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The influence of Alexander Luria upon Awakenings


I thought Alexander Luria had done it all
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Luria came to London in '58 and gave some talks about a pair of identical twins and their speech development, and... and this combined observational science, theoretical depth, and human warmth in a way which I thought marvellous.

When I came to New York I was to read two just published books of Luria, his Higher Cortical Functions[in Man], and one called... the title has escaped me. Well, and another book full of histories of frontal patients with frontal lobe damage, which very much upset me – this may be the reason why I can’t think of the title – it upset me because, as I read this book I thought: there’s no place for me in the world. I thought: Luria has already written it, he had already seen, said, written and thought anything I can ever say, or write, or think, and in my anger I tore the book in two. It was called The Human Brain and Psychological Process. I told the library that something had happened to the book and I got a new copy as well as a copy for myself.

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: Higher Cortical Functions in Man, The Human Brain and Psychological Processes, Alexander Romanovich Luria

Duration: 1 minute, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012