The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

In his most extraordinary book, "one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century" (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aber...

DownloadRead Online
Title:The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales
Author:Oliver Sacks
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales Reviews

  • Mona

    I first heard about this book when my biology professor mentioned it in class in reference to right-brain and left-brain disorders. Just last year, I had the good fortune to see the author himself - Dr. Sacks - speak at the university in my hometown. He was a dynamic and entertaining speaker and from then on, I resolved to try out his books. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat matched its author. The book is a collection of case studies on Dr. Sacks's patients with neurological disorders. Sac

    I first heard about this book when my biology professor mentioned it in class in reference to right-brain and left-brain disorders. Just last year, I had the good fortune to see the author himself - Dr. Sacks - speak at the university in my hometown. He was a dynamic and entertaining speaker and from then on, I resolved to try out his books. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat matched its author. The book is a collection of case studies on Dr. Sacks's patients with neurological disorders. Sacks divides the book into four parts, each of which deals with "losses" and "excesses of neurological functions, "transports" of hallucinations, visions, and imagination, and "the simple", concerning the mentally or physically challenged, respectively.

    In one chapter titled "The Twins", Sacks describes a pair of twins who had the ability to factor large numbers in their heads, so much so that they could calculate the date of any day of the week in history. He discovers that numbers, especially prime numbers were, for them, a special sort of communication that required no thinking through but was instantaneous. In another chapter, Sacks relates how a previously healthy patient woke up one morning convinced that the leg lying in his bed was not his. Efforts to convince him otherwise (including his own efforts to toss it out onto the floor which resulted in the rest of him falling out as well) were fruitless. How and why do these pheomena occur? These are the questions Sacks attempts to answer.

    Although Sacks includes discussion of concepts that may be familiar only to psychologists or neurologists, the book is accessible to readers without that type of backgroud. It was extremely readable, such that I finished it in two days. My only complaint is that although Sacks includes a postscript to most of the chapters to explain further studies or new discoveries that occurred after he first met these patients, there is often no resolution to these stories. This is understandable, considering that many of the patients' disorders are unusual and may not have any resolution, but I still found it a little frustrating. I do, however, want to do more reading on this subject and look foward to reading Sacks' book titled Awakening.

  • PattyMacDotComma

    This is such a classic that I can’t possibly “review” it, so I’ll just share some stories. Oliver Sacks was the much-loved, highly regarded neurologist who opened up the world of the mind and brain not only to doctors but also to the public.

    The well-known movie,

    , where he was played by Robin Williams, was based on his successful treatment of catatonic patients (including Leonard, played by Robert De Niro), “frozen” for decades after being afflicted with encephalitis. Sacks’s perce

    This is such a classic that I can’t possibly “review” it, so I’ll just share some stories. Oliver Sacks was the much-loved, highly regarded neurologist who opened up the world of the mind and brain not only to doctors but also to the public.

    The well-known movie,

    , where he was played by Robin Williams, was based on his successful treatment of catatonic patients (including Leonard, played by Robert De Niro), “frozen” for decades after being afflicted with encephalitis. Sacks’s perception and inspiration led to the trial which “awakened” them, and he continued to use his remarkable insight and warmth until he died in August 2015.

    This book is a collection of cases of people with various brain anomalies, some caused by accidents or illness and some conditions present at birth. It is disconcerting today to read some of the accepted references to patients in 1985: retardates, defectives, idiots, morons, simpletons.

    “The Man” of the title piece, lost not only the ability to recognise faces, he didn’t even know what a face was. When he tried to put his shoe and sock back on after a medical test, he picked up his foot and asked if that was his shoe. His wife was seated next to him, and he reached across and pulled on her head when looking for his hat. He was almost like a blind man, guessing what and where things were by feel, smell, taste. Yet he still functioned as a music school teacher and sang or hummed his way through his daily life to keep himself on some sort of track.

