Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Wolf Sacks, the author, and neurologist, known as a "poet laureate of contemporary medicine”, burned his first book due to self-doubt, but he went on to write many bestsellers, including ‘Awakenings’ about his breakthrough work with survivors of the 1920s sleeping sickness a.k.a. encephalitis lethargica.

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After Sacks received his medical degree from The Queen's College, Oxford in 1960, he interned at Middlesex Hospital before moving to the U.S. He then interned at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco and completed his residency in neurology and neuropathology at the University of California, Los Angeles. Sacks had an extremely large extended family of eminent scientists, physicians and other notable individuals, including the director and writer Jonathan Lynn and first cousins, the Israeli statesman Abba Eban and the Nobel Laureate Robert Aumann. Sacks adds, "And now, in Sinclair's lectures, it was the history of physiology, the ideas and personalities of physiologists, which came to life." Sacks then became involved with the school's Laboratory of Human Nutrition under Sinclair. Sacks began medical school at Oxford University in 1956 and for the next two and half years, he took courses in medicine, surgery, orthopaedics, paediatrics, neurology, psychiatry, dermatology, infectious diseases, obstetrics, and various other disciplines. Sacks served as an instructor and later clinical professor of neurology at Yeshiva University's 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. Sacks's work at Beth Abraham Hospital helped provide the foundation on which the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function is built; Sacks was an honorary medical advisor. Sacks maintained a busy hospital-based practice in New York City.

In 1967, Sacks first began to write of his experiences with some of his neurological patients. His first such book, Ward 23, was burned by Sacks during an episode of self-doubt. After the publication of his first book Migraine in 1970, a review by his close friend W. H. Auden encouraged Sacks to adapt his writing style to "Be metaphorical, be mythical, be whatever you need". In his book The Island of the Colorblind Sacks wrote about an island where many people have achromatopsia. Although Sacks has been characterised as a "Compassionate" writer and doctor, others have felt that he exploited his subjects. Before his death in 2015, Sacks founded the Oliver Sacks Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to increase understanding of the brain through using narrative nonfiction and case histories, with goals that include publishing some of Sacks's unpublished writings, and making his vast amount of unpublished writings available for scholarly study. Sacks received the position "Columbia Artist" from Columbia University in 2007, a post that was created specifically for him and that gave him unconstrained access to the university, regardless of department or discipline. Their friendship slowly evolved into a committed long-term partnership that lasted until Sacks's death; Hayes wrote about it in the 2017 memoir Insomniac City: New York, Oliver Sacks, and Me. Sacks noted in a 2001 interview that severe shyness-which he described as "a disease"-had been a lifelong impediment to his personal interactions.

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