260 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly incredible tales and a great read
It is utterly fascinating to know that, as a result of a neurological condition, a man can actually mistake his wife for a hat and not realize it. It is also fascinating to learn that a stroke can leave a person with the inability to see things on one side of the visual field--which is what happened to "Mrs. S." as recalled in the chapter, "Eyes...
Published on November 18, 2004 by Dennis Littrell
36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exists on 2 levels, one better than the other
This book could be read on two levels: in a clinical sense, with its million-dollar scientific terms and long winded, detailed description of methods and diagnoses; and in an anecdotal sense, as stories about quirky, remarkable characters. After reading a bit, I preferred to continue reading with the latter approach in mind, and was distracted by the clinical stuff...
Published on June 8, 2000 by buddyhead
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260 of 264 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly incredible tales and a great read,
Neurologist Oliver Sacks, who has a wonderful way with words and a strong desire to understand and appreciate the human being that still exists despite the disorder or neurological damage, treats the reader to these and twenty-two other tales of the bizarre in this very special book. My favorite tale is Chapter 21, "Rebecca," in which Dr. Sacks shows that a person of defective intelligence--a "moron"--is still a person with a sense of beauty and with something to give to the world. Sacks generously (and brilliantly) shows how Rebecca taught him the limitations of a purely clinical approach to diagnosis and treatment. Although the child-like 19-year-old didn't have the intelligence to "find her way around the block" or "open a door with a key," Rebecca had an emotional understanding of life superior to many adults. She loved her grandmother deeply and when she died, Rebecca expressed her feelings to Sacks, "I'm crying for me, not for her...She's gone to her Long Home." She added, poetically, "I'm so cold. It's not outside, it's winter inside. Cold as death...She was a part of me. Part of me died with her" (p. 182). Rebecca goes on to show Dr. Sacks that they pay "far too much attention to the defects of...patients...and far too little to what...[is] intact or preserved" (p. 183). Rebecca was tired of the meaningless classes and workshops and odd jobs. "What I really love...is the theatre," she said. Sacks writes that the theatre "composed her...she became a complete person, poised, fluent, with style, in each role" (p. 185).
Another of my favorite stories is Chapter 23, "The Twins." These two guys, idiots savants, "undersized, with disturbing disproportions in head and hands...monotonous squeaky voices...a very high, degenerative myopia, requiring glasses so thick that their eyes seem distorted" (p. 196) had the very strange ability of being able to factor quickly in their heads large numbers and to recognize primes at a glance. They could also give you almost instantly the day of the week for any day in history. One day a box of matches fell on the floor and "<111,> they both cried simultaneously." And then one said "37" and then the other said "37" and then the first said "37" and stopped. There were indeed 111 matches on the floor (Sacks counted them) and three times the prime number 37 does indeed equal 111! (p. 199). Later he discovered them saying six-figure numbers to one another. One would give a number and the other would receive it "and appreciate...it richly." Sacks discovered that they were tossing out primes to one another just for the sheer joy of doing it.
Another of Sacks's discoveries about his patients is that "music, narrative and drama" are "of the greatest practical and theoretical importance" (p. 185). He demonstrates this again and again here and in his more recent book, An Anthropologist on Mars: Seven Paradoxical Tales (1995), which is also an incredibly fascinating book. (See my review here at Amazon.com.) Many people with neurological disorders or deficiencies become whole when engaged in a process such as story, music or drama. The process seems to give them a structure to follow which, for the time being, overcomes their handicap. This is seen remarkably even in a surgeon with Tourette's syndrome who, while performing surgery, was without tics (as reported in the book mentioned above).
It's clear that one of Sacks's purposes in sharing his experience is to dispel the prejudice against people who are different because of their defects. One can see that respect for others regardless of their limitations is something Sacks incorporates in his practice and his life. It is one of the many virtues of this wonderful book, that in reading it, we too are moved to a greater respect for others, people who really are challenged in ways we "normal" people can only imagine.
