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204 of 215 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The universality of hallucinogenic experience
You're sitting in a darkened room, or perhaps lying in bed. Suddenly, you hear your name being spoken. Perhaps it's a familiar voice. You start, you may even get up- but more likely you just realize there's no one there. You must have imagined it.

Has this ever happened to you? It would be odd if it hadn't. Most people have had this experience, and experiences...
Published on August 21, 2012 by Michael J. Edelman

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116 of 121 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating...but sometimes too overwhelming
"Hallucinations" is a fascinating and eminently readable neurological parade covering all varieties of hallucinations. Dr. Sacks calls it a "natural history or anthology of hallucinations," a perfectly apt description.

It turns out that hallucinations are not that uncommon. In fact, I'd guess that most readers drawn to these pages will find themselves...
Published on September 21, 2012 by B. Case


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204 of 215 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The universality of hallucinogenic experience, August 21, 2012
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This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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You're sitting in a darkened room, or perhaps lying in bed. Suddenly, you hear your name being spoken. Perhaps it's a familiar voice. You start, you may even get up- but more likely you just realize there's no one there. You must have imagined it.

Has this ever happened to you? It would be odd if it hadn't. Most people have had this experience, and experiences like it. If and when it happened to you, your first thought was probably "I must have imagined it." You might also have thought about telling someone else about it- but then thought better of it. Normal people don't have hallucinations, right? That's something that happens to crazy people.

But hallucinations are a near-universal phenomenon, and they're not limited only to those people suffering from mental disorders. In fact, the hallucinations of schizophrenics, which are usually auditory in nature, make up a very small subset of the range of hallucinations that people experience. There are a great many conditions, both internal and external, that can result in hallucinations in all modalities- sight, hearing, smell, touch, and taste. There are kinesthetic hallucinations that affect a person's perception of the position of their body, or pain, or the passage of time. For every perception, there are hallucinations.

Many, if not most, people don't report hallucination for fear of being labeled crazy. There's a very common, yet underreported condition called Charles Bonnet Syndrome, or CBS for short, that commonly afflicts older people who suffer from some visual impairment. The impairment can be peripheral in nature, like macular degeneration, or central, as in a stroke affecting visual cortex or thalamus; the important thing is that all or part of the visual field is damaged, or missing. Sufferers of CBS see things- patterns, animals, people- all manner of visual hallucinations. They usually know that what they're perceiving isn't real, but at the same time they're very reticent to report their experiences for fear of be labeled as suffering from dementia, so the condition goes largely unreported. Most doctors, nurses and nursing home staff have never heard of it. And yet CBS has been known since Charles Bonnet first described it in 1760.

The hallucinations seen by CBS sufferers are triggered when the brain is deprived of perceptual information. Your mind is constantly busy constructing the perceptual world you inhabit. Most of what you experience as perception is in reality a fiction compiled from memory, constantly update by new perceptual information. When that input is disrupted, the brain starts filling in the missing bits. If part of your visual field is destroyed- as happened to Sacks- the brain tries to complete the scene, using stored memories. Sometimes the bits it fills in make sense. Often they don't.

There are other conditions in which sensory deprivation can trigger hallucinations. Phantom limb pain, a common complaint of patients who have had limbs amputated, is this sort of hallucination. So are the visions seen when people are placed in sensory deprivation tanks. Hallucinations can also be triggered by unnatural activity in the brain. Electrical stimulation (used in neurosurgery to identify function in the brain), epilepsy (which can be thought of as a spreading electrical "storm" in the brain), and hallucinogenic drugs can evoke hallucinations by raising the level of activity in part of the brain, evoking memories and stored perceptions. Many migraine sufferers are aware of the visual hallucinations that accompany or precede migraine headaches. These hallucinations are often caused by unusual activity in the visual cortex, and the migraine sufferer will typically perceive geometric forms that echo the organization of neurons in visual cortex.

Oliver Sacks is well known as a neurologist who has a particular gift for writing about the various pathologies of the human nervous system, and in Hallucinations he follows his usual pattern of telling a fascinating story via historical background, scientific research, and a large number of clinical cases he has consulted on. He begins with a discussion of Charles Bonnet Syndrome, and from there goes on to sensory deprivation, auditory hallucinations, hallucinations associated with Parkinson's disease, hallucinogenic drugs, epilepsy, sleep, religious experiences, and more. As he did in The Mind's Eye (Vintage), he brings his own experiences into the narrative as well- having lost vision in one eye from a tumor, Sacks himself experienced a range of visual hallucinations that helped him understand the experiences of some of his patients.

