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The Mind's Eye Hardcover – October 26, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Sacks, a neurologist and practicing physician at Columbia University Medical Center, and author of ten popular books on the quirks of the human mind (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat) focuses here on creative people who have learned to compensate for potentially devastating disabilities. From the concert pianist who progressively lost the ability to recognize objects (including musical scores) yet managed to keep performing from memory, to the writer whose stroke disturbed his ability to read but not his ability to write (he used his experience to write a novel about a detective suffering from amnesia), to Sacks himself, who suffers from "face blindness," a condition that renders him unable to recognize people, even relatives and, sometimes, himself (he once confused a stranger's face in a window with his own reflection), Sacks finds fascination in the strange workings of the human mind. Written with his trademark insight, compassion, and humor, these seven new tales once again make the obscure and arcane absolutely absorbing. (Oct.)
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Sacks, famous for combining his knowledge as a physician and his compassion for human stories of coping with neurological disorders, offers case histories of six individuals adjusting to major changes in their vision. A renowned pianist has lost the ability to read music scores and must cope with the fear of an ever-shrinking life as her vision worsens. A prolific writer develops “word blindness” and is unable to read even what he himself writes, forcing him to develop memory books in his mind, adaptations that he later incorporates into his fiction writing. Sacks recalls his own struggle to cope with a tumor in his eye that left him unable to perceive depth. He includes diary entries and drawings of his harrowing experience. Sacks, author of the acclaimed Musicophilia (2007), among other titles, combines neurobiology, psychology, and psychiatry in this riveting exploration of how we use our vision to perceive and understand the world and our place in it and how our brains teach us to “see” those things we need to lead a complete, fulfilled life. --Vanessa Bush
Top Customer Reviews
Unfortunatley, "The Mind's Eye" is quite different and while it does offer some of the charm - it is much less readable. In truth, it requires a fairly large degree of prior knowledge in neurology in order for it to make sense. This makes the reading much more academic, and in my case, tedious.
I am sure that many people will enjoy "The Mind's Eye" but it may be restricted more to the medical community and not the average reader. This is unfortunate, because the stories offered by Dr. Sacks are interesting, but the level of detail is just too deep. An example was the discussion on "Face Blindness" which to me is a fascinating topic (my wife seems to think that I may suffer from this disorder!), but withing 5 pages I have a hard time following the technical detail of the discussion.
Final Verdict - Probably very interesting for the medical community, but it may be a tough read for common Joe.
2 1/2 Stars
Vision, recognition & perception are the focus in this book. First part of the book is about the stories of patients with higher cortical visual disorders; in the second part he describes his own vision problems due to melanoma of the eye and his lifelong inability to recognize faces, believe it or not, it is a disorder called Prosopagnosia.
First is the story of Lilian who starts out with musical alexia - inability to read musical scores by an accomplished musician - followed by general alexia. Then he describes the story of Canadian novelist Howard Engel who suffers from even rare form of alexia - where he is unable to read and recognize words but he is able to write - a condition called alexia sine agraphia.
Patty is another patient who develops aphasia - inability to speak and express in words but then she adapts and becomes expert by expressing with gesture and mime using just her left arm because her right side is paralyzed. Patty is inspired by Jeannette, a quadriplegic speech therapist. So the stories are about how people adapt when they lose the ability to recognize or express.
Sometimes losing one higher cortical function opens the other doors in the brain, for example, study by Nancy Etcoff showing how people with aphasia become better at detecting lies and emotion.
Dr. Sacks has tackled vision before in The Island of Color Blind but this book deals with a different aspect of cortical visual disorders. In A Leg to Stand On he described how he lost awareness of his leg after an injury. Coming from a tradition of British clinical neurology, his vignettes are mostly anecdotal about his patient's life and presentation and at the most he goes into the anatomical basis of the disease; rarely, if at all, does he delve into the neuroelectrophysiological, biochemical or genetic basis of the sickness.
Compared to Dr. Sacks previous books, this book is not as tautly written; at times it gets too technical for a non medical reader and feels dragged. If you have not read Dr. Sack's before then try The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales and Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood. Those are probably his best books. If you want to learn about higher visual, perception & recognition disorders and how the brain and people adapt when they lose some of those functions then this book is informative but less engaging.
In this book, Sacks examines the neurology of the eye, with a special focus on his own experiences with the inability to recognize faces, and also a bout of eye cancer that diminished his vision.
But I really didn't get the fire and wonder in these stories that I recall in his other books. The first case study or two were interesting, but then it rapidly became less interesting. There was little sense of discovery, but more of a sense of biography, and for some reason it just didn't work for me.
I can't really recommend this book, because it didn't hold me. But if you must, give it a try. Your experience may be different.