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Starting to see the Awakenings patients


The publishing of Migraine
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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The book was supposed to come out in 1969, and this got postponed to 1970. But then the whole of 1970 passed, and I worked with Faber's to arrange the illustrations and the bibliography, everything was ready, but 1969 passed and 1970 passed, and though towards the end of 1970 a cousin of mine, Carmel, said, ‘You have to have an agent, to mediate between you and the publishers otherwise you will be fucked around’. I got an agent, and... and then Faber's came to. They actually brought the book out early in ’71, although the imprint on the publication page says 1970.

I was in London in January of '71, the morning it came out. I was staying at home, and my father came in shaking, holding The Times in his hand, ashen, he said, 'You're in the papers'. And there was in fact a very nice article which called Migraine brilliant, authoritative and original, or something like this. But just so far as my father was concerned, I had committed a dangerous folly in appearing publicly, and being in the papers. And... and this coincided with some feelings I’d had myself, and at that time I... the word ‘publish’ was always misread as ‘punish’. I felt that I would be punished if I published anything, and yet... and yet I had to, although I think that... this literally took the form of some self-destructiveness to my own work.

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: Migraine, Faber & Faber, The Times

Duration: 2 minutes, 20 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012