    Other cases include phantom limbs (gone but still painful), limbs that are perceived as foreign (it’s somebody else’s leg in my bed, doctor, and when I try to throw it out, I end up on the floor), and a woman who had completely lost her proprioception – which is our sense of where our body is in space (a common failing of drunks, but not to this extent). We know how to pick up our foot and move it forward. She had to concentrate every second on where her body was and what she needed to do or she folded up and collapsed. Couldn’t sit or stand without actively thinking about it.

    Another woman’s case is worth sharing, it’s so unusual:

    and so on. Incredible, isn’t it?

    Tourette’s, Parkinson’s, Syphilis, Epilepsy, so very many conditions that cause brain malfunctions. The last part of the book deals with retardation and autism and how Sacks discovered that many people who were considered to be without any intelligence actually did have views of the world --it just couldn’t be measured.

    He says testing measures deficits. It doesn’t allow for the human, as opposed to the neurological, vision of a person. It reminds me of the saying: Don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.

    Sacks says although our brain is computer-like, it is also personal and involves judging and feeling. Without that, our brains actually do become defective, and we can’t understand what is real and concrete, like “The Man”. He obviously can’t really interpret the world except the part he understands through music. And that still makes sense to him.

    But Sacks watched “hopeless cases” carefully, figured out what they reacted to when he spent time with them, and had the insight (and, dare I say, patience) to interact with them. They drew for him, played games, expressed themselves in their own way, and enjoyed his company.

    One simple, clumsy girl who couldn’t learn but who loved listening to her grandmother read stories, also loved being outside. He approached her in the park one day, and she gave him a huge smile, gestured, and then called out single words:

    Sacks realised she did have her own very clear, poetic, perception of the world after all.

    Regarding the people who seem to have unexplained abilities with numbers and calendars but who cannot perform on tests, he understands that they may see the world in numbers (as we see it perhaps in pictures or sounds).

    In 1966, he met a pair of severely impaired young twin men who always sat together giggling and calling out long numbers to teach other. They could also tell you any calendar date, but they didn’t seem able to “do” mathematics. Sacks started writing down their numbers, checked them, and discovered they were all, without exception, prime numbers (like 3 or 5, divisible only by 1 or by themselves, for those of you unfamiliar with primes.) But these were several digits long.

    So he got out his chart, sat with them one day, and then called out a prime number that was one digit longer than theirs. They were stunned! Sat and thought about it, smiled, and started calling out numbers the same length (7 and 8 digits). They eventually outstripped him (12 digits!), but Sacks had no way of checking anything more than 10. They ended up with 20 digits, which he had to assume were also prime.

    He quotes the mathematician Wim Klein, speaking about himself:

    I don’t know how much has changed in the thinking since this book was written, but I quite like his idea that we all respond to order and patterns, and while most of us respond in similar ways to similar things, some people need to have music to order their activities (“The Man” could function as long as he sang or hummed), some need numbers, some need nature. Given the right conditions, many people who were previously cast aside could enjoy life more on their own terms.

    He does caution about what we would now call “mainstreaming” people (to make them more like “us”). The number twins were separated to give them a better chance to live a normal life, which they did to some extent (catching public transport, etc.), but the joy seemed to disappear. What kind of price is that to pay to meet our standards instead of their own?

    It's a fascinating glimpse into a fascinating field of study. It’s scary to think how many people we’ve passed judgement on over the years who could have been freer to enjoy life if we’d figured out how to enable them.

    I’m looking forward to reading some of his newer work to see where it took him and whether or not we’re doing a better job of understanding the immense variation of the human condition today.

    P.S. Another GR reviewer, Barbara, has done a nice job of summarising some of the cases in her review.

  • Patrick

    It's rare that I read non-fiction. It's just not my bag.

    That said, this is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. I'm guessing I've brought it up hundreds of times in conversation.

