Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England and earned his medical degree at Queen's College, Oxford. In the early 1960s, he moved to the United States and completed an internship in San Francisco and a residency in neurology at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adjunct professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine and consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
In 1966 Sacks began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital, a chronic care facility in the Bronx where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He recognized these patients as survivors of the great pandemic of sleepy sickness that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, which enabled them to come back to life. They became the subjects of his second book, Awakenings (1973), which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter and the Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie, "Awakenings," with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
Sacks is perhaps best known for his 1985 collection of case histories from the far borderlands of neurological experience, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, in which he describes patients struggling to live with conditions ranging from Tourette's Syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, retardation and Alzheimer's disease. His nine books, which also include Migraine (1970), A Leg to Stand On (1984), Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1990), An Anthropologist on Mars (1995), and The Island of the Colorblind (1996), have received numerous awards and have sold several million copies worldwide in 22 languages. His most recent books are Oaxaca Journal (2002) and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood (2001).
He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, as well as various medical journals, and he is an honorary fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences, and Queen's College. The New York Times has referred to Sacks as "the poet laureate of medicine," and in 2002 he was awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet.
Sacks has been awarded honorary doctorates from Georgetown University, Tufts University, the College of Staten Island, New York Medical College, the Medical College of Pennsylvania, Bard College, Queen's University (Ontario), and the University of Turin. In 1989, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship for his work on what he calls the "neuroanthropology" of Tourette's syndrome and in November, 2006 he was presented with a "Music has Power" award by the Institute for Music and Neurologic Function for his "outstanding contributions in support of music therapy and the effect of music on the human brain and mind."
In An Anthropologist on Mars, while describing a personŐs loss of size/space perception, Sacks wrote in a footnote: "A personal experience, the first time I used marijuana comes to mind here: gazing at my hand, seen against a blank wall. It seemed to rush away from me, while maintaining that apparent size, until it appeared like a vast hand, a cosmic hand, across parsecs of space. Probably this illusion was made possible by, among other things, the absence of markers or context to indicate actual size and distance, and perhaps some disturbance of body image and central processing of vision."
A question from Elizabeth Lucas of The Michigan Daily in 1996 about the statement, elicited the following:
"Did I say that?" Sacks inquired, laughing sheepishly, when questioned about this footnote. "Well, with a migraine, you can have something called cinematic vision. You see a series of stills. Had I not experienced that myself, I would be yet unable to understand it. And, yes, I sort of took drugs -- I think that was very much more recreational. But I think there's a spin-off there, in that you are introduced to other sorts of minds and other forms of consciousness."
A lengthy profile of Sacks by Steve Silberman of Wired.com says,
"At Montefiore, Sacks saw more than 1,000 patients with migraine. Their symptoms fascinated him: They reported disturbances of speech, hearing, taste, touch, and vision, often seeing geometrical 'auras' just before the onset of an attack, which reminded Sacks of both the mystical visions of Hildegard of Bingen and his own experiences with LSD in California."
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