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The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales Paperback – April 2, 1998
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From Publishers Weekly
A neurologist who claims to be equally interested in disease and people, Sacks (Awakenings, etc.) explores neurological disorders with a novelist's skill and an appreciation of his patients as human beings. These cases, some of which have appeared in literary or medical publications, illustrate the tragedy of losing neurological facultiesmemory, powers of visualization, word-recognitionor the also-devastating fate of those suffering an excess of neurological functions causing such hyper states as chorea, tics, Tourette's syndrome and Parkinsonism. Still other patients experience organically based hallucinations, transports, visions, etc., usually deemed to be psychic in nature. The science of neurology, Sacks charges, stresses the abstract and computerized at the expense of judgment and emotional depthsin his view, the most important human qualities. Therapy for brain-damaged patients (by medication, accommodation, music or art) should, he asserts, be designed to help restore the essentially personal quality of the individual. First serial to New York Review of Books, The Sciences and Science; Reader's Subscription alternate. January
Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
From Library Journal
Neurologist Sacks, author of Awakenings and A Leg To Stand On , presents a series of clinical tales drawn from fascinating and unusual cases encountered during his years of medical practice. Dividing his text into four parts"losses" of neurological function; "excesses"; "transports" involving reminiscence, altered perception, and imagination; and "the simple," or the world of the retardedSacks introduces the reader to real people who suffer from a variety of neurological syndromes which include symptoms such as amnesia, uncontrolled movements, and musical hallucinations. Sacks recounts their stories in a riveting, compassionate, and thoughtful manner. Written on a somewhat scholarly level, the book is highly recommended for larger collections. Debra Berlanstein, Towson State Univ. Lib., Baltimore
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book consists of four parts:
4) The World of the Simple
Each section relates to a different set of neurological problems resulting in a mental disorder.
1) In the "Losses" the author describes nine cases.
"Neurology's favourite word is 'deficit', denoting an impariment or incapacity of neurological function: loss of vision, loss dexterity, loss of identity and myriad other lacks and losses of specific functions (or faculties)."
2) In the "Execess" find five "stories".
"What then of the opposite - an execess or superabundance of functions?"
"... we consider their excesses - not amnesia, but hypermnesia; not agnosia, but hypergnosia; and all the other 'hypers' we can imagine."
3) The chapter "Transports" describes six cases.
"...'transports' - often of poignant intensity, and shot through with personal feeling and meaning - tend to be seen, like drimes, as psychical: as a manifestation, perhaps, of unconscious or preconcious activity..."
"...to be seen as psychoses, or to be brodcast as religious revelations, rather than brought to physicians."
4) And at the end of "The World of the Simple" (four "stories"). Dr. Sacks describes cases of people whose neurological disorders outfitted with extraordinary abilities, such as "seeing the numbers," eidetic memory, an excellent sense of smell, etc. (Ie. brilliant savants).
In his book, Dr. Sacks often refers to the study of well-known Russian psychologist A. R. Luria.
Dr. Sacks style of reasoning, not everyone will like it. Besides, there are many similar books, though written from a different perspective than neurological such as "Tales from the Couch: A Clinical Psychologist's True Stories of Psychopathology" by Dr. Bob Wendorf.
1. The human brain is not some sort of organ separate from our soul/consciousness/self. It IS our consciousness. When it gets changed, we are changed. I think a lot of people implicitly think of the brain as just something that memorizes dates and facts for school, and don't really think of it as the core of their self.
2. The brain, while impressive, is not really a truthful measurement machine. In reality, it's kind of slapped together from a bunch of co-processors and self delusion to make us think our senses are telling us the true story of the world. If one of those co-processors is damaged, weird stuff happens. For example, the title story. The brain does not observe impartially. Human faces are not processed in the same way that hats are processed. If that part of the brain is damaged, then one can, indeed, mistake their wife for a hat.
One minor nitpick I can think of is that the author spends a lot of time grandly editorializing about the philosophical implications of the stories after telling each one. I would have preferred to keep this a bit more minimal and let the stories speak for themselves - they are full enough without him pointing it out. Another thing that personally kind of puts me off is the fact that the whole book is predicated on the Freud/Jung school of psychology, which I think too often was not really based in observation and scientific method. I am sure you can find all sorts of half-truths and unsupported claims in the book if you really start to dig into and research the stories. Still, it makes for great reading.
And that's the thing; this is chiefly a pop-psychology book. No matter the minor flaws in writing, or patchy science, or flawed observation, it doesn't strongly detract from the central ideas of the book. I would consider this book one of the few universally important books I've read, because the stories themselves cut so close to the core of our life experiences. Not just in the obvious ways (ex. trying to explain to a child why Alzheimer's disease is affecting their grandfather), but also in understanding why we are the way we are.
Sorry, I just realized I made myself guilty of "grandly editorializing about the philosophical implications of the stories"... It's hard not to do!