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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain 1st Edition

311 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1400040810
ISBN-10: 1400040817
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Editorial Reviews 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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (October 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040810
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (311 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #28,689 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

OLIVER SACKS was born in 1933 in London and was educated at the Queen's College, Oxford. He completed his medical training at San Francisco's Mount Zion Hospital and at UCLA before moving to New York, where he soon encountered the patients whom he would write about in his book Awakenings.

Dr. Sacks spent almost fifty years working as a neurologist and wrote a number of books--including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Hallucinations--about the strange neurological predicaments and conditions of his patients. The New York Times referred to him as "the poet laureate of medicine," and he received many awards, including honors from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Royal College of Physicians. His memoir, On the Move, was published shortly before his death in August 2015.

Sacks' work has inspired many adaptations, including the Oscar-nominated film of Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, a play by Harold Pinter, and several works by Peter Brook.

Gratitude will be published on November 24, 2015.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

236 of 246 people found the following review helpful By medreader on 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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188 of 202 people found the following review helpful By Robert G Yokoyama VINE VOICE on 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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214 of 234 people found the following review helpful By L. Nery on October 24, 2007
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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166 of 181 people found the following review helpful By John Longballa on 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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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By BrianB VINE VOICE on 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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