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Difficulty with human bonding


The things boarding school has taken from me
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Some years ago, I heard a radio programme. I wish I could get a copy of it. There were three or four people of my generation who had all been at boarding schools in England. One man had been shifted, I think, from one school to another and had had a worse time and he... although he had had a superficially normal life and was, sort of, married and had a good job, he said he felt this had left its imprint on him and in particular, that he was defective in the three Bs. And the interviewer said, 'What are the three Bs?' And he said, 'Bonding, belonging and belief'. I don’t know whether I’ve made this story up or not. I... I think there was such an interview. Maybe the three Bs are my invention. Anyhow, whether they’re my invention or not, this is partly how I feel. I feel I’ve, on the whole, lived at a certain distance from people, so belonging has been difficult. It’s true that I belong to the New York Fern Society, but we only meet once a month and we only talk about ferns, so that’s a safe sort of belonging.


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: New York Fern Society

Duration: 1 minute, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: 19-23 September, 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012