Perhaps because of his own experiences, Sacks seeks to demystify hallucinations, and to de-stigmatize those who experience them while being otherwise untroubled by psychiatric issues. He notes that about a third of all Parkinsons patients eventually experience hallucinations as a consequence of their medication, and this has led to many sufferers being labeled as psychotic by their doctors. While the administration of large- Sacks would say, excessive- doses of L-Dopa and dopamine agonists can indeed put patients in a delusional state, many patients experience mild hallucinations that they can identify as such, and some even find them amusing or entertaining. One patient of Sacks' found himself comforted by visits from a hallucinated cat while his own cat was at the veterinarian's. While many psychotics suffer from hearing voices, so do a number of decidedly non-psychotic people. Some even find them helpful. Sacks mentions Julian Jaynes' hypothesis (described in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind) concerning the origins of consciousness, and speculates, like Jaynes, that early man may have experienced these voices at some stage in human evolution.

I have every one of Sacks' previous books (they're lined up on a shelf next to my psychology and neuroscience textbooks) and I can certainly say that I found this volume every bit as interesting as any of his previous works. Sacks does a marvelous job of making complex neurological issues clear to the lay reader, and his use of case studies brings the reader a real perspective regarding the experiences of the sufferers. Sacks' patients are more than numbered case studies; they're people with real lives, with whom the reader can empathize. Readers of his previous works will know what I'm talking about. Readers new to Sacks will, I suspect, find this volume as fascinating as I did, and will be just as anxious to read his earlier books as I was when I first discovered him for myself.
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116 of 121 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating...but sometimes too overwhelming, September 21, 2012
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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"Hallucinations" is a fascinating and eminently readable neurological parade covering all varieties of hallucinations. Dr. Sacks calls it a "natural history or anthology of hallucinations," a perfectly apt description.

It turns out that hallucinations are not that uncommon. In fact, I'd guess that most readers drawn to these pages will find themselves exclaiming at one point or another, "Yeah, that's happened to me, too!" But don't get me wrong; this book is not filled with the commonplace. On the contrary, anyone who loves reading Oliver Sacks knows that his books are filled with extraordinary and totally off-the-wall case histories. This book does not disappoint...at times it is jaw-dropping surreal.

The work is divided into an introduction and fifteen chapters. Each chapter covers a different broad category of hallucination and each category is based on a specific neurological disorder or cognitive deficit. Sacks believes that the only way to understand hallucinations is to read about the first-hand experiences of those that suffer from them. Thus, the book is made up almost entirely of first-hand accounts. Whenever possible, Dr. Sacks follows each individual case description with information about the impact these hallucinations have had on that person's life. Perhaps one third of these first hand examples come from Sacks' professional clinical case studies. Another approximate fifteen percent or more comes from Dr. Sacks' own unique personal experience (i.e., his experiences having hallucinations due to his migraine disorder or from experimenting with a large variety of hallucinogenic drugs and other substances when he was a young man). The balance comes from general historical or medical primary source materials. The book is the result of not only extensive medical research, but also a great deal of in-depth cultural and historical research. Many of the cases concern famous writers, composers and other luminaries from the last few centuries. Almost every page has footnotes, and there is a large bibliography at the end.

I cannot honestly complete a review of this fine book without mentioning that it can become overwhelmingly bizarre and, at times, even tedious. Reading again and again about the details of each person's outlandish, weird, and freaky hallucinations can become...well, boring. It reminded me of the many times in my life when I've been cornered by a friend or colleague who just had to tell me the details about some wacky dream that had occurred the night before. Such descriptions can be entertaining at first, but after a while, it just gets so weird, you find your brain rebelling and turning off...it is as if your mind takes control and says, "this is so bizarre I'm just not going to try to comprehend or visualize this stuff for you any more,"...and then it shuts off. Unfortunately, that is how I felt many times as I read this anthology. I was totally fascinated and then after much repetition of similar bizarre accounts, my mind kept shutting off and I found myself getting sleepy. As a result, I recommend reading this book in small bits and pieces over a week or two. Anthologies are not designed to be read in a single sitting.

