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My US motorbike travel journal


Did I really have that bad a time in Oxford and California?
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Kate, you said yesterday that you thought I was giving a rather negative spin on my Oxford days and my California days. And I think you’re right, I often tend to give a negative spin to things. If I have ten good reviews and one bad review I brood on the bad review. If everyone in an audience looks interested and excited, but one man is asleep or looks bored then… but in reality there was much that was delightful and interesting in California and in Oxford. In my California days, between ‘60 and ‘65, I travelled enormously. When I came to California I... as I mentioned yesterday, it was, sort of, rather impulsive.  I didn’t have a green card, I wasn’t allowed to work. I had to wait nine months for a green card and then I bought an old BMW motorcycle and zigzagged all round the country. I thought that was a wonderful way of… you’re open to the wind and the elements and also then you are more open to people. I think now… I'd had a motorbike in England as well, and I think a motorbike somehow cut through the class differences.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Oxford University, California

Duration: 1 minute, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012