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Darwin's reflections on his own character


Darwin's illness and Down House
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Darwin was an exemplary figure in so many ways when one considers the enormous volume of his work done in the face of... of illness. When you go to visit his house at Down, which is a must, you feel his presence there and you think that familiar figure in the black cloak is going to come around the next aisle in the garden. But you also see that in the corner of Darwin’s office there was a little receptacle, because he would have to vomit and take care of his bowels many times a day. Whether some people have put this down as a, sort of, psychosomatic feeling, because he... he knew he was upsetting the apple cart and doing something revolutionary, other people say this may be Chagas’ disease which he picked up in... in South America.

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: Chagas’ disease, South America, Down House, Charles Darwin

Duration: 1 minute, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012