    It's written by a neurologist who works with people who have stranger-than-usual brain issues. And not only are the cases interesting, but the way he writes about the people invovled is really lovely. It's not clinical at all. Not judgemental. It's very... loving, I would say. It's interesting to see someone

    It's rare that I read non-fiction. It's just not my bag.

    That said, this is one of the most fascinating books I've ever read. I'm guessing I've brought it up hundreds of times in conversation.

    It's written by a neurologist who works with people who have stranger-than-usual brain issues. And not only are the cases interesting, but the way he writes about the people invovled is really lovely. It's not clinical at all. Not judgemental. It's very... loving, I would say. It's interesting to see someone who obviously knows a lot of hard-line science write about these cases in terms that seem to me more suited to someone who would be a philosopher or a spiritualist.

    Amazing book. Can't recommend it highly enough...

  • Simon Clark

    I've read a lot of popular science books in my time, and in one way or another they have always felt cut from same cloth. Similar language used, similar structure, drawing on the same inspirations. After a while it almost feels like you are reading the same book over and over again, with only slight variations in content.

    So

    came as a complete breath of fresh air. A blast, in fact. Oliver Sacks has written a book rather unlike anything I've read before, both

    I've read a lot of popular science books in my time, and in one way or another they have always felt cut from same cloth. Similar language used, similar structure, drawing on the same inspirations. After a while it almost feels like you are reading the same book over and over again, with only slight variations in content.

    So

    came as a complete breath of fresh air. A blast, in fact. Oliver Sacks has written a book rather unlike anything I've read before, both in its content and delivery, but also the way it acts as a meta-commentary on the field of science communication. The book is a collection of case studies from Sacks' career as a neurologist, each chapter focusing on a particular patient. The stories themselves are fascinating, ranging from the titular man who's vision is so neurologically impaired that he literally mistakes his wife for a hat, to the woman who lost all sense of proprioception - if she did not look at where her body was in space, she had no idea where it was. However the way that Sacks tells these stories was what gripped me. Quite apart from other popular science writers, he draws on a wide range of inspirations from poetry to philosophy to music to medical papers. The text is

    . One gets the feeling of a writer who has lived a rich life, who has not been confined to one box of academia, and who allows his experiences to wash together in a melange of words on the page. I loved, loved, loved it.

    You could argue that Sacks actually makes a point about this in the final chapter, a neurological patient who is a brilliant artist but almost completely incapable of interpersonal communication. Reading this, at the very end of the book, I got the impression that Sacks was holding up the mirror to the way science was written about at the time, and still is to this day. Are you scientists not brilliant at abstract thought, gifted beyond measure in unpicking complex behaviour from a mass of data, yet totally incapable of connecting another human to that process? You spend so much time living in your box, in your world of abstraction, that you lack the necessary experience in being human, exposure to the humanities, to make a genuine connection to other people. Sacks demonstrates that if you allow the human to take centre stage, pushing the science to a supporting character, then communication, and wonder, will flow.

    Absolutely recommended. A real must-read.

  • Paquita Maria Sanchez

    This is not only an informative work on neurological disorders, but a humbling meditation on the beauty of imperfection. Through entering the worlds of a number of "limited" individuals, Sacks reveals the brain's (and therefore the individual's) remarkable ability to overcompensate for cognitive deficiencies. As a result of these heightened states of perception, the often frightening and infinitely compelling worlds of each individual are manifested in the means with which they organize and enga

    This is not only an informative work on neurological disorders, but a humbling meditation on the beauty of imperfection. Through entering the worlds of a number of "limited" individuals, Sacks reveals the brain's (and therefore the individual's) remarkable ability to overcompensate for cognitive deficiencies. As a result of these heightened states of perception, the often frightening and infinitely compelling worlds of each individual are manifested in the means with which they organize and engage with the ordinary, whether it be through mathematics, dance, music, or the visual arts. In simply dealing, they manage to transcend. Sacks explores the varying cognitive expressions of his patients without coming across as cold, sterile, or objectifying. Rather, he devotes a chapter to each individual case, creating in the reader a sense that they are engrossed in a series of fictional character studies, rather than a dry psychological manual or the surface-level observations and blind assumptions of a pompous intellectual. This would be a perfect starting point for anyone interested in learning a bit more about abnormal psychology.

