Oliver Sacks Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Hailed as one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century, Oliver Wolf Sacks describes in his books the often bizarre worlds of patients trapped by their neurological afflictions. The son of Samuel and Elsie (Landau) Sacks, both of whom were neurologists, Sacks took an early interest in medicine. Reflecting the veneration for the medical field instilled by their parents, two of Sacks’s three brothers also became physicians. Sacks attended Queen’s College, Oxford University, where he earned a master’s degree in biochemistry in 1956. He continued his medical studies at Middlesex Hospital in London until 1960, conducting internships in medicine, surgery, and neurology there. He completed his residency in neurology and neuropathology at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1965. He has undertaken medical appointments and professorships at many hospitals and research institutions, including the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, the Bronx Psychiatric Center, New York University School of Medicine, Beth Abraham Hospital, and Mt. Sinai Medical Center, New York, as well as maintaining his own private neurology practice. He has received many honorary degrees and awards, for both his medical and his literary endeavors. Among the latter are the Hawthornden Prize in 1974 for Awakenings; the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award in 1989 from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters; the George S. Polk Award (1994), a National Association of Science Writers Award (1995), and the Esquire/Apple/Waterstone Book of the Year Award (1995), all for An Anthropologist on Mars; and, in 2002, the Lewis Thomas Prize from Rockefeller University, which recognizes the literary work of scientists.

Sacks fits this description well: A talented clinician, he also has the literary gift of being able to write clearly and compassionately about a wide range of complex neurological disorders. In the tradition of his mentor, the great Russian neurologist A. R. Luria, Sacks is able to dramatize his patients’ inner lives and, in his depictions of their bizarre and baffling symptoms, reflect on the mysteries of the human mind. Through the success of his books, he has been able to reach beyond his specialty to a broad general audience.

Sacks’s earliest book, Migraine, is a voluminous study of this strange and often excruciating neurological malady, which may beset a patient for an entire lifetime. Sacks, who suffers from migraines himself, has compiled a full account of the history and etiology of the disease, which is sometimes accompanied by visions of luminous wheels, auras, lights, or other psychovisual hallucinations. He describes the visionary experiences of some famous mystics, such as the medieval nun Hildegard von Bingen, in terms of their migraines. Sacks’s revised edition of Migraine updates his original research and adds additional case histories...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Burgess, Anthony. “Waiting for a Sign: Seeing Voices.” The Times Literary Supplement, January 19, 1990. A review of Seeing Voices by a notable novelist and critic.

Cassuto, Leonard. “Oliver Sacks: The P. T. Barnum of the Postmodern World?” American Quarterly, June, 2000. Sees Sacks’s subjects and methodology as a combination of scientific case study and circus attraction.

Chidley, Joe. “The Case of the Quirky Neurologist.” Maclean’s, March 13, 1995. A profile of Sacks that includes a discussion of An Anthropologist on Mars.

Couser, G. Thomas. The Cases of Oliver Sacks: The Ethics of Neuroanthropology. Bloomington: Poynter Center, Indiana University, 2001. A monograph adapted from a lecture presented on October 24, 2001, at Indiana University.

Kohn, Marek. “Voyages to Inner Space: An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks.” New Statesman and Society, February 17, 1995. A detailed review of An Anthropologist on Mars.

Martin, Colin. “An Affair to Remember.” The Lancet, November 30, 2002. A review of Uncle Tungsten.

Perutz, M. F. “Growing Up Among the Elements.” The New York Review of Books 48, no. 17 (November 1, 2001): 46. A review of Uncle Tungsten.

Rubin, Merle. “A Search for a Plant Blooms into an Experience of Our Planet.” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2002. A review of Oaxaca Journal.

Sacks, Oliver. “The Nature of Conscience.” Interview by Christian Wertenbacker. Parabola, Fall, 1997. Sacks expands on the character of conscience in human physiology.