A note on the titles of Oliver Sacks, 1933–2015

What is most striking about Oliver Sacks’s many published books and essays is the material itself, but even his titles have sometimes been memorable, perhaps never more so than with “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.” The case study of that name was first published in 1983, in the London Review of Books, and later provided the title for a collection. If by chance you’ve never read any of Sacks’s work, which typically presents curious cases (sometimes including Sacks himself) with the dispassionate concern and generosity of spirit that Chekhov had earlier displayed in his stories and plays, you’ll find that 1983 essay as good an introduction as any. It’s available online here.

Speaking of titles, another of his works was also, so to speak, ear-catching for me: Uncle Tungsten, a recollection of his childhood in wartime England and his early fascination with chemistry, which came out in 2001. A portion of it was published in The New Yorker in 1999, under the title “Brilliant Light.” A link to that and to everything else that Sacks wrote for TNY (some of which is subscriber only) is here.

Ave atque vale, Dr. Sacks.


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