  • Supratim

    When I had come across the title of the book on Goodreads, I had mistakenly assumed to it to be a humour novel. But, when I finally found the book during one of my book hunts, I learnt that it is a non-fiction book where the author, a neurologist as well as a gifted writer, has presented some fascinating case studies about his patients with unique afflictions.

    The book has been divided into 4 parts wherein each section contains the case studies pertaining to a particular category of neurological

    When I had come across the title of the book on Goodreads, I had mistakenly assumed to it to be a humour novel. But, when I finally found the book during one of my book hunts, I learnt that it is a non-fiction book where the author, a neurologist as well as a gifted writer, has presented some fascinating case studies about his patients with unique afflictions.

    The book has been divided into 4 parts wherein each section contains the case studies pertaining to a particular category of neurological afflictions.

    Medical case studies are written in a dry, clinical language where the patient is dehumanized, and reduced to a

    . In the preface the author says,

    Thus, the author has attempted to

    and I liked the way he has talked about his patients with warmth, sympathy and respect.

    The narratives are often enriched with quotes, theories and experiences of other doctors, some of whom were stalwarts in their fields. There is a reference to Anton Chekhov as well.

    I believe most of us understand what a magnificent and complex entity the human brain is, and the book reinforced the fact that how fragile it can be – a little bit of damage and it can turn a person’s life upside down, make it difficult or even impossible for the individual to do even some basic functions which are so mundane that we do not even think about them.

    In the pages of the book, I came across afflictions I wouldn’t have imagined possible even in my weirdest dreams. A gifted music teacher suffering from “visual agnosia” had indeed mistaken his wife’s hand for a hat, and provided the title of the book; a woman would learn to use her hands at the age of 60 and prove herself to be a gifted sculptor; a man had the problem of leaning like the Tower of Pisa without his knowledge and would come up with his own novel solution and the list goes on. In some cases the patients would learn to cope, but in others they would not be so lucky.

    What a coincidence that I had just read Forrest Gump, the story of a fictional “idiot savant” before coming across real life idiot savants in the pages of this book.

    One particular comment by the author –

    , pleasantly surprised me. I wouldn’t have expected this from a doctor, but maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised because the author did show his preference for a humane (for the lack of a better word) treatment of the patients.

    One problem you might encounter while reading the book is that the narrative is full of medical jargon. Thanks to the internet, we can find out the meanings much effortlessly compared to a dictionary, but if you read a real book, like I did and always do, then you need to put in the effort to type the words in your browser a lot of times. But, you know what, even if you do not check out every single jargon, you can till understand the fact of the matter.

    I understand that everybody might not like this book. But, if my review has piqued your interest, then I would urge you to at least check out the Goodreads page of the book.

    I just came across the list of :

    , and guess what! This book is included in the list.

  • Dru

    Dear Dr. Sacks,

    On page 112 of the paperback edition of your book, the second paragraph begins with the following sentence:

    "And with this, no feeling

    he has lost feeling (for the feeling he has lost), no feeling

    he has lost the depth, that unfathomable, mysterious, myriad-levelled depth which somehow defines identity or reality."

    I've read this sentence at least twelve times, and I still don't even have the slightest inkling of what the hell it means. What is the subject? What is the ve

    Dear Dr. Sacks,

    On page 112 of the paperback edition of your book, the second paragraph begins with the following sentence:

    "And with this, no feeling

    he has lost feeling (for the feeling he has lost), no feeling

    he has lost the depth, that unfathomable, mysterious, myriad-levelled depth which somehow defines identity or reality."

    I've read this sentence at least twelve times, and I still don't even have the slightest inkling of what the hell it means. What is the subject? What is the verb? Why is the word "that" italicized (twice?)? Good God man, what are you trying to tell me?

