Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook Me for a New Yorker Writer
We will all miss Oliver Sacks. Let me add my own glancing interaction to all those remembering his influence, whether personal or through his prose (which struck people as very personal, too, whether first person or third). The one long article I wrote for the New Yorker was a profile of Nobel winner Gerald Edelman. After I got the assignment, I learned that it was Sacks who’d suggested me — he had read my book Artificial Life and liked it! I interviewed him for the article at his West Village apartment and we had a delightful afternoon (unforgettable for me) talking about Edelman and a zillion other topics. I left with a couple of his signed books.
I suspect that I am only one of many writers who was the beneficiary of his unsolicited kindnesses.
I saw him only one other time, probably a decade or so later. It was maybe ten o’clock at night and I was walking in the Village with a friend. Sacks was walking around as if he were disoriented, maybe deep in thought or maybe in the throes of god knows what. When he spotted me, he exclaimed, “It’s Steven Levy!” as if the phenomenon of running into me (I live in NYC) was as weird as some of the bizarre case studies he so brilliantly documented. He snapped to attention, and we had a brief friendly conversation.
To all writers about matters scientific, Sacks was a singular icon, and as a person he was a true original and a beacon of warmth and menschiness. He’s gone too soon.