Oliver Sacks was prolific. Besides 16 published books, he also left behind a legacy of brilliant essays, lectures, unpublished drafts, journals, letters, notes, marginalia, audio recordings, film, and more. Part of the Foundation’s work in the six years since he passed has been to gather, digitize, and share as much of that body of work as possible.
Last year, Oliver’s partner Bill Hayes invited us to visit his apartment and photograph some of the small, unassuming items that filled Oliver’s life.
One of the items we found most fascinating was Oliver’s wallet, with his New York driver’s license and other cards still inside. Where most people keep their photo ID, Oliver kept a small card printed with the periodic table of elements.
During filming for the Ric Burns documentary, he spoke about why he did this:
“Oh, I carry a periodic table in my wallet. I love it very much. It stands for order, stability – but it also stands for imagination and mystery. And some of the elements get very, very complicated, as you go above 92 and sort of relativistic and other considerations come in. For example, you cannot understand, on the basis of the periodic table, why gold is gold. It’s a very simple question. In fact, it turns out to be a very deep question. And I am not mathematical enough to tell you the answer. But it involves both quantum physics and relativity.”
Snippets like these, windows into Oliver Sacks’ life and mind, can be found all throughout “Oliver Sacks: His Own Mind.” It explores sides of Oliver that don’t show up in his books, and gives a moving, intimate look into the way he moved through the world. The documentary is available for free streaming through PBS American Masters through May 8, and if you give it a watch we’d love to hear what you think.
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Kate, Greg, and Abi