    Sincerely,

    Baffled in Brooklyn

    Some people may think "well, if I read the whole chapter, I'm sure I could decipher the meaning." To those people I say: good luck, Charlie. I hope you may succeed where I have so miserably failed.

    This book has many fascinating studies of neurological disorders, and the stories behind the patients are easily understood and, in many cases, enthralling. However, Dr. Sacks seems to give his readers too much credit when he throws off "hyperagnosia", "Korsokovian", and "meningioma" like he assumes we had read an entire neurology textbook before picking this one up. Also, many of his sentences (like the example above) include so many digressions and sudden turns that each one could practically be its own M. Night Shaymalan film pitch. All of this might have to do with the fact that it was written in the eighties, when I presume people were smarter.

  • Barbara

    Dr. Oliver Sacks was a physician, author, and professor of neurology who published several books about individuals with neurological problems. In this book Dr. Sacks discusses patients whose brain malfunctions cause a variety of 'maladies' including: a musician who lost the ability to see faces or recognize familiar objects; a former sailor who believed the year was permanently 1945; a man who thought his leg belonged to someone else; and other unusual afflictions.

    To provide a feel for the book

    Dr. Oliver Sacks was a physician, author, and professor of neurology who published several books about individuals with neurological problems. In this book Dr. Sacks discusses patients whose brain malfunctions cause a variety of 'maladies' including: a musician who lost the ability to see faces or recognize familiar objects; a former sailor who believed the year was permanently 1945; a man who thought his leg belonged to someone else; and other unusual afflictions.

    To provide a feel for the book I'll just give a capsule description of (what I think are) the most interesting cases.

    Dr. P was a talented musician and music teacher whose problems began when he lost the ability to see people's faces - though he could recognize them by their voices and movements. The problem worsened to the point where Dr. P mistakenly thought inanimate objects - like fire hydrants, parking meters, and furniture knobs - were humans.

    In time Dr. P could no longer identify everybody objects. For example, he thought his shoe was his foot and vice versa. Though Dr. P was not diagnosed, physicians speculate that he had a brain tumor or brain damage that caused 'agnosia' - "the loss of ability to recognize objects, persons, sounds, shapes, or smells."

    The title of the story refers to the fact that - when looking for his hat one day - Dr. P mistook his wife for a hatrack, took hold of her head.....and tried to put it on.

    Luckily, Dr. P retained the ability to play and teach music, and was able to continue with his fulfilling career.

    *****

    In 1975, Dr. Sacks saw Jimmie G - a 49-year-old man who left the Navy in 1965 after serving for more than two decades. Jimmie seemed confused about his current situation but was able to describe his school days and his experiences during and after WWII - which he talked about in the present tense.

    Dr. Sacks learned that - in Jimmie's mind - the year was perpetually 1945 and he was 19-years-old. Jimmie couldn't recall anything that post-dated 1945 and was unable to form ANY new memories. In fact, if Dr. Sacks walked out of the room and returned, Jimmie thought they were meeting for the first time.

    When shown a mirror, Jimmie was shocked at his 'old' appearance, and - though his brother was long-married with grandchildren - thought his sibling was a single man in accounting school.

    Apparently Jimmie was competent until he left the Navy, but by 1971 was totally disoriented - probably from severe alcohol abuse. It was determined that Jimmie suffered from amnesia due to 'Korsakov's Syndrome' - "an amnestic disorder usually associated with prolonged ingestion of alcohol."

    *****

    Christina was a bright, athletic 27-year-old computer programmer who worked from home. When health problems required the removal of her gall bladder, Christina was treated with prophylactic antibiotics prior to the operation. This was a common precaution, not expected to have any deleterious effects.

    Shortly before the surgery Christina had a dream in which she lost sensation in her hands and feet. A couple of days later Christina REALLY lost sensation.....in her entire body. Christina couldn't feel her arms, hands, legs, feet, etc. She couldn't walk, was unable to pick things up, and so on. Christina felt like her body was 'dead, not real, not hers.'

