About the Author: Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks was born in London in 1933 and attended Queen’s College, Oxford. He completed his medical studies at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA before coming to New York, where he quickly met the patients he would write about in his book Awakenings. Sacks was a doctor and author whose best-selling case studies of patients with odd diseases. His concentration on patients with unusual or dramatic conditions made his work popular with other writers, and his case studies were transformed into several films and operas. Dr Sacks worked as a neurologist for nearly fifty years and wrote several books about his patients’ odd neurological predicaments and disorders, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Hallucinations. He was dubbed “the poet laureate of medicine” by the New York Times, and he received numerous distinctions, including those from “The Guggenheim Foundation,” “The National Science Foundation,” “The American Academy of Arts and Letters,” and “The Royal College of Physicians.” On the Move, his memoir was published shortly before his death in August 2015.
Oliver Sacks grew up in an oak-panelled library inherited from his father, a Hebrew Scholar and a fan of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906). The library was stacked high with Henrik Ibsen’s plays, poems from his father’s generation, and adventure and history books from his brothers. He read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, written by an English short-story writer. He enjoyed the adventures of Mowgli, the book’s fictional character.
His mother was likewise a literature enthusiast. She had collected a library of literature books by Emily Dickens (an American poet), Anthony Trollope (an English writer), George Bernard Shaw (an Irish playwright), Rudyard Kipling, William Shakespeare (an English dramatist), John Milton (an English poet), and poetry books as school awards. In a particular cabinet in his parents’ surgery, there were also medical books. Along with the most magnificent library, he had a small lab where he could immerse himself in books for hours on end, even forgetting to eat his lunch or dinner. Since he was three or four years old, the library and books were his first memories.
Willesden Public Library in Willesden Green, London, was where he spent the happiest hours of his adult life. He obtained his formal schooling there. He disliked passive reading in formal schools because he was an active reader and self-learner. He was a good student in libraries and enjoyed reading whatever book he wanted in the company of other readers. When he got older, he began studying astronomy and chemistry. Because the Walker Library at St. Paul’s School did not include chemistry books, he was able to visit the Science Museum’s library with the help of his schoolmaster and learn chemistry books there.
When he was at university, he went to Radcliffe Science Library and the Bodleian Library. After reading Theodore Hook, he decided to create a biography of him. He gathered information from the British Museum Library and wrote about him in the Bodleian Library. The library of Queen’s College, Oxford, was his most beloved library. He examined ancient texts such as Gesner’s Historiae Animalium (1551), Agassiz’s volumes, Charles Darwin, Sir Thomas Browne, and Jonathan Swift, as well as 17th and 18th-century writings of Samuel Johnson, David Hume, Alexander Pope, and John Dryden.
In 1965, he moved to New York City and resided in a small apartment. It was difficult for him to read and write in the apartment, but he did write some of his book Migraine. He was accepted into Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he found it easy to read and write. He met with another friend who was looking for the same old book, Volumes of Brain from 1890. He formed a good connection based on reading and knowledge exchange.
He continued to visit libraries, sitting at a table surrounded by mountains of books. During the 1990s, he discovered that students were ignoring bookshelves in favour of accessing material on their computers. Because the majority of students were not using the books, the college decided to get rid of them. That happened in the AECOM Library and other libraries throughout the world. The majority of the books had been discarded. To him, this was a murder or a crime. It was the destruction of centuries of wisdom. He was upset by the loss of books, but the important books had been digitalized. Digital literature may neither inspire nor delight in the same way. Some books are priceless. In the 1960s, most libraries had special spaces for old books. The book that prompted him to start writing was Megrim (1873) by Edward Liveing.