makoto Yamaguchi thought Sacks' mathematical explanations, in his study of the numerically gifted savant twins (in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), are irrelevant. Although Sacks has been characterised as a "compassionate" writer and doctor, others have felt that he exploited his subjects. Sacks was called "the man who mistook his patients for a literary career" by British academic and disability rights activist Tom Shakespeare, and one critic called his work "a high-brow freak show". Sacks responded, "I would hope that a reading of what I write shows respect and appreciation, not any wish to expose or exhibit for the thrill ... but it's a delicate business."
In 1996, Sacks became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters (Literature). He was named a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1999. Also in 1999, he became an Honorary Fellow at The Queen's College, Oxford. In 2002 he became Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Class IV—Humanities and Arts, Section 4—Literature) and he was awarded the 2001 Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University.
Sacks was awarded honorary doctorates from the Georgetown University (1990), College of Staten Island (1991), Tufts University (1991), New York Medical College (1991), Medical College of Pennsylvania (1992), Bard College (1992), Queen's University (Ontario) (2001), Gallaudet University (2005), University of Oxford (2005), Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (2006) and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (2008).
Sacks received the position "Columbia Artist" from Columbia University in 2007, a post that was created specifically for him. In this capacity he gains unconstrained access to the University, regardless of department or discipline.
Sacks never married, and lived alone for most of his life. He declined to share details from his personal life until late in his life. He addressed his homosexuality for the first time in his 2015 autobiography On the Move: A Life. During his early career, he indulged in:
"staggering bouts of pharmacological experimentation, underwent a fierce regimen of bodybuilding at Muscle Beach (for a time he held a California record, after he performed a full squat with 600 pounds across his shoulders), and racked up more than 100,000 leather-clad miles on his motorcycle. And then one day he gave it all up—the drugs, the sex, the motorcycles, the bodybuilding."
Celibate for about 35 years, he began a relationship with writer and New York Times contributor Bill Hayes in 2008. He noted in a 2001 interview that severe shyness—which he described as "a disease"—had been a lifelong impediment to his personal interactions.
Sacks swam almost every day for decades, especially when he lived in the City Island section of the Bronx. He discussed his work and his personal health problems in a 28 June 2011 BBC documentary Imagine. He wrote about a near-fatal accident he had at age 41, a year after the publication of Awakenings, when he fell and broke his leg while mountaineering alone.
Illness and death
Sacks underwent radiation therapy in 2006 for a uveal melanoma in his right eye. He discussed his loss of stereoscopic vision, caused by the treatment, in a 2010 article, then expanded on it in his book The Mind's Eye later that year.
In January 2015, metastases from the ocular tumour were discovered in his liver and brain. Sacks announced this development in a February New York Times op-ed piece and estimated his remaining time in "months". He expressed his intent to "live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can". He added: "I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight."
- Migraine (1970) ISBN 978-0-375-70406-2
- Awakenings (1973) ISBN 0-375-70405-1
- A Leg to Stand On (1984) (Sacks' own experience, after an accident, of losing the awareness of one of his legs) ISBN 978-0-684-85395-6
- The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) ISBN 0-671-55471-9
- Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (1989) ISBN 0-520-06083-0
- An Anthropologist on Mars (1995) ISBN 0-679-43785-1 (First ed.)
- The Island of the Colorblind (1997) (total congenital color blindness in an island society, Guam disease) ISBN 978-0-676-97035-7
- Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001) ISBN 0-375-40448-1
- Oaxaca Journal (2002) ISBN 978-0-307-94744-4 (Travel literature about Sacks' ten day trip to Oaxaca, Mexico in the year 2000.)
- Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007) ISBN 978-1-4000-4081-0
- The Mind's Eye (2010) ISBN 978-0-307-27208-9
- Hallucinations (2012) ISBN 978-0-307-95724-5
- On the Move: A Life (2015) (autobiography) ISBN 978-0-385-35254-3
- NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity (2015) (foreword) ISBN 978-1-583-33467-6
- Brown, Andrew (5 March 2005). "Oliver Sacks Profile: Seeing double". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
- "Oliver Sacks dies in New York aged 82". BBC. Retrieved 30 August 2015
- "NYU Langone Medical Center Welcomes Neurologist and Author Oliver Sacks, MD". Newswise.com. 13 September 2012.