    Christina was diagnosed with inflammation of the nerves in her limbs. As a result, Christina lost her sense of 'proprioception' - "the ability to sense the relative positions of body parts without looking at them or thinking about it." It's unknown whether the prophylactic antibiotics caused this or not.

    Eventually, Christina learned to use her other senses - especially vision - to compensate for her loss of propioception. Christina had to consciously monitor and regulate every motion, making her movements difficult and clumsy. Nevertheless, Christina persevered and tried to live as normal a life as possible.

    *****

    Dr. Sacks was called in to see a man who had been admitted to the hospital because of a problem with his leg. After falling asleep in the hospital, the patient woke up to find 'someone's leg in the bed'.....a severed human limb. The man was horrified, and concluded that a nurse had perpetrated a bizarre joke. The patient threw the leg out of bed, but he went with it.....because the limb was attached to him.

    While Dr. Sacks was in the room, the patient began punching and tearing at his left leg. Dr. Sacks advised the man to stop, as he was injuring his own limb, but the patient refused to accept this.

    The man apparently had hemiplegia - "paralysis on one side of the body".....probably caused by brain damage.

    *****

    A 'phantom' is the sensation that a lost body part (usually an amputated limb) is still there.

    Dr. Sacks tells the story of a sailor who accidently cut off his right index finger, but couldn't dislodge the notion that the digit was still sticking out of his hand. For the next 40 years, the sailor was wary of bringing his damaged hand near his face - to eat or scratch his nose - because the finger might poke his eye out. The sailor knew this couldn't really happen, but was unable to make the feeling go away.

    The sailor was finally 'cured' when he lost sensation in ALL of his fingers due to diabetic neuropathy (nerve damage). The phantom finger 'disappeared' with the rest of his digits.

    *****

    Mr. Dunston, a 93-year-old man with Parkinson's disease, tilted to the side when walking - to the point he was in danger of falling over. However Mr. Dunston was unaware of the slant, and refused to believe he wasn't upright.....until Dr. Sacks filmed him in motion.

    Mr. Dunston, who had been a carpenter, attributed the problem to the loss of his inner 'spirit level' (an instrument used to determine whether a surface is perfectly horizontal or vertical).

    Mr. Dunston, being a clever fellow, rigged up a 'level' that could be attached to his eyeglasses - called 'spirit spectacles' - which he could use to correct his posture. The spirit spectacles became very popular with patients afflicted with Parkinson's disease.

    *****

    After a massive stroke, Mrs. S - a woman in her sixties - lost the ability to see anything on the left side. If Mrs. S's dessert was on the left side of her tray, she couldn't see it; in fact Mrs. S couldn't even see the food on the left side of her plate. This 'left blindness' extended to everything, so that Mrs. S. would only make up the right side of her face, etc.

    To compensate, Mrs. S got a rotating wheelchair and swiveled in a circle until things came into view - a crafty solution to (some of) her problems.

    *****

    Natasha, a 90-year-old woman, had begun feeling unusually 'frisky' at the age of 88 - giggling, telling jokes, and flirting with men.

    Natasha realized this was 'inappropriate', and - surmising she was physically ill - consulted a doctor. Natasha reported that, at age twenty, she had contracted 'Cupid's Disease' (syphilis) - which was treated, but apparently not eradicated.

    In fact Natasha WAS suffering from neurosyphilis - an infection of the brain and/or spinal cord caused by Treponema pallidum (the bacteria that causes syphilis). The bacteria were stimulating her cerebral cortex and affecting her behavior.

