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Brief Praise for Oliver Sacks

A young science writer reflects on an icon of her field.
Oliver Sacks in 2009. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

Oliver Sacks in 2009. (Photo: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

Oliver Sacks, the brilliant neurologist and successful author, has terminal cancer. Because he is Oliver Sacks, he has written about what it is like for him to be “face to face with dying” in an op-ed published yesterday in the New York Times. And—because he is Oliver Sacks—it is stirring and beautiful and enlightening.

For decades Sacks has introduced the world to the complexities and curiosities of the brain through tales of his neurological patients. “We may say they are travellers to unimaginable lands,” Sacks wrote in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. “Lands of which otherwise we should have no idea or conception.” In recent years the subject of those tales has often been himself, rather than his patients. His writing has always been a perfect marriage of the clinical and the emotional, fact and romance, science and soul.

The Times op-ed is no exception:

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

I was supposed to put a kicker here, but how could I possibly top that?