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4.3 out of 5 stars
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The Mind's Eye
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Top Contributor: Petson February 21, 2018
the chapter where dr. sacks describes his own vision loss was my absolute favorite. if only more people had highly trained medical friends they could just phone up to check on them whenever they were experiencing problems. it is a very frightening experience to lose one's vision. and imagine doing so outside of a city, without public transportation, or an assistant to take you everywhere you need to go whenever you need to go there.

i'm very glad my vision is back and i've done all this research and worked with my doctors to determine the cause (not a brain tumor). but for the almost full year it was either gone or wrong it was hell, especially for an impatient person like myself, who could barely do the necessary research to help determine the cause without being able to read properly. it makes you feel very vulnerable, and nervous, and dependent. dr. sacks obviously felt the same way.

i think it's important for people to realize that doctors are humans, not gods. they suffer the same maladies we do, and make mistakes just as often. it is also crucial for doctors to remember this as well, for when, if ever, they become the patient.
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on November 24, 2010
The wonderful thing about Sacks' books is that his stories never grow stale. He continues to inform, enlighten and entertain readers with his fascinating case studies, which date back to Migraine (1970). Sacks has long infused his stories with personal anecdotes, but in this book he reveals his own battle with eye cancer which resulted in the loss of his prized stereo vision, telling us about his love for stereoscopes dating back to his childhood.

The book focuses mostly on visual perception and how the mind processes this information through its dense neurological framework. The initial case studies deal with persons who have suffered perceptual damage due to strokes. He refers back to several of his previous works, notably The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and provides a number of historical insights into visual perception, as he tells of persons who have suddenly lost their ability to read and even differentiate everyday objects around them.

Perhaps his most interesting chapters are those on stereo vision. The first about a woman who was able to regain her stereo vision with corrective work on her eyes, and his own sad loss of stereo vision due to cancer in one eye. Here, he provides wonderful historical insights into visual perception, references a number of key works, and provides an interesting glimpse into his own life.

He closes with a fascinating chapter on how persons deal with blindness, starting with John Hull, who essentially accepted his blindness and came to rely on his other senses to perceive the world around him, to a boy who developed a powerful sense of echolocation to compensate for his sudden blindness, to other cases where persons learned to build elaborate internal visual worlds to compensate for their loss of "vision." No two cases are alike and Sacks once again shows a wonderful sensitivity to his patients which make his books so appealing.
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on December 14, 2013
In the most tragic of illnesses and most dire of circumstances, Oliver Sacks finds and describes stories of human resