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The dangers of publishing


Awakenings: not a murmur from the medical press
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Colin wanted... the book, some parts of the book, to be... to come out in newspapers first, but this would have delayed the publication of the book from June, which was the original slated date. I wanted it published in June because I was going to be 40 on July 9th and I wanted to feel that I had written something by the age of 40. I also didn’t like the idea of the book dribbling out.

So the book came out on June 28th and here, unlike Migraine, which had had an equal response both from general reviewers and medical reviewers, there was a complete gap with Awakenings which got very well reviewed in the press generally, especially after [Al] Alvarez’s review, but there was not a murmur from my colleagues. There was no mention of the book in the medical press. Later, in January of '74, I... there was an article by the editor of a rather briefly lived paper called The British Clinical Journal. And he said that he thought the two strangest... two of the strangest phenomena in England in the preceding year had been the publication of Awakenings, and what he called the 'mutism' of the profession, and the complete lack of medical response to it. But there was plenty of general response, and in December, Colin had a sort of celebration and Christmas party combined. And all sorts of people came along, including my father who was recovering from a... a year of mourning for my mother. And my father, who had been so anxious about my publishing, now saw that there are... there were all sorts of eminent people there and it seemed to be okay. And Jonathan said to me, 'You’re famous now'. And... although I didn’t really know what it meant, no-one had ever said anything like to me before. He of course had been famous for, you know, for... years, from Beyond the Fringe, or... or before that... whatever famous means.

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, Awakenings, Al Alvarez, Colin Haycraft

Duration: 3 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012