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Scientific correspondence: a comparison between Darwin and myself


Darwin's residence in Down House
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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The young Darwin who could ride for hours along with the gauchos in... in South America, although he... he was infinitely energetic, he was not always skilful and on one occasion, I think, using a lasso or some bolas he managed to catch the forelegs of his own horse and brought it and himself to the ground. But when Darwin came back, he had a period in London and then he settled in Down House and never moved again. But, as has been brought out in a rather beautiful book, Down House with its gardens became his Galapagos, his South America, and... and if he was voyaging all around the world in The Beagle, then he was voyaging in his garden. He maintained an enormous correspondence. He thought it very important, for example, to speak to breeders, horticulturists, pigeon fanciers, about artificial selection which, of course, has been so strong with... with dogs, with all sorts of animals. He introduces The Origin with artificial selection. And if that can occur and produce such striking changes, look at the huge range of dogs which has been produced in whatever... 20,000 years, then what can nature do given infinite time.

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: South America gauchos, Galapagos, Down House, HMS Beagle, On the Origin of the Species, London, Charles Darwin

Duration: 1 minute, 48 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012