7 September 2015
Oliver Sacks, English neurologist and author and a friend of the Bodleian Libraries, passed away last week at the age of 82.
A medical graduate of Queen's College, Oxford, Sacks was one of the first individuals to be awarded the Bodley's Medal, the libraries highest award, at a special event to mark the Libraries' 400th anniversary in 2003. Born in London and after achieving his BA from Oxford in 1960, Sacks moved to America where he spent the rest of his life, building a successful career as a doctor and author specialising in neurology. Sacks' work focused on the ways in which individuals survive and adapt to different neurological diseases and conditions, and what this experience can tell us about the human brain and mind. Many of his books, such as Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat reached a huge international audience, and have been adapted for television with Awakenings made into an Academy Award-nominated film.
In 2008 Sacks was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to literature in recognition of his broad range of medical writing, which earned him the description of 'a kind of poet laureate of contemporary medicine' from The New York Times in 1990. He served on the boards of The Neurosciences Institute and the New York Botanical Garden, and over the course of his long career held teaching positions at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (Yeshiva University), the New York University School of Medicine and, most recently, at Columbia University Medical Center. Alongside his books, Sacks regularly contributed to The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, and continued writing up until his death from cancer on 30 August 2015.
Sacks made his first attempts at creative writing whilst working in the Bodleian during his time as a medical undergraduate, thus joining the ranks of countless authors, from J.R.R. Tolkien to Oscar Wilde, who have found inspiration in its reading rooms.