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Jerome S Bruner's review of A Leg to Stand On gave me back my confidence


A Leg to Stand On: release and reviews
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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In 1979, I was approached by two young men who were film producers  [Walter Parkes and Larry Lasker] and who had produced a... a good documentary called [The] California Reich about neo-Nazis in California. And they were interested in making a feature film about Awakenings, and a... a contract was drawn up in 1979, although in fact, nothing was to happen there for another 10 years. In the interim, I continued to struggle with the Leg book, and at last with invaluable help from you, Kate, and my publisher Jim Silberman, who is really a marvellous editor, and others, I completed the Leg book, which came out in England in '84, and was variously reviewed, typically, the lovely reviews which I got, were eclipsed in my mind by a hateful review I got from [James] Fenton, the poet, which upset me very deeply and brought me to a depressive halt for three months. But then I came to, and in addition to the... oh yeah, reviews... but when the American edition came out, it was given a marvellous review in the New York Review of Books by Jerry Bruner, a man of much greater intellectual weight than Fenton, although Fenton himself is no fool and a very gifted poet, and someone whom I admire when I forget my hatred, and anyhow, that’s a long time ago.

With another... incidentally, another reviewer who wrote an assassinatory review of Hat is now one of my closest friends, but that’s another story which I will come to.

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: A Leg to Stand On, New York Review of Books, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Kate Edgar, Jim Silberman, James Fenton, Jerome Bruner

Duration: 2 minutes, 42 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012