    Natasha didn't want to get end-stage syphilis, but didn't want to be cured either.....since she was enjoying her girlish feelings. So doctors gave Natasha penicillin to kill the microbes, but did nothing to repair her cerebral cortex - allowing the elderly woman to remain playful. (At 90 years old, why not. LOL)

    *****

    Mrs. O'C - an 88-year-old Irishwoman living in an old age home in NY - was a little deaf but otherwise in good health. One night Mrs. O'C dreamed of her childhood in Ireland, complete with a woman singing Irish songs. When Mrs. O'C awoke, she still heard the Irish songs - very loud - and went to turn off the radio broadcasting the music. But there was no radio. Mrs. O'C then thought her dental fillings were picking up a broadcast, but this wasn't the case either. Finally, Mrs. O'C concluded something was wrong with her ears - and consulted a doctor.

    Mrs. O'C was eventually sent to a neurologist - Dr. Sacks - but had trouble hearing him through the music. Dr. Sacks determined that the songs were neurological, probably due to a stroke that caused seizures in Mrs. O'C's temporal lobe (a part of the brain that processes music). As Mrs. O'C recovered, the music faded away.

    *****

    Stephen D. was a 22-year-old medical student who regularly used amphetamines, cocaine, and PCP. One night Stephen dreamed he was a dog, and woke up with a greatly heightened sense of smell.

    Stephen was able to distinguish all kinds of things by their 'aroma' including: friends, patients, streets, stores, sexual activity, foods, and so on. Unfortunately, unpleasant odors were stronger as well. Moreover, Stephen felt COMPELLED to sniff everything (like a pooch)....and had to be careful to avoid being inappropriate (LOL).

    After three weeks the enhanced sense of smell disappeared, and Stephen returned to normal.

    Years later, Dr. Sacks revealed that HE was Stephen D. (Naughty naughty)

    *****

    **I have to insert a note here. To modern ears, some of the language used in this section is very disturbing. Talking about people who are mentally challenged, Dr. Sacks uses terms like: simple, simpleton, retardate, mental cripple, idiot, moron, and dullard. Granted, these essays were written before such terms became 'forbidden.' Still, the book has been re-released several times over the years, and these words could have been changed (IMO).**

    John and Michael were 26-year-old twins who had been institutionalized since the age of seven. They had an IQ under 60, and were variously diagnosed as autistic, psychotic, or severely retarded.

    As happens with some autistic people, the twins were 'idiot savants' - "mentally handicapped persons who display brilliance in a specific area, especially involving memory."

    The twins had clear memories of ALL their experiences and had a 'calender program' in their heads so that - given any date, past or future - they could instantly pair it with a day of the week. The twins were also able to recall and repeat a long string of numbers (over 300 digits).....explaining that they 'could see it.'

    Perhaps most remarkable of all, the twins made up a game in which they recited increasingly large prime numbers to each other.....a feat that's almost impossible without a computer. In fact, Dr. Sacks - wanting to join the game - got a 'cheat book' of prime numbers. (Ha ha ha)

    Dr. Sacks waxes poetic about the twins, saying: "The twins, though morons, hear the world's symphony, but hear it entirely in the form of numbers."

    Eventually the twins were separated - 'for their own good' - which seems very sad to me.

    José was a mentally handicapped man whose epileptic seizures and (possible) autism became obvious when he was eight. At that time José's family confined him to the cellar, where he was isolated and deprived of stimulation for 15 years. Finally, at the age of 22, José 'blew up in a rage' and was hospitalized.

    In the hospital, José - now properly medicated - showed a remarkable talent for drawing. This was when Dr. Sacks met the patient. Dr. Sacks showed José his pocket watch and asked him to draw it. José studied the timepiece, then quickly and confidently drew a faithful fascimile.....with creative flourishes. Dr. Sacks was impressed, thinking José had more mental agility than people thought.

    Durng a later visit, Dr. Sacks showed José an issue of 'Arizona Highways' magazine, which had a scene of people canoeing. José swiftly copied the canoe and canoers - making the people seem even more intense and alive than the original. To Dr. Sacks, this demonstrated José's powers of imagination and creativity.

