Oliver Sacks always seemed propelled by joyful curiosity. The neurologist’s writing is infused with this quality—equal parts buoyancy and diligence, the exuberant asking of difficult questions.
More specifically, Sacks had a fascination with ways of seeing and hearing and thinking. Which is another way of exploring experiences of living. He focused on modes of perception that are delightful not only because they are subjective, but precisely because they are very often faulty.
To say Sacks had a gift for this method of exploration is an understatement. He was a master at connecting curiosity to observation, and observation to emotion. Sacks died on Sunday after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis earlier this year. He was 82.
Over the course of his life’s work, Sacks approached his many questions with rigorous intellect and, above all, empathy. The best word for this, maybe, is grace. And it’s everywhere in the elegant body of work he left behind—his many books, but also his shorter essays and interviews.
Here’s a small sampling of some of Sacks’s great conversations and shorter reflections.
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“Sabbath,” The New York Times, 2015
Sacks reflects on what it means to live a good and worthwhile life — and what it took for him to achieve “a sense of peace within oneself.”
Almost unconsciously, I became a storyteller at a time when medical narrative was almost extinct. This did not dissuade me, for I felt my roots lay in the great neurological case histories of the 19th century (and I was encouraged here by the great Russian neuropsychologist A. R. Luria). It was a lonely but deeply satisfying, almost monkish existence that I was to lead for many years.
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