a story lives forever
Sign in
Form submission failed!

Stay signed in

Recover your password?
Form submission failed!

Web of Stories Ltd would like to keep you informed about our products and services.

Please tick here if you would like us to keep you informed about our products and services.

I have read and accepted the Terms & Conditions.

Please note: Your email and any private information provided at registration will not be passed on to other individuals or organisations without your specific approval.

Video URL

You must be registered to use this feature. Sign in or register.


My mother's forbears


My grandfather's history
Oliver Sacks Scientist
Comments (0) Please sign in or register to add comments

I always tended to identify more with my mother’s side of the family, and my mother and her side of the family, I think, were more interested in genealogy and pedigrees and where they came from than my father and his side of the family.

My mother would tell me about her father who’d been born in 1837. I found this almost incredible that he would have been almost 100 when I was born, but then I was the youngest, of almost the youngest of his 18 children. He had been born in Russia in 1837 and at the age of 16, to escape being... the word’s gone from me, it’s not imprinted...

[Q] Impressed.

Yes. And when he was 16, to avoid being impressed by the Cossacks, he managed to procure the identification and the passport of a dead man called Landau, and with this fled the country, went to Germany and there, married a 16-year-old bride. Marriage at 16 was apparently nothing unusual in those days, at least in Jewish families, maybe Catholic families and other families too. The... and it was in Germany that he had the first of his many, many children. He lost his first wife in 1871, I think, married again and then had 13 children. But the five children of the... five first children and the 13 later children were all close to one another.

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: Russia, Cossacks, Germany

Duration: 2 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012