73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating,
99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little old, but still interesting,
Oliver Sacks' book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat was first published in 1970 and has been reprinted several times with new material added. The book is an interesting collection of stories of individuals with neurological deficits that highlight and clarify how the normal brain works. The author approaches his study with a compassion for his patient's troubled existence, and where the patients are content with their lot, he prudently leaves well enough alone, something not all MD's are willing to do. He also appreciates what his patients have to teach him about life and even about the practice of medicine itself. His ability to learn from others considered "unfortunate" or mentally "defective" makes the book a very insightful work.
While the author's extensive clinical practice has allowed him to make some interesting statements about what parts of the brain are involved with different mental functions, what he fails to do in this book is to provide anything approaching testable ideas or actual research supporting his theories. The colorful stories are well worth reading as moral parables, but a better book on current mind and brain research might be Ramachandran's Phantoms in the Brain. One might begin with the Sacks book, which is easy to read, and proceed to the more extensive work by Ramachandran.
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Deeply Spiritual Book,
For me what was most interesting about these fascinating stories is that the underlying question has to do less with cures for bizarre neurological diseases, than with the essential question of what makes us who we are, and what do we do when our entire concept of self is savaged and the world left unrecognizable?
For Sacks, at least part of the answer lies in art--the narrative in the synagogue that knits Rebecca's deficits and makes her whole (holy?); the music that enables some patients who are unable even to walk without difficulty, the ability to dance; the notes that enable stutterers to sing.
This is a wonderful book that does what wonderful books do--it makes the reader look again at what he only thought he saw before, and see it whole.
24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It will change the way you think of the concept of "self".,
The book consists of a collection of reasonably short clinicial stories of some of the patients that Dr. Sacks has come across in his work as a Neurologist. Sound dry? I assure you, it is not.
With facination, and great humanity, Sacks recounts the stories of people, who, because of one deficit (injury or progressive malady) or another have had their personalites, perceptions, or senses profoundly altered. Taken one at a time, the stories are quirky, yet compassionate, illustrations of the symptoms of various nurological maladies and the people who struggle with them. There's the story of the patient who suffers from an inability to conceive of his own legs as part of his own body. There's the sad and lonely tale of a man who us unable to form long term memories and lives in a constantly shifting world that is perpetually only a few minutes old. There's a recounting of the visions of the ancient Saint Hildegard, whose migrane headaches appeared to her to be visions of heaven.
Taken together, one gets a awe inspring sense of how who and what we are is controlled by the processes of the brain and also a sense that there are certain universal human prepensities- such as the struggle for "wholeness" or a desire for the sublime.
This is one of my favorite books. I frequently loan one of my two copies to friends. I highly recommend the somewhat abridged Audio version as well, as Dr. Sacks voice adds a layer of facination to the tales.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hang on to your right hemisphere!,
In contrast, the right hemisphere has been something of an enigma, and is consequently called the 'minor' hemisphere. But, "it is the right hemisphere which controls the crucial powers of recognizing reality which every living creature must have in order to survive." For example, the right hemisphere is responsible for "proprioception", which allows us to feel our bodies as "proper to us"; that they belong to us. This is so basic that it is difficult to even imagine what it would be like to have impaired proprioception. Sacks is keenly aware of this challenge; in a sense, the entire book is an attempt to give us a glimpse into such an incomprehensible world.
Sacks quotes Wittgenstein:, "The aspects of things that are most important for us are hidden because of their simplicity and familiarity. (One is unable to notice something because it is always before one's eyes.)" Those things that are most basic, most obvious, have a deeply mysterious foundation in the brain. One can begin to appreciate this when one considers those unfortunate individuals who have lost some of these basic perceptions due to injury or illness. As Sacks points out in the introduction, "It is not only difficult, it is impossible, for patients with certain right-hemisphere syndromes to know their own problems... And it is singularly difficult, even for the most sensitive observer, to picture the inner state, the 'situation', of such patients, for this is almost unimaginably remote from anything he himself has ever known."