- An Anthropoligist on Mars (Knopf, 1995), p. 70
- "Oliver Sacks – Scientist – Abba Eban, my extraordinary cousin". Web of Stories. 2 October 2012. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Ferber, Alona (March 9, 2015). "The Herzog family tree: Israel's answer to the Kennedys". Haaretz. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
- "Oliver Sacks: Sabbath". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Nadine Epstein, (2008), Uncle Xenon: The Element of Oliver Sacks Moment Magazine
- Sacks, Oliver (2001). Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. Vintage Books. ISBN 0-375-40448-1.
- "Oliver Sacks, MD, FRCP". Official site. Archived from the original on 13 July 2008. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- "Columbia University website, section of Psychiatry". Asp.cumc.columbia.edu. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
- "Oliver Sacks: Tripping in Topanga, 1963 – The Los Angeles Review of Books". Lareviewofbooks.org. 12 December 2012. Retrieved 4 May 2015.
- Sacks, Oliver (27 August 2012). "Altered States". The New Yorker: 40. Retrieved 14 December 2012.
- Sacks, O. Hallucinations. Knopf (2012). ISBN 0307957241
- "Biography . Oliver Sacks, MD, FRCP". Official website. Archived from the original on 2 June 2008. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- "About the Institute". Institute for Music and Neurologic Function. Archived from the original on 14 May 2008. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- "Henry Z. Steinway honored with 'Music Has Power' award: Beth Abraham Hospital honors piano maker for a lifetime of 'affirming the value of music'". Music Trades Magazine. 1 January 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2008.[dead link]
- "2006 Music Has Power Awards featuring performance by Rob Thomas, honoring acclaimed neurologist & author Dr. Oliver Sacks" (Press release). Beth Abraham Family of Health Services. 13 October 2006. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- "Archive: Search: The New Yorker—Oliver Sacks". Retrieved 13 August 2008.
- "Oliver Sacks—The New York Review of Books". Retrieved 13 August 2008.
- "Oliver Sacks . Publications & Periodicals". www.oliversacks.com. Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 13 August 2008.
- [dead link] "Lewis Thomas Prize". The Rockefeller University. 18 March 2002. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- Silberman, Steve. "The Fully Immersive Mind of Oliver Sacks". Wired.com. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
- Broyard, Anatole (1 April 1990). "Good books abut (sic) being sick". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
- "The Inner Life of the Broken Brain: Narrative and Neurology". Radio National. All in the Mind. 2 April 2005. Archived from the original on 22 February 2008. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
- Sacks, O. (2014). Luria and "Romantic Science". In A. Yasnitsky, R. Van der Veer & M. Ferrari (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Cultural-Historical Psychology (517–528). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- Wallace-Wells, David. "A Brain With a Heart". New York Magazine. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
- Sacks, Oliver (1996) . "Preface". An Anthropologist on Mars (New ed.). London: Picador. xiii–xviii. ISBN 0-330-34347-5.
The sense of the brain's remarkable plasticity, its capacity for the most striking adaptations, not least in the special (and often desperate) circumstances of neural or sensory mishap, has come to dominate my own perception of my patients and their lives.
- Video: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1987). The Open Mind (TV series). 1987. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
- Murch SJ, Cox PA, Banack SA, Steele JC, Sacks OW (October 2004). "Occurrence of beta-methylamino-l-alanine (BMAA) in ALS/PDC patients from Guam". Acta Neurol. Scand. 110 (4): 267–9. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0404.2004.00320.x. PMID 15355492.
- Cox PA, Sacks OW (March 2002). "Cycad neurotoxins, consumption of flying foxes, and ALS-PDC disease in Guam". Neurology 58 (6): 956–9. doi:10.1212/wnl.58.6.956. PMID 11914415.(registration required)
- "Hallucinations | Oliver Sacks, M.D. | Author, Neurologist | On The Move, Hallucinations, Musicophilia, Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat". Oliversacks.com. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Lee, Stephan. "Book Review: Hallucinations". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 20 September 2012.
- Kushner (2000), p. 204
- Polish Psychological Bulletin, 40, 69–73
- Weinraub, Judith (13 January 1991). "Oliver Sacks: Hero of the Hopeless; The Doctor of 'Awakenings,' With Compassion for the Chronically Ill". The Washington Post. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- Bianculli, David (25 August 1998). "Healthy Dose of Compassion in Medical 'Mind' Series". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on 10 February 2009. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- Kakutani, Michiko (14 February 1995). "Finding the Advantages in Some Mind Disorders". New York Times. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- Couser, G. Thomas (December 2001). "The Cases of Oliver Sacks: The Ethics of Neuroanthropology" (PDF). The Poynter Center, Indiana University. Retrieved 10 August 2008.