Despite this caveat, I recommend this book. I've read most of Dr. Sacks' books. For me, this was not as good as some of his other books; however, it meticulously covers the subject. If I was less than totally enthralled at any time, I believe it was because the unique nature of the subject matter and the fact that it was an anthology and not meant to be read quickly. So, read it slowly. Enjoy it a little at a time. It will change your attitude about this marvelous and fairly common phenomenon.
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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Here's To The Boundless Limits of Reality, August 27, 2012
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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Oliver Sacks has crossed a mystical line with *Hallucinations* and given us a journey into the human brain in all its misfiring, surreal glory. Sacks has a knack for writing about the *different,* the *unusual* as part of the normal human experience; his *Hallucinations* can be amazing, frightening and even ugly, but they are not in any way inhuman. Hallucinations are a part of who we are and who we're supposed to be. They've always been there...

I'm aphasic. I had a brain injury at age 18. Before that, I saw every Word, every sentence, every paragraph I spoke or I heard spoken or sung, pass before my eyes in Times Roman font. Because my brother is schizophrenic, I told no one. What would people think of me and my Words? But seeing the Words gave me comfort from the time I was three. When aphasia ripped my "hallucinations" out of my brain, I thought would die of loneliness. (I very nearly did.) It took me six years to relearn how to read again; but the Words didn't come home to my eyes. I was forced to see the world as it *is,* and I didn't like it very much. Twenty years out from injury, while listening to Ian Hunter's haunting slow burn of "All of the Good Ones Are Taken," I saw a fleeting phrase superimposed upon the windshield. And then, I saw another. And another. My "hallucinations" were Home; and I was finally again whole. And here's where you say, "But she LOOKS so normal..." Grin.

The beauty of *Hallucinations* is that Sacks writes eloquently and draws one into the world of the hallucinatory experience. He wants us to understand the reasons behind the existence of these visions, these phantoms of the brain. There are some people who understand their hallucinations and function well while having them; others are frightened and cannot discern hallucination from reality. Sacks is the consummate observer, whose approach to neuroscience is always fresh and very challenging. For me, reading *Hallucinations" was an intensely personal experience that reassured me that my brain is not alone in its weird wiring.

I cannot recommend *Hallucinations* highly enough on ALL levels. This is not an academic work, but it should be read by every person studying neuroscience. Sacks is a visionary in the field; and *Hallucinations* is by far his best book to date. You won't be disappointed and you WILL learn something new.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just because you hallucinate, it doesn't mean that you are mentally ill, August 26, 2012
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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This is another of Oliver Sacks's outstanding books on the fascinating workings of the human brain. My major takeaway is that just because you hallucinate, it doesn't mean that you're suffering from mental illness. Hallucinations are indeed experienced by those suffering from schizophrenia and other forms of mental illness, but this book is not about those hallucinations, although they are contrasted to those experienced by people not suffering from mental illness. Rather, this book is about the way that the brain creates hallucinations in people who, in all other respects, function quite normally. The brain takes sensory inputs (or a lack of expected inputs) and uses them to make a coherent interpretation of the world, and sometimes this leads to the creation of false images, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations.

