“One of the most beautifully composed and moving works of our time.”

— The Washington Post

Awakenings

“Awakenings came from the most intense medical and human involvement I have even know, as I encountered, lived with, these patients in a Bronx hospital, some of whom had been transfixed, motionless, in a sort of trance, for decades. Migraine was still in the medical canon, but here I took off in all directions–with allegory, philosophy, poetry, you name it.” — Oliver Sacks

Awakenings is the remarkable account of a group of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness during the great epidemic just after World War I. Frozen in a decades-long sleep, these men and women were given up as hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Sacks gave them the then-new drug L-DOPA, which had an astonishing, explosive, “awakening” effect. Dr. Sacks recounts the moving case histories of these individuals, the stories of their lives, and the extraordinary transformations they underwent with treatment. This book, which W. H. Auden called “a masterpiece,” is a passionate exploration of the most general questions of health, disease, suffering, care, and the human condition.

The revised 1990 edition includes new essays on the making of several dramatic adaptations of Awakenings, including Harold Pinter’s play, “A Kind of Alaska,” and the feature film, “Awakenings,” starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.

📽 A special Tribeca Talks at Home discussion featuring Robert De Niro, Kate Edgar, Walter Parkes, and Ric Burns—in honor of the 30th anniversary of the 1990, Awakenings film. Recorded in 2020, footage courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

📽 A special Tribeca Talks at Home discussion featuring Robert De Niro, Kate Edgar, Walter Parkes, and Ric Burns—in honor of the 30th anniversary of the 1990, Awakenings film. Recorded in 2020, footage courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Oliver Sacks with Lillian Tighe

📷 Oliver Sacks with the last of the Awakenings patients, Lillian T.

Awakenings Opera

Opera

A new opera based on Awakenings will premiere in St Louis, June 2022.

Get a 10% discount to any performance of the Awakenings opera, from June 5—24, 2022 in St Louis. Learn more

FILM

Stream the 1990 film starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams now.

The 1990 film based on the book Awakenings is now available to watch on Netflix, Apple TV, and a number of streaming services.

Praise for Awakenings

“Compulsively readable. . . . Dr. Sacks writes beautifully and with exceptional subtlety and penetration into both the state of mind of his patients and the nature of illness generally. . . . A brilliant and humane book.” —The Observer

“[Sacks] opens to the reader doors of perception generally passed through only by those at the far borders of human experience.” —The Boston Globe

“A masterpiece.” W. H. Auden

“Experiences so strange that they are difficult to conceive are not limited to travels up the Amazon or to the Moon, but can occur within the confines of the human head…This long sleep and sudden awakening to a strange new world…though so alien, have an immediate power to grip the imagination. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that through this book we live with the dead, brought back from the past…The book is an extraordinary compound of clinical observation and, one feels, deep understanding of the plight of these people…One senses in the author a passion to communicate his discoveries with all the power of his intellect, knowledge and deep compassion–so that we may “awake.’” —Richard Gregory, The Listener

“This book is a neurologist’s account of his experience with a so-called miracle drug from the epidemic of sleeping sickness which swept the world in the 1920s. Dr. Sacks writes beautifully and with exceptional subtlety and penetration into both the state of mind of his patients and the nature of illness in general….Compulsively readable…a brilliant and humane book.” —A. Alvarez, Observer

“It makes you aware of the knife-edge we live on.” Doris Lessing

“This doctor’s report is written in a prose of such beauty that you might well look in vain for its equal among living practitioners of belles lettres.” —Frank Kermode, Daily Telegraph

Inspired by Awakenings

Feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, Julie Kavner and John Heard. Produced by Walter Parkes and Larry Lasker, directed by Penny Marshall, screenplay by Steven Zaillian. Released December 1990 by Columbia Pictures. Awakenings was nominated for three Academy Awards. Received the 1991 Scriptor Award. More info here. Stream now.

An opera composed by Tobias Picker, libretto by Aryeh Lev Stollman, based on the book Awakenings by Oliver Sacks. Commissioned for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. World premiere: June 5, 2021. Performed in English with projected English supertitles Accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. More info.

Recorded at the October 2019 Awakenings workshop, Opera Fusion in Cincinatti, Ohio.

Recorded at the October 2019 Awakenings workshop, Opera Fusion in Cincinatti, Ohio.

A ballet composed by Tobias Picker and choreographed by Aletta Collins for the Rambert dance company. Premiered in Manchester, England, September 2010. Learn more.

A Kind of Alaska, a one-act play by Harold Pinter, based on Awakenings by author Oliver Sacks . Performed in “Other Places” at National Theatre (Cottesloe), London, Oct. 1982 with Judi Dench, Paul Rogers, & Anna Massey. Directed by Peter Hall.

US Premiere at The Manhattan Theatre Club, New York City, April 1984 with Dianne Wiest, Henderson Forsythe, & Caroline Lagerfelt. Directed by Alan Schneider.

Awakenings, Adapted by Arnold Aprill for a stage reading at City Lit Theater Company, Chicago, Sept. 10, 1987.

Awakenings, Adapted by John Reeves for a dramatic reading, CBC Radio, 1986.