Sacks presents detailed and compassionate accounts of numerous patients whose worlds are indeed unimaginably remote from our own. He tells us of patients who have difficulty distinguishing between people and inanimate objects, those who have perfect "vision" yet cannot discern the purpose of an object without tactile feedback, those who fail to recognize their own limbs as belonging to them, and those who have lost fundamental spatial concepts, such as the distinction between left and right. One of the most intriguing cases that Sacks presents is that of a woman who had "totally lost the idea of 'left', both with regard to the world and her own body," a condition known as hemi-inattention. To this woman, everything in her left visual field simply ceased to exist, in analogy to the way each of us fills the blind spots in our visual field. This unfortunate woman would eat half her lunch (that on the right side of her tray) and was incapable of turning to the left (since left did not exist) to discover what remained. In time, she learned to turn herself around, always to the right, until she found the rest of her lunch.
This book is not only engrossing, it is challenging; it forces one to acknowledge that what we take as so plainly obvious about the world is intimately tied to basic brain function. Oliver Sacks demonstrates beautifully that the brain is still deeply mysterious, particularly in how it creates our sense of reality. There are profound implications here for those interested in psychology and philosophy. It's a great read.
36 of 42 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Exists on 2 levels, one better than the other,
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Neurologist with Great Humanity.,
"The patient's essential being is very relevant in the higher reaches of neurology, and in psychology; for here the patient's personhood is essentially involved, and the study of disease and the identity cannot be disjoined. Such disorders, and their depiction and study, indeed entail a new discipline, which we may call the 'neurology of identity', for it deals with the neural foundations of the self, the age-old problem of mind and brain.' (X)
This book is a collection of twenty-four cases, clinical tales about people who, in some cases, have been struck with terrible brain related illnesses during the prime of their lives. The physical, emotional and very foundations of how they function and view the world, has been drastically altered. In the case of 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat', Dr. P., a musician of distinction, teacher and accomplished painter, developed a type of visual agnosia or prosopagnosia, where he could not recognize faces and came to see things, people and objects as something else. His entire perceptions of the world had totally changed. One aspect of this particular story that was interesting was Dr. P's paintings, which Sacks observed hanging on the wall of his home. In the beginning the paintings depicted a 'realist' style, almost mirror representations; as the years went by, each painting became more impressionistic, ending in the most recent work being entirely abstract. Sacks made a comment about this fact to the Dr.'s wife, who believed that his artistic style simply matured over the years. However Sacks saw the paintings as representing the progressive nature of the man's condition. I found this case to be at once bizarre, interesting and sad.
Most if not all of the cases in this book are bizarre, interesting and sad, but Dr. Sacks conveys a deep humanity, a scientific concern and a real hope that the profession will find more effective ways in dealing with the brain. He believes the profession should re-think their approaches; perhaps ask different questions, however, most importantly, not forget that, as physicians, they're not dealing with just 'clinical subjects', but human beings with identity. In other words, to truly understand the brain/ mind relation, the essential being, science and the humanities must join forces. One can see from this wonderful book, that Oliver Sacks has already attempted to do just this, with varying degrees of success.
This is a book that drastically changed my views on a lot of things, not least the utter vastness of the mind, and how easily we can lose what we take for granted everyday.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for families facing Alzheimer's Disease,
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars CASE STUDIES IN HUMANITY,
Sacks relays some of his more interesting individual cases with clinical and human detail. The result is a book that is more than just stories of neuropsychological abnormalities. He engages the reader in a philosophical questioning of "What makes a man a man" or more importantly, "What is the essence of the soul". While sacks does not pretend to be a theological expert, he does show the emotional aspects of clients whose cases were thought to be void of emotion in the first place.
Those without a background in psychology will still find this book a moving read. The reader will without a doubt walk away with an appreciation for many aspects of life previously taken for granted. Through his accounts, Sacks gives glimpses of what it would be like to have no memory, no language, no smell, or even no motor skills without intense concentration. Only sacks can make accounts of autism, amnesia, and tourette's this interesting.
The book may lag a little for those with absolutely no background in psychology. There is more than a fare share of medical and psychological jargon. However, Sacks more than makes up for this with his ability to tell a tale. A highly enjoyable book.
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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
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