An Unexpected Friendship with Oliver Sacks
Susan R. Barry
When Susan Barry first wrote to Oliver Sacks, she never expected a response, let alone the deep friendship that blossomed over ten years of letters. Now, she is sharing those letters for the first time. Dear Oliver: An Unexpected Friendship with Oliver Sacks is an intimate and inspiring book, that explores the joy and complexity of adult friendships.
It began when Sue—a neuroscientist—wrote to share an extraordinary development in her medical history. Severely cross-eyed since birth, Sue had been told she would never acquire stereovision—the ability to see in 3D—and yet she did, a development at odds with decades of research. Within days, Oliver replied, “Your letter fills me with amazement and admiration.”
In a painful twist of fate, as Sue’s vision improves, Oliver’s declines. And as it becomes harder for him to see, his characteristic small type shifts to handwritten letters. Sue later recognizes this to be early signs of the cancer that ultimately ends his life. These letters are a joyful celebration of, as Oliver writes, a “deep and stimulating friendship” that “has been a wonderful and unexpected addition to my life.”
Forthcoming from The Experiment
Praise for Dear Oliver
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
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