As with most of Oliver Sacks's books, this book is written in a very entertaining manner. While the book contains a little neurology it does not become very technical. Most of the book is given over to very brief case histories of those (especially Dr. Sacks) experiencing hallucinations. The book is divided into 15 chapters that cover conditions such as:
· Charles Bonnet Syndrome - where the blind experience visual hallucinations. It is experienced by the newly blind - often elderly - and is attributed to the brain which, lacking visual input, creates its own. These hallucinations are characterized as not interacting with the subject and are non-threatening.
· Auditory hallucinations - which are distinguished from the auditory hallucinations experienced by those suffering from schizophrenia by the fact that, unlike those of schizophrenia, they do not direct the hearer to do something. Often they are just in the form of hearing their name being called, or hearing random sounds, or music.
· Hallucinations associated with migraines, epilepsy and Parkinson's disease.
· Hallucinations produced by hallucinogenic compounds such as LSD. This chapter leans heavily on the author's own personal experiences.
· Hallucinations that occur just before sleep or upon waking.
· Hallucinations associated with delirium, often associated with a high fever.
· Religious visions
· Visions of oneself (doppelgangers).
· Hallucinations associated with missing limbs or when a body part is present but not recognized as being part of the subject's body.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in superb medical writing and especially to anyone who has experienced any of the myriad types of hallucinations described in the book, which are much more common than one might expect. I think that the book does a good job of allaying one's fears that a hallucination one might be experiencing is a harbinger of a serious mental illness. It is likely that if you have not experienced a hallucination at some time in your life, you will, and hopefully the information in this book will make it much less frightening. The book will give you insights as to what might be happening in your brain and why you might be experiencing a hallucination.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-notch book from a top-notch writer and scientist, September 8, 2012
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Angie Boyter (Ellicott City, MD USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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Oliver Sacks' new book, Hallucinations, fully supports his reputation for beautifully written books about neurological phenomena like Awakenings, the basis for the movie by the same name, and his wonderfully titled The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Hallucinations does not have an especially imaginative title, but it has the same mesmerizing blend of hard science and personal stories that has won him many fans.
Most people associate hallucinations with madness or drugs, but they can also be induced by a variety of medical or physical conditions or by entering certain states of mind, such as the boundary between wakefulness and sleep.It is common to think of a hallucinations as visual phenomena, but they can also be auditory or tactile or even a hallucinatory smell. Sacks defines hallucinations as "percepts arising in the absence of any external reality", and Hallucinations describes the many ways that people, sane and insane, hallucinate. Each chapter discusses a different kind of hallucination, its causes and its manifestations, with case histories to illustrate the scientific details.
When writing a book about science for a general audience, the author has a challenge. Science "straight" is likely not to engage a broad audience of non-science folks. On the other hand, too heavy an emphasis on anecdotes leaves a reader entertained but not knowing much more about the science involved than when they began. Sacks delivers just the right balance, engaging the reader both intellectually and emotionally. He provides the scientific background but also lavish examples of the hallucinations, with both the scientific and the human implications. He is a good storyteller; looking back at my book I notice things like a marginal note I made next to a description of a man who lost his sense of smell, "So sad". He provides personal stories from his own experience, such as his migraine headaches and his LSD use in the sixties. There are examples from patients, people who have written to tell him their stories, and citations from other writers. I was especially amused by the story of Michael Shermer, founder of the Skeptical Inquirer and Scientific American columnist, who "overdid" a bike race and hallucinated being abducted by aliens.
I was impressed by Sacks' scholarship. In addition to a good exposition of today's knowledge about the brain and hallucinations, there were wonderful references to historical works, when earlier thinkers like Freud and Havelock Ellis had it right and when they had it wrong, and even examples from writers like Charles Dickens.
Sacks is an extremely talented writer whose prose can be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates good writing, but he is first and foremost a scientist. As a result, he tosses in scientific terms such as the parts of the brain without apology or explanation. If you have no idea what the role of the temporal lobe is versus the occipital lobe, do not be daunted. Just ignore it and keep reading; you really do not have to know. Sacks could have diverged to give the background of the brain's structure, but he would have bored those who already know and possibly caused many of those who do not know to lose interest, so I think the way he handled such details was smart. He does provide the technical terms with definitions for many of the phenomena he discusses, such as autoscopy (seeing a double of oneself), which provides the reader with some nice material to impress friends at the next party.
If you are looking for a book to help you recapture your child-like sense of wonder about our world and especially our human body, Hallucinations may be just what the doctor ordered.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another interesting glimpse inside the brain, September 22, 2012
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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In the preface and in other places in the book, comes the reassuring information that if you have hallucinations you aren't necessarily bonkers. Whew! Mr. Sacks gives us another fascinating book about various aspects of the mind; in this case, hallucinations. The case studies that he has encountered as a neurologist, along with others gleaned from various colleagues and medical textbooks, provided a fascinating look into various types of hallucinations. This book does not cover any hallucinations due to schizophrenia, since that area could warrant a book of its own.

Although he often uses medical terminology that the average person may not understand, you don't lose a bit of the story. I have a fairly good knowledge of medical terms, so I was on the lookout for cases where the terminology would prevent understanding the concepts, and there were none. For example, he assumes that you know that the DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but if you didn't, no problem. Some of the topics include hallucinations caused by various medical conditions, isolation, and drugs (legal and otherwise). Chapters are devoted to hallucinations of smell, hearing, and several on visual. The book is peppered with fascinating case studies and copious footnotes. A thorough bibliography at the end provides a wealth of resources. One of the books he mentioned sounded so interesting. I hunted down a copy to buy. Another book I put on my Amazon "Wild Dreams" wish list (hint, hint).

