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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain [Hardcover]

Oliver Sacks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)


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Book Description

October 16, 2007 1400040817 978-1400040810 1
Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat.  But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does—humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks’s compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people—from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; from people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds—for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.


Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, December 2007: Legendary R&B icon Ray Charles claimed that he was "born with music inside me," and neurologist Oliver Sacks believes Ray may have been right. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain examines the extreme effects of music on the human brain and how lives can be utterly transformed by the simplest of harmonies. With clinical studies covering the tragic (individuals afflicted by an inability to connect with any melody) and triumphant (Alzheimer's patients who find order and comfort through music), Sacks provides an erudite look at the notion that humans are truly a "musical species." --Dave Callanan

From Publishers Weekly

Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for observation to music and its relationship to the brain. The subtitle aptly frames the book as a series of medical case studies-some in-depth, some abruptly short. The tales themselves range from the relatively mundane (a song that gets stuck on a continuing loop in one's mind) through the uncommon (Tourette's or Parkinson's patients whose symptoms are calmed by particular kinds of music) to the outright startling (a man struck by lightning subsequently developed a newfound passion and talent for the concert piano). In this latest collection, Sacks introduces new and fascinating characters, while also touching on the role of music in some of his classic cases (the man who mistook his wife for a hat makes a brief appearance). Though at times the narrative meanders, drawing connections through juxtaposition while leaving broader theories to be inferred by the reader, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This book leaves one a little more attuned to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious of the role of music in our lives. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040810
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 5.8 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #77,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California, and New York. He is professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and Columbia's first University Artist. He is the author of many books, including Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and Musicophilia. His newest book, Hallucinations, will be published in November, 2012.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
201 of 210 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary! October 26, 2007
Format:Hardcover
Musicophilia is an absolutely phenomenal book, and will be of interest to anyone fascinated by music, mysteries of the mind, and the human condition. Sacks covers 29 different topics, ranging from synesthesia, to musical hallucinations, to savants, and beyond. In each chapter, he introduces the topic through cases (his own and famous ones in the literature--neurological and classic fictional literature, that is!), always maintaining a deep engagement with the humanity of the subjects: what is it like for these individuals? how do they describe their talent or illness or condition? Sacks also speculates on the possible neurological bases for these fascinating scenarios. This is a real page-turner, beautifully and clearly written, and it will give readers a new respect for the special place of music in our psychology, as well as a deeper understanding of the range of what it is to be human. 20 stars!
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175 of 189 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music and Science were never so interesting November 5, 2007
Format:Hardcover
Dr. Oliver Sacks is a British neurologist with a love of music and science. This book blends music and science together like no book I've ever read. There are some amazing stories here. I love the story of surgeon Tony Cicoria who developed a passion for listening and playing music after he was struck by lightning. The story of British conductor Clive Wearing is amazing too. He developed amnesia after his brain became inflammed. He has the the memory and ability to conduct and sing music, but he can't remember anything else. I also loved the story the research chemist named Salimah. Her shy personality was changed after she suffered a seizure. She suddenly had the desire to listen to music all the time. I also touched by the story of Woody Geist. He suffers from Alzheimers disease, but he still performs in an a cappella singing group. Leon Fleisher is a classical piano player who performed with one hand for many years because of a condition called dystonia which affected his right hand. I learned about a genetic disorder called Williams Syndrome in this book. Kids with Williams Syndrome have difficulty paying attention, but they often possess a love for music. I was entertained and informed by this book so much.
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211 of 231 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music and its role in our lives October 24, 2007
By L. Nery
Format:Hardcover
It is refreshing to see how a specialist still retains the ability to be marveled by the cases he sees in his office. Too often scientists get so blasé over their practice that they miss the finer human aspects of every case. Sacks leads the reader gently by hand, even while using neurological jargon, into amazing stories of patients who live through situation we would not have imagined. And they all involve music and how humans experience it.