    Then, when Dr. Sacks showed José an image of a rainbow trout, the patient drew a fish of his own - with an amusing roguish look.....like a 'fish-person.' This showed not only imagination, but a sense of humor.

    Eventually, surrounded by caring doctors and staff, José began to blossom. He no longer accepted his deprived state, strived to recover speech and understanding, and began to draw for self-expression.

    *****

    Dr. Sacks' case studies are interesting and informative, and - when originally published - shed light on afflictions that were not well understood at the time. Dr. Sacks' stories are still fascinating and instructive, and I enjoyed reading them.

    I also applaud the fact that Dr. Sacks showed that mentally challenged individuals can have talents and abilities that rival those of mainstream society - which usually marginalizes these people. And I admire Dr. Sacks attempts to help his patients find happiness and meaning in their lives.

    That said, there are parts of the book I didn't like. Dr. Sacks includes a GREAT DEAL of philosophical musing in his stories, in an attempt (I think) to imbue neurological afflictions with some deeper meaning. In my opinion, illnesses (even brain malfunctions) are biological phenomena. Thus they have no abstract significance, and I found the 'philosophical' sections of the book boring and sometimes incomprehensible.

    I'd recommend the book to readers interested in neurology and brain function. Though I listened to the audiobook version, the individual case studies are readily available online - in case you're especially interested in one or two.

    You can follow my reviews at

  • Sheffy

    Despite so many people recommending this book, my high expectations were disappointed. Yes, it's perversely interesting to hear about neurological conundrums that afflict people in peculiar ways, but Sacks isn't a particularly good writer, nor does he have a good grasp on his audience. At times he obliquely refers to medical syndromes or footnotes other neurologists, as if he is writing for a technical physician audience, but on the whole his stories are too simplistic to engage such an audience

    Despite so many people recommending this book, my high expectations were disappointed. Yes, it's perversely interesting to hear about neurological conundrums that afflict people in peculiar ways, but Sacks isn't a particularly good writer, nor does he have a good grasp on his audience. At times he obliquely refers to medical syndromes or footnotes other neurologists, as if he is writing for a technical physician audience, but on the whole his stories are too simplistic to engage such an audience. He talks about phenomenology, but doesn't satisfactorily discuss mechanistically what is going on in the brain, so what's the point? To quote a friend in college, it's his own "mental masterbation"--he likes to show off how well-read he his, how many bizarre patients have been referred to him (or he's God's gift to them) and erudite his vocabulary is, but fails to clearly get his points across. On top of his confusing musings, his reconstructed dialogue is incredible unrealistic, it's clear why doctors need to learn to communicate better.

  • Tim

    I picked up this book because I am a fan of Oliver Sacks and his various speaking engagements (lectures, public radio interviews, etc)...but I have to say I was fairly nonplussed with it.

    While the case studies in and of themselves make for interesting reading, the tone of the writing is fairly "clinical" and...removed. Despite the review blurbs stating that these are "personal" and "touchingly human" looks at neurological disorders, I saw only a few glimpses of this warmth (an example that sprin

    I picked up this book because I am a fan of Oliver Sacks and his various speaking engagements (lectures, public radio interviews, etc)...but I have to say I was fairly nonplussed with it.

    While the case studies in and of themselves make for interesting reading, the tone of the writing is fairly "clinical" and...removed. Despite the review blurbs stating that these are "personal" and "touchingly human" looks at neurological disorders, I saw only a few glimpses of this warmth (an example that springs to mind is the "Returning To India" story).

    I can't really pin down what I didn't like about the book, but reading it, I had the sense I was being whisked in and out of hospital rooms by a busy, clipboard-toting doctor...which wasn't the best feeling.

Best Books Online is in no way intended to support illegal activity. Use it at your risk. We uses Search API to find books/manuals but doesn´t host any files. All document files are the property of their respective owners. Please respect the publisher and the author for their copyrighted creations. If you find documents that should not be here please report them


©2019 Best Books Online - All rights reserved.