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Haunting public libraries


Jonathan Miller's literacy and intellect
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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Yes, I’ve said I think I was perhaps the least literate of the three of us in the Society.  Jonathan’s mother of course was a novelist and a biographer, and Jonathan... I remember Jonathan asked me what I thought about Selma Lagerlöf, and I thought that might be a sort of beer, or it was some strange Swedish dish. His... his mother was Swedish or partly Swedish, and Jonathan’s father was a great... was a very scholarly psychoanalyst who had a huge interest in anthropology and many, many things. I remember I first encountered The Golden Bough in his father’s library.

I was rather afraid of Emmanuel Miller who seemed a formidable man. And although Jonathan may gainsay this, I recollect or seem to recollect Jonathan’s father reproaching Jonathan for his levity, for intellectual levity, and saying that intellectual weight would reside in a shelf of learned monographs, and I think that Jonathan was considerably inhibited, and still feels the shadow of a father sometimes there. My analyst, Shengold, has written a book called Haunted by Parents, and I think Jonathan is somewhat haunted, at least in this one respect, by his father. On the other hand I think with, you know, in terms of intellectual weight and range of interests he has very good genetics, very good genes on both sides.

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: The Golden Bough, Selma Lagerlöf

Duration: 1 minute, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012