Remembering Oliver Sacks: How His Case Histories Became Bestselling Books

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Oliver Sacks gave a TED Talk in 2009 on hallucinations. (Bill Holsinger-Robinson/Flickr}
Oliver Sacks gave a TED Talk in 2009 on hallucinations. (Bill Holsinger-Robinson/Flickr}

Dr. Oliver Sacks died early Sunday morning in his home in New York. His death came as no surprise to the millions of fans who loved "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat" or "Uncle Tungsten: Memories Of A Chemical Boyhood." Sacks had announced his late-stage terminal cancer in an op-ed in The New York Times last February.

With his trademark elegance and candor, he wrote:

"I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return...Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure."


Jerome Groopman, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, chief of experimental medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and staff writer at The New Yorker. He tweets @Groopman.


The New Yorker: Oliver Sacks, The Doctor

  • "Neurology is often depicted as a discipline of great detachment. Sacks, who was eighty-two when he died, trained in the field before the advent of the CT scan and the MRI. He learned to observe his patients in extreme detail, calling on his professional training and uncanny perception to make meticulous analyses of motor strength, reflexes, sensation, and mental status; in doing so, he arrived at a diagnosis that might locate a lesion within the anatomy of the brain or spinal cord."

The New York Times: Oliver Sacks, Neurologist Who Wrote About The Brain’s Quirks, Dies at 82

  • "Dr. Sacks variously described his books and essays as case histories, pathographies, clinical tales or 'neurological novels.' His subjects included Madeleine J., a blind woman who perceived her hands only as useless 'lumps of dough'; Jimmie G., a submarine radio operator whose amnesia stranded him for more than three decades in 1945; and Dr. P. — the man who mistook his wife for a hat — whose brain lost the ability to decipher what his eyes were seeing. Describing his patients’ struggles and sometimes uncanny gifts, Dr. Sacks helped introduce syndromes like Tourette’s or Asperger’s to a general audience. But he illuminated their characters as much as their conditions; he humanized and demystified them."

The New York Times: My Own Life: Oliver Sacks On Learning He Has Terminal Cancer

  • "I feel grateful that I have been granted nine years of good health and productivity since the original diagnosis, but now I am face to face with dying. The cancer occupies a third of my liver, and though its advance may be slowed, this particular sort of cancer cannot be halted."

This segment aired on September 1, 2015.


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