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My birthday presents from Stephen Jay Gould


My friendship with Stephen Jay Gould
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Stephen taught at Harvard but he lived here in the Village, and we were within walking distance – neighbours. In fact, Stephen loved walking and he had a huge architectural knowledge of New York and of old New York and of what was there 100 years ago. And the... there were so many different aspects to Stephen, he was extremely musical, he adored Gilbert and Sullivan, I think he knew all Gilbert and Sullivan by heart. On one occasion when we went out to a mutual friend on Long Island and Stephen basked in the jacuzzi for three hours keeping the water warm and singing... singing Gilbert and Sullivan. He also knew a huge number of war songs.

The... we got on well together, I admired him and I often wrote him letters, precipitate letters after articles of his. So... so this was not a forced thing. I bewailed the fact... I said, 'I wish I were a real scientist like you', and he wrote me back a marvellous letter and said, you know, you are, but you are a scientist of the individual, and this is not a scientist of populations and you are unique in your way, and don’t do yourself down. I never had too much intellectual self-confidence, but Stephen was a booster, and a very positive force.

I went up to Harvard sometimes and I heard him lecture, and he was an incredible lecturer, the place would be packed, there would be 300 people there. And... and he was very open to students visiting him.

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: Stephen Jay Gould

Duration: 2 minutes, 3 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012