Sunday, English neurologist and author Oliver Sacks died at the age of 82.
- English neurologist and author Oliver Sacks died at his home in New York City, his assistant, Kate Edgar, said.
- Last February, Oliver Sacks announced that he was terminally ill with a rare eye cancer that had spread to his liver.
- Oliver Sacks, a famed neurologist known for his work to uncover the deep recesses of the human brain and the acclaimed author of Awakenings.
Oliver Sacks recently wrote.“When people die, they cannot be replaced,” Oliver said. “They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”
After receiving his medical degree from The Queen’s College, Oxford 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, withThe 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.
His 1973 book Awakenings, 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 starringRobin 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’ 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.”
English neurologist and author Oliver 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.Awakening 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 Hatis 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.IMAGE/AP