Oliver Sacks, M.D.




"In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life."

                                                                        - Oliver Sacks



Oliver Sacks brought an understanding of achromatopsia to the world through his book, Island of the Colorblind. A beautiful book that chronicles his 1994 trip with Knut Nordby, researcher and achromat and Bob Wasserman, ophthalmologist, to the Pacific Atol of Pingelap in the Micronesia. On this island 10% of the population had achromatopsia, a condition so rare in the rest of the world that most achromats had never met another achromat with the exception of a sibling.  

Oliver Sacks understood the dramatic contrast of achromats in the rest of the world, where few understand their condition versus those on Pingelap where everyone understands their condition.  Oliver Sack recognized that the real island of the colorblind may be the connection of achromats throughout the world on the Internet.

Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England, into a family of physicians and scientists (his mother was a surgeon and his father a general practitioner). He earned his medical degree at Oxford University (Queen’s College), and did residencies and fellowship work at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco and at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is a practicing neurologist. In July of 2007, he was appointed Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center, and he was also designated the first Columbia University Artist.

In 1966 Dr. Sacks began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, a chronic care hospital where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He recognized these patients as survivors of the great pandemic of encephalitis lethargica, the "sleepy sickness" that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, which enabled them to come back to life. They became the subjects of his book Awakenings, which later inspired a play by Harold Pinter (“A Kind of Alaska”) and the Oscar-nominated feature film (“Awakenings”) with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

The New York Times has referred to Dr. Sacks as “the poet laureate of medicine,” and he is best known for his compassionate explorations of the far borderlands of neurological experience, such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and An Anthropologist on Mars, in which he describes patients struggling to live withconditions ranging from Tourette’s syndrome to autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucination, epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, retardation, and Alzheimer’s disease.

He has investigated the world of Deaf people and sign language in Seeing Voices, and a rare community of totally colorblind people in The Island of the Colorblind. He has written about his experiences as a doctor in Migraine and as a patient in A Leg to Stand On. His autobiographical Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood was published in 2001, and his most recent book is Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. 

Sacks's books and essays have been translated into dozens of languages, and they have inspired specialists in medicine, philosophy, ethics, neuroscience, anthropology, physical therapy, psychology—and the general public. He has deeply influenced our understanding of human illness and the ways in which we adapt to illness as patients, the ways we care for those who are neurologically challenged, and the fundamental ways in which illness affects our identity as individuals or communities.

Island of the Color Blind