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My cousin: Robert J Aumann


Abba Eban, my extraordinary cousin
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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[Q] You have some pretty extraordinary cousins on both sides?

Yeah. The... the cousin who died on Friday was the widow of Abba Eban, of Aubrey Eban; he was first cousin on my father’s side. And... actually I can give you a little thing I... I wrote about him because... which has to do with the subject of identity and twinning, because on one occasion... when he was in office in Israel I saw very little of him, but after he was dropped by, I think, an increasingly partisan government who couldn’t bear his broad-mindedness, he came to New York more.

And on one occasion we’d both been invited to lunch by a second cousin, and meeting him was very strange because we... we both have the same bulky, clumsy, impulsive form and movements, and somewhat similar styles of speech. And we found ourselves finishing each other’s sentences, and I was very puzzled at this. And I said to him, 'Aubrey, I think we’re closer constitutionally than I am to my three brothers!' And he said that he had a similar feeling with regard to his three siblings, and I said, 'How can this be?' And he said, 'Atavism', and I said, 'What do you mean atavism?' He said 'Atavis is a grandfather', he said his father, Aubrey’s father, had died when he was two years old and he was largely brought up by our grandfather. And he said people used to comment on the uncanny similarity between the old man and the child.

He said there was no one else in the grandparental generation like our grandfather, no one at all in the parental generation, and he had thought no one in his own generation until the door opened and I walked in, when he thought I was his grandfather come to life. I miss him a lot.

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: Israel, Abba Eban, Aubrey Eban

Duration: 2 minutes, 41 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012