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Dear Oliver: An Unexpected Friendship with Oliver Sacks (Hardcover)
A heartfelt memoir that captures the meeting of two great minds—and, with boundless generosity, shares the joy of what it's like to make, have, and keep a friend later in life
To the world, he was Dr. Sacks, the brilliant neurologist behind bestselling books like Musicophilia and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. To professor Susan Barry, he became Dear Oliver—her mentor, friend, and confidant over the course of their unlikely, engrossing ten-year correspondence.
It begins with a letter that Sue almost doesn't send. Dear Dr. Sacks . . . You asked me if I could imagine what the world would look like when viewed with two eyes. Sue’s unheard-of case history—as a “stereoblind” patient who acquired 3D vision in adulthood—so fascinates Dr. Sacks that he immediately asks to visit her. As “Stereo Sue,” she becomes the subject of one of his indelible New Yorker pieces—and, as a fellow neuroscientist, his sounding board for every kind of intellectual inquiry.
Their shared passions—from classical music to cuttlefish, brain plasticity to bioluminescent plankton—spark a friendship that buoys both of them through life’s crests and falls: as Sue becomes an author in her own right, as she supports her father in his decline, and as Oliver becomes a patient himself—battling cancer that, in a painful twist, robs him of his own vision.
Dr. Sacks’s letters to Sue offer his devoted readers an unprecedented glimpse of the man himself—from his legendary compassion and insight to his love of the periodic table (which he kept in his wallet). Throughout Dear Oliver, we are reminded that true friends help each other see the world a little differently.
About the Author
Susan R. Barry is a professor emerita of neuroscience and behavior at Mount Holyoke College. She is the author of Fixing My Gaze, named a best book of the year by Amazon and Library Journal, and Coming to Our Senses. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Big Think, and on Science Friday, Fresh Air, and Morning Edition. She lives in Massachusetts.
Oliver Sacks was a physician, a bestselling author, and a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. The New York Times referred to him as “the poet laureate of medicine.” As an author, he is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, and An Anthropologist on Mars. Dr. Sacks was a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.
A Main Selection of the Library of Science Book Club
One of The Telegraph’s 10 essential new books to read in 2024.
"Barry conveys the deep warmth and compassion these late-in-life confidants offered each other—and even includes images of Sacks’s type-written letters, complete with cross-outs and handwritten additions—making the book’s later sections, which document how Sacks’s cancer spread and became terminal, especially poignant. It adds up to a deeply stirring ode to life-altering connections that arrive when they’re least expected.
— Publishers Weekly, starred review
Riveting . . . The real draw of this remarkable tale of a deep friendship between scientists is their loving letters. Barry accurately calls it an ‘ode to friendship, letter-writing and Oliver Sacks.’
Dear Oliver is a must-read for all the people who loved Oliver Sacks’s books. The ending made me cry.
— Temple Grandin, bestselling author of Visual Thinking and Thinking in Pictures
These letters, rich with scholarship and mischief, reveal more intimately than ever before how carefully Oliver Sacks worked on his case studies and how crucial his subjects, including Susan Barry, were to him. To browse through these exchanges, Oliver using his leaky fountain pen, crossing out words, doodling on the margins, rephrasing, rethinking and Susan answering back with stories, photographs, and drawings of her own, gives us a rare look at two minds jousting, sharing ideas. What started out as an inquiry became a partnership, then, as the years rolled by, a deepening, life-changing friendship.
— Robert Krulwich, former host of Radiolab
In Dear Oliver, neuroscientist Susan Barry describes how her 10-year correspondence with Oliver Sacks unleashed her inner author.
— Big Think
A testament to the genius of Oliver Sacks and the special friendship he shared with Susan Barry, Dear Oliver is a deep dive into an emotionally rich world. Oliver Sacks was extraordinary in his curiosity and sensitivity, but, as his letters show, his brilliance was his ability to marry science, humanity, humor, and humility.
— Orrin Devinsky, MD, professor of neurology and neuroscience, NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Dear Oliver vividly captures how Barry and Sacks explored the mind through years of letters. Their curiosity, compassion, friendship, and courage at life’s challenges are woven together in an inspiring tapestry of scientific and personal discovery.
— Aniruddh Patel, PhD, professor of psychology, Tufts University, and author of Music, Language, and the Brain