Oliver Sacks's Headshot

Oliver Sacks

- Panelist Blurb

A master at creating compassionate drama from the uncanny dysfunctions of the brain, Dr. Sacks is a world-renowned neurologist, humanist and best selling author of astonishing case histories.

Patients who are suddenly awakened after 40 years in a catatonic trance. A student whose drug use left him recognizing loved ones only by smell. An autistic Ph.D. who cannot perceive the simplest human emotions but prefers the mechanical "hug" of her squeeze machine. These are the real people who have become unforgettable characters in the life and works of Dr. Oliver Sacks.

In 1966, he first encountered the survivors of the great epidemic of sleeping sickness, which had killed millions in the 1920's. With his administration of the new drug L-DOPA, he saw these patients - frozen for decades - awaken with "an explosive quality, as of corks released from a great depth." His bestselling book about their experiences, Awakenings, inspired Harold Pinter's play, A Kind of Alaska (produced both in London and New York) and the Penny Marshall film Awakenings, starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture of the Year.

The bestselling 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat brought Sacks' work to even greater public attention with heartbreaking and inspiring tales of patients with perceptions remarkably altered by various neurological conditions. It was adapted into a play by Peter Brook and an opera by Michael Nyman, both produced worldwide.

His more recent works include The Island of the Colorblind, which combines his fascination with medical mysteries with his love of botany and South Seas travel; and An Anthropologist on Mars, a collection of clinical tales. One of these tales inspired the feature film At First Sight, starring Val Kilmer and Mira Sorvino. A multi-part BBC-TV series Oliver Sacks: The Mind Traveler, was featured in the United States on PBS.

In the fall of 2001, Dr. Sacks released his memoir, Uncle Tungsten: Memories of A Chemical Boyhood, in which he looks back on his childhood in wartime London and reveals his boyhood love of chemistry as the source of his life long scientific curiosity. He is a member of the faculty at New York University Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Sacks celebrates the humanity of those whose minds are imprisoned by a different consciousness and applauds "the freedom and potential of the human spirit against a physiological fate." His warmth and wisdom have made him a beloved public speaker.

NOTE: Bio is as it appeared in the Forum playbill for "Scientific Journey" on December 7, 2002.