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Oliver Sacks


Oliver Wolf Sacks (1933 – 2015) was a neurologist, naturalist, historian of science, and author. Born in Britain, and mostly educated there, he spent his career in the United States. When war broke out in September 1939, Oliver and his older brother, Michael, were evacuated to the village of Braefield where their day school was reconstituted as a makeshift boarding school. The headmaster became violent and his parents rarely visited. After his return to London, was well-nurtured in the sciences at home, becoming an amateur chemist at the encouragement of his Uncle Dave. However, he studied medicine—in line with his parents’ expectations—at Queen’s College, Oxford University, receiving his medical degree in 1958.

Sachs left for the United States during the 1960s and spent most of his career working there, beginning with consulting work at Beth Abraham Hospital in New York in 1965. Oliver Sachs’ first published book was Awakenings (1973). The book tells the stories of people who had encephalitis lethargica from a 1920s epidemic and was made into a film in 1990 staring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, published in 1985, established an international audience for Sacks. The 24 essays in the book explore case histories where patients have particular neurological conditions, such as visual agnosia, or the inability to recognise even familiar faces.