Entries by John McCaskey

Biography of Dr. Oliver Sacks

I’m incredibly excited to announce that my next book, a biography of Oliver Sacks, will be published by A.A. Knopf. I have exclusive access to the vast archive of The Oliver Sacks Foundation, and I have already found some new and intriguing information about Sacks’s life. Follow me here and on Twitter for updates on […]

Leon Levy Center for Biography Fellowship

I am thrilled and honored that the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the Graduate Center, CUNY, has selected me to be the first Leon Levy/Alfred P. Sloan Fellow in Science Biography for 2019–2020.  I’ll be working on my biography of Oliver Sacks alongside fine biographers Abigail Santamaria, David Greenberg, Channing Joseph, and Matthew McKnight.

“The Secret Lives of Color” by Kassia St. Clair

Published in the Wall Street Journal, Dec. 29, 2017 Chromatic Experiences A catalog of 75 colors and their histories, from lead white to pitch black. Laura J. Snyder reviews ‘The Secret Lives of Color’ by Kassia St. Clair. The Swedish apothecary Carl Wilhelm Scheele was studying the element arsenic in 1775 when he came across the […]

“The River of Consciousness” by Oliver Sacks

Published in the Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 2017 Oliver Sacks Travels Down “The River of Consciousness” Madagascar’s star orchid intrigued Darwin. He inferred a moth must exist that could reach its nectar. After roiling the world by publishing his book “On the Origin of Species,” Charles Darwin retreated to his estate’s conservatories, not to […]

Blanche Ames. Brief life of an intrepid botanical illustrator: 1878-1969

Published in Harvard Magazine, July–August, 2017 BLANCHE (AMES) AMES and her husband, Oakes Ames, professor of botany at Harvard and director of the Arnold Arboretum, were in the middle of the Yucatan jungle when their car stalled. As Oakes and the driver stood by helplessly, Blanche pulled a hairpin from her chignon, extracted a bullet […]

“The Seeds of Life” by Edward Dolnick

Published in the Wall Street Journal, Jun. 2, 2017 The Birth of Wisdom It wasn’t until recently-the late 1800s-that we knew for sure where babies come from. Laura J. Snyder reviews “The Seeds of Life” by Edward Dolnick. On an autumn night in 1677, a Dutch civil servant named Antoni van Leeuwenhoek rose from his […]

“The Zoo” by Isobel Charman

Published in the Wall Street Journal, Apr. 14, 2017 5:10 p.m. ET A Zoo in Dickensian London Society ladies and men of science came to visit Tommy the 2-foot tall chimpanzee. All were awed by his resemblance to a human child. Laura J. Snyder reviews “The Zoo” by Isobel Charman. A curious sight greeted passengers […]

“The Glass Universe” by Dava Sobel

Published in the Wall Street Journal, Dec. 6, 2016 7:04 p.m. ET The Lady Computers Williamina Fleming, who had originally been hired by the head of the Harvard Observatory as a maid, devised a classification system of 10,000 stars. Laura J. Snyder reviews “The Glass Universe” by Dava Sobel. When astronomer John Herschel captured the […]

Curiouser and curiouser: A cup of tea with Oliver Sacks

Published at ted.com, May 23, 2016. A memorable conversation with Oliver Sacks reveals what might have been his greatest attribute: undying curiosity. I remember knocking at his door, nervously clutching an inscribed copy of my book The Philosophical Breakfast Club and a bag from a local chocolatier. I hoped I had chosen my gifts well. He had […]