I believe this book is a must for musicians, who will probably acquire new understandings regarding the dimensions of their music in relation to their own brains.
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127 of 137 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Needs editing November 25, 2008
Format:Hardcover
My wife thoughtfully purchased this book for me. I had read about it and was very excited to dive right in. Unfortunately I ended up really having to convince myself to finish it, as it became redundant fairly quickly. Sacks presents (too) many case studies regarding music and the brain, but the presentation feels random and somewhat unfocused. Had his editor suggested grouping the studies by themes or urged Sacks to provide more neurological background information it perhaps would have better kept my attention. It felt as if the reader had to do a lot of work to pull together some of the concepts.

As for the perceived redundancy, I kept waiting for the conclusion or wrap-up that would provide the overarching theme to all the seemingly disconnected patient stories, but to no avail. It almost felt as if the stories were starting to repeat themselves but with different patient names. The length too felt far too long, almost as if everything presented in the first half were just recycled for the second. Additionally, the writing style is very informal and easy to digest, which is not necessarily a positive. The book begins to feel as if the author were afraid to intelligently, academically, and thoroughly dissect the subject matter for fear of alienating too many readers. The result is a glossy feeling, like you're reading the U.S.A. Today version of something that could have really offered some insightful perspectives.

Promising topic, but presented without much organization, background information, or conclusion. I'm surprised that an editor would allow such breadth to be published without any true depth.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding! November 15, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In his latest book, Oliver Sacks continues to tell us stories that draw us in, engaging our minds and emotions. In each chapter he introduces different people, some sorely affected by neurological disease, who have strange and profound relationships with music. This is not a dry scientific treatise. Sacks describes these people in a highly personal way, so that we see and feel the human aspect of science. At the same time he teaches us about the science of the brain, and the wonderful ways that music and the mind are intertwined. The subject is inherently fascinating, and the author does not disappoint. Drawing upon case histories from his own practice, and some from literature, he delves into the mysteries of the human brain, how it produces music, and how it is profoundly affected by it.

Sacks writes in a clear and straightforward manner. It is wonderful to find medical writing that is so accessible. There is some material here from his prior books, but it does not detract from this work. This is a highly engaging and informative book. I took great pleasure in reading it. If you are interested in music or science, you will enjoy this new offering from Oliver Sacks.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
good
Published 13 days ago by Michael C. Bried
5.0 out of 5 stars music and the mind
I love this book as it makes many connections between music and the mind as if somehow they are one. great find thanks to a friend
Published 1 month ago by sandra
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
Even though a know little about music theory, as a psychologist I found the case studies in the book fascinating. The book is very readable for the layman.
Published 2 months ago by Honest John
5.0 out of 5 stars Another amazing book by Oliver Sacks!
If you love how this neurobiologist thinks ("Awakenings", "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat", "Hallucinations") You will just love this book. Read more
Published 2 months ago by H. E. Eschenbacher
3.0 out of 5 stars my opinion
Very good for my researches, enriching and informative. this is the kind of book I like to read.Very interesting. :-)
Published 2 months ago by Cathy
5.0 out of 5 stars Comment on Musicophilia
The book recounts some interesting and not well known cases. The narration is very clear and is not complicated to understand. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Santiago Rodriguez
5.0 out of 5 stars Musicophilia on CD
Beautifully read version of the Oliver Sacks book. Sacks provides yet more information on how we think and perceive the world around us.
Published 3 months ago by Quet
5.0 out of 5 stars Very satisfactory purchase
I love to read anything by Oliver Sacks, and like to encourage others to read his work, so I am delighted to have a 2nd copy to share. Many thanks!
Published 3 months ago by Ted R.
5.0 out of 5 stars Music: how deeply profound!
A vast ocean of humanness from the surface of our self to the abyss of awareness is wondrously explored by Dr Sacks. Read more
Published 3 months ago by dhort5
1.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't even get to the middle .
When i bought this book ,i thought it would be a very interesting read about how music influences the brain and how it's the reaction of people towards certain kind of music and... Read more
Published 4 months ago by maggi rodriguez
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