And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?: A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks

And How Are You, Dr. Sacks?: A Biographical Memoir of Oliver Sacks

by Lawrence Weschler


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The untold story of Dr. Oliver Sacks, his own most singular patient

"[An] engrossing biographical memoir. This is Sacks at full blast: on endless ward rounds, observing his post-encephalitic patients . . . exulting over horseshoe crabs and chunks of Iceland spar." —Barbara Kiser, Nature

The author Lawrence Weschler began spending time with Oliver Sacks in the early 1980s, when he set out to profile the neurologist for his own new employer, The New Yorker. Almost a decade earlier, Dr. Sacks had published his masterpiece Awakenings—the account of his long-dormant patients’ miraculous but troubling return to life in a Bronx hospital ward. But the book had hardly been an immediate success, and the rumpled clinician was still largely unknown. Over the ensuing four years, the two men worked closely together until, for wracking personal reasons, Sacks asked Weschler to abandon the profile, a request to which Weschler acceded. The two remained close friends, however, across the next thirty years and then, just as Sacks was dying, he urged Weschler to take up the project once again. This book is the result of that entreaty.

Weschler sets Sacks’s brilliant table talk and extravagant personality in vivid relief, casting himself as a beanpole Sancho to Sacks’s capacious Quixote. We see Sacks rowing and ranting and caring deeply; composing the essays that would form The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; recalling his turbulent drug-fueled younger days; helping his patients and exhausting his friends; and waging intellectual war against a medical and scientific establishment that failed to address his greatest concern: the spontaneous specificity of the individual human soul. And all the while he is pouring out a stream of glorious, ribald, hilarious, and often profound conversation that establishes him as one of the great talkers of the age. Here is the definitive portrait of Sacks as our preeminent romantic scientist, a self-described “clinical ontologist” whose entire practice revolved around the single fundamental question he effectively asked each of his patients: How are you? Which is to say, How do you be?

A question which Weschler, with this book, turns back on the good doctor himself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374236410
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 08/13/2019
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 625,890
Product dimensions: 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

About the Author

Lawrence Weschler, a longtime veteran of The New Yorker and a regular contributor to NPR, is the director emeritus of the New York Institute of the Humanities at NYU and the author of nearly twenty books, including Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of Wonder, Everything That Rises, and Vermeer in Bosnia.

Table of Contents

Prologue 3

Part I Getting to Know Him

1 Going for a Row 19

2 Early Childhood, a Harrowing Exile, Cruel Judaism, Homosexuality, and a Mother's Curse 27

3 Conversations with Bob Rodman and Thorn Gunn in California 35

4 A Visit to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and Lunch at a Japanese Restaurant 49

5 Oliver's Cousins Abba Eban and Carmel Ross 60

6 From California to New York (1962-1967) 65

7 The Migraine Clinic (1966-1968) 73

8 The Awakenings Drama (1968-1975) 79

9 On Rounds with Oliver at Beth Abraham 107

10 Auden and Luria 113

11 A Visit with Oliver to London, including Conversations with Eric Korn, Jonathan Miller, and Colin Haycraft 128

12 On Rounds with Oliver at the Little Sisters and Bronx State 184

13 Ward 23 196

14 John the Touretter 202

Part II How He Was (the Passing Months)

15 The Blockage Begins to Break (1982-1983) 221

16 The Leg Book Shambles Toward Publication as Oliver Hazards a Neurology of the Soul (the First Half of 1984) 252

17 The Publication, at Long Last, of the Leg Book; Its Reception; Sancho Launches into His Profile and Is Stopped (the Second Half of 1984) 282

Part III Afterwards

18 Dear Friends (1985-2005) 305

19 A Digression on the Question of Reliability and the Nature of Romantic Science 336

20 His Own Life (2005-2015) 347

Postscript 365

Acknowledgments 369

Index 371

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