One of the things I found fascinating, was that visual hallucinations activate the exact same areas in the brain that viewing actual physical items activate. So to the brain, hallucinations are just as real as something that is real. He also covers delirium, a common but unfortunately under-diagnosed condition that often affects senior citizens that are hospitalized.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative Overview on the Nature and Causes of Hallucinations from Oliver Sacks, October 21, 2012
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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Widely acclaimed for both his superb literary talent and his excellent abilities in explaining the most difficult concepts in neurology and psychiatry, Oliver Sacks gives readers a most superlative overview on the nature and causes of hallucinations in his latest book "Hallucinations". As he notes in the introduction to his book which is indeed a most apt summation of it:

"I think of this book, then, as a sort of natural history or anthology of hallucinations, describing the experiences and impact of hallucinations on those who have them, for the power of hallucinations is to be understood from first-person accounts."

This is indeed a most accurate assessment from Sacks himself of his latest book, which covers virtually every aspect of hallucinations, except for those induced within those people suffering from schizophrenia, simply because they require ".....a book of their own, for they cannot be divorced from the often profoundly altered inner life and life circumstances of those with schizophrenia."

Drawing extensively on his personal interactions with patients, other medical reports and religious and artistic references, Sacks demonstrates how hallucinations can be viewed as an "essential part of the human condition." In his rather elegant, yet simple, literary style, Sacks explains the neurophysiology behind notable causes of hallucinations like the Charles Bonnet Syndrome, sensory deprivation, Parkinsonism, being delirious, narcolepsy, and even the existence of phantom limbs observed all too often by amputees. Sacks offers readers substantial detours into memoir in recounting his experiences with patients suffering hallucinations and even in fiction, in recounting clinical reports dating back from the 19th Century that resemble lost tales of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson written by Arthur Conan Doyle. With "Hallucinations" Sacks demonstrates again why he is among our foremost writers writing on science and medicine for a general audience; a book destined to be remembered as among this year's most notable new tomes of nonfiction.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome, Fascinating Look At Hallucinations, September 26, 2012
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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Dr. Oliver Sacks, the neurologist famous for his books "Awakenings" (also a Robin Williams move) and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat," has written another gem. This time he tackles the fascinating subject of hallucinations.

If you think "Hallucinations" is just about seeing things, then you'd only be partially right. Dr. Sacks examines almost every possible hallucination, from auditory (people who hear songs playing or voices) to out of body experiences, and everything in between (phantom limbs, doppelgangers, sleep paralysis, drug induced images, and much more). He is very thorough with his topic and readers will come away with a new understanding of hallucinations, especially how common they actually are.

Sacks writes for both those educated on the topic and the casual reader. What I enjoy most about his style is how he addresses the scientific aspect of hallucinations and then gives examples through his own life or from stories of patients. These are fascinating and show how amazing the human brain can be when it's malfunctioning (?).

As fascinating and informative as the book is, I wish Dr. Sacks would've explored the possible metaphysical side of hallucinations a little more. Considering the role hallucinations play in religious and spiritual expression (like out of body experiences and religious visions), I expected a little more analysis. As an atheist, I don't think Sacks wanted to go down that road. Still, it would've been fascinating if he at least contemplated the possibilities (even if he debunked them).

Overall, I highly recommend this book. As far as non-fiction books go, this is a page turner. I wanted to keep reading just to find out more about how the human brain can give us experiences that seem so real, yet don't really "exist."
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Deep Dive, October 22, 2012
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This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
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I'm a Sacks fan, but this book was a bit tough to get through. It's really a deep dive into hallucinations, which is interesting up to a point, but eventually becomes monotonous and repetitive. I found myself interested enough to read through each chapter, but would eventually start skipping sentences or paragraphs. I think someone who is really interested in hallucinations might enjoy this much more than I did.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like someone telling you his dreams, May 9, 2013
This review is from: Hallucinations (Hardcover)
Much of the book reads like a list of lists. Hallucination after hallucination is described without giving us much insight into what is interesting about them. Stretches of this book are about as interesting as listening to someone telling you his dreams, lots and lots, and lots and lots, of them. And then some. I also found the use of footnotes exasperating. Almost every page has some, in many cases taking up close to halff the actual page, and they are (ab)used not for references or clarification, but for text that could just have been part of the main text, or (in most cases) elided.
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Hallucinations
Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks (Hardcover - November 6, 2012)
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