With the news of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ death at age 82, his friends, colleagues and admirers at his longtime Canadian publishing house, Knopf Canada, join his family and readers worldwide to mourn the passing of an extraordinary man and writer. “Oliver,” as we all fondly knew him, had just concluded his long-awaited autobiography: On the Move: A Life released this April.
Oliver Sacks was a physician, a bestselling author, and one of the most significant humanist scholars of our age. He transformed the understanding of human disease, especially neurological disorders, and in doing so defined a new field of literature. Oliver was the author of twelve books. He was best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and The Mind’s Eye, and his first bestselling memoir of his childhood, Uncle Tungsten. Awakenings, his book about a group of patients who had survived the great encephalitis lethargic epidemic of the early twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. The New York Times has referred to him as “the poet laureate of medicine.”
“It is hard to express the sense of loss we feel around such a great man’s passing,” says Louise Dennys, Executive Publisher of Random House of Canada. “He was beloved for his remarkable empathy and his kindness, which, combined with his shining intelligence, brought him so closely in tune with the world around him. His curiosity was endless—thankfully, given the life-changing implications of his work for many people—and it embraced patients with the most unusual neurological disorders as well as the smallest fern in the forest: the whole world was his purview and he listened closely to all of it. And because such a great doctor happened to also be a beautiful writer, his books have opened up our world to us in startling, amazing and wonderful ways. ”
Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England, into a family of physicians and scientists (his mother was a surgeon and his father a general practitioner). He earned his medical degree at Oxford before immigrating to the United States. Oliver’s work, which was supported by the Guggenheim Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, regularly appeared in the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, as well as various medical journals. Dr. Sacks was a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, and a visiting professor at the University of Warwick. He has been awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize, a George S. Polk Award, the Hawthornden Prize, and the Wingate Prize. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Oliver held honorary doctoral degrees from a number of institutions, including the University of Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Bard College, Georgetown University, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. In 2008, he was awarded one of the United Kingdom’s highest honours, and named a Commander of the British Empire.