One charge is that his work is, in effect, a high-brow freak show that invites its audience to gawk at human oddities ... Because Sacks' life writing takes place outside the confines of biomedicine and anthropology, it may not, strictly speaking, be subject to their explicit ethical codes.
- Verlager, Alicia (August 2006). "Decloaking Disability: Images of Disability and Technology in Science Fiction Media" (Master's thesis). MIT. Retrieved 2015-08-31.
However, Sacks' use of his preoccupation with people with disabilities as the foundation for his professional career has led many disability advocates to compare him to P. T. Barnum, whose own professional career (and its subsequent monetary profit) was based to a large degree upon his employment of PWD as "freaks." ... Note also the science fiction aspect to the title of Sacks' book, which frames the disabled people he writes about as "aliens" from a different planet. One issue in the dynamic of the expert who appoints himself as the official storyteller of the experience of disability is that both the professional and financial success of the storyteller often rely upon his framing of the disabled characters as extraordinary, freakish, or abnormal. This is what disability studies scholars and disability advocates term the "medicalization of disability" (Linton 1998, 1–2).
- Shakespeare, Tom (1996). "Book Review: An Anthropologist on Mars". Disability and Society 11 (1): 137–142. doi:10.1080/09687599650023380. Retrieved 11 August 2008.
- Burkeman, Oliver (10 May 2002). "Sacks appeal". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 August 2008.
- "Current Members". The American Academy of Arts and Letters. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "New York Academy of Sciences Announces 1999 Fellows". New York Academy of Sciences. 6 October 1999. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Honorary Fellows". The Queen's College, Oxford. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Class of 2002 – Fellows". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 2002. Archived from the original on 13 May 2008. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Oliver Sacks, Awakenings Author, Receives Rockefeller University's Lewis Thomas Prize". Rockefeller University. 2002. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Curriculum Vitae". oliversacks.com. Archived from the original on 16 September 2014.
- "Tufts University Factbook 2006–2007 (abridged)" (PDF (4.7 MB)). Tufts University. p. 127. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Bard College Catalogue 2014–2015 – Honorary Degrees". Bard College. Retrieved 30 August 2015.
- "Neurologist, peace activist among honorary graduands" (PDF). Gazette, vol. XXXII, no. 9. Queen's University. 7 May 2001. pp. 1, 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 April 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Famed physician delivers Commencement address". Gallaudet University. 1 May 2005. Archived from the original on 8 February 2009. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "2005 honorary degrees announced". University of Oxford. 14 February 2005. Archived from the original on 15 May 2007. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Doctores honoris causa" (in Spanish). Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú. Retrieved 15 August 2008.
- "Oxford to confer doctorate on Manmohan Singh". New India Press. 15 February 2005. Archived from the original on 9 February 2009. Retrieved 9 August 2008.
- Oliver Sacks @ Columbia University[dead link] Arts Initiative @ Columbia University. 2009. accessed 10 October 2011
- The London Gazette: . 14 June 2008.
- Bloom, Julie (2008-09-12). "Dr. Sacks's Asteroid". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
- "Honorary FFRF Board Announced". Archived from the original on 17 December 2010. Retrieved 20 August 2008.
- Sacks, O. On the Move: A Life. Knopf (2015). ISBN 0385352549
- Weschler, Lawrence. "Oliver Sacks, Before the Neurologist’s Cancer and New York Times Op-Ed". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Laura Miller (2 May 2015). "The beautiful mind of Oliver Sacks: How his knack for storytelling helped unlock the mysteries of the brain". Salon.com. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- "The Man Who Forgot How to Read and Other Stories", BBC accessed 30 June 2011
- Sacks, Oliver (6 July 2013). "The Joy of Old Age. (No Kidding.)". The New York Times.
- Katz, Neil (26 August 2010). "Prosopagnosia: Oliver Sacks' Battle with "Face Blindness"". CBSnews.com. Retrieved 3 February 2010.
- Sacks, O. Face Blind (30 August 2010). The New Yorker Retrieved 18 May 2015.
- Murphy, John (9 December 2010). ""Eye to Eye with Dr. Oliver Sacks"". Review of Optometry.
- Sacks, O. The Mind's Eye. Knopf (2010). ISBN 0307272087.
- Sacks, Oliver (19 February 2015). "My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
- Sacks, Oliver (19 February 2015). "My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 February 2015.
- New York Times Oliver Sacks dies at 82 neurologist and author explored the brains quirks
- "Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf – Oliver W. Sacks". Books.google.com. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
- Sacks, Oliver (March 2002). Oaxaca Journal. National Geographic. ISBN 0792265211.
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