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Stephen Jay Gould's brush with death


Stephen Jay Gould arranges my 'elements' birthday party
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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On another occasion, knowing that I liked elements, he insisted that everyone come as an element. I’m rather bad at names and sometimes at faces, and, for example, there was a particular man whom I remember as argon, but I don’t remember his name, and I can’t remember his face. If people will identify with an element I never forget them. The... one close friend... yes, Helen, she... she was 40 and 40 is zirconium, and she had zircons all over her... zircons are beautiful jewels. The... so there was a... a lovely contact, both personal and professional. I think I was very lucky here because from what I’ve heard and what I’ve read not all contacts with Stephen were so genial.

But, I think, it was easier because I was not in his line, I was no competitor. And, similarly, I get on very well with botanists, and I get on well with chemists because they appreciate my interest in their subjects but, at the same time, I’m not competing in their subject. So Stephen loved that I loved zoology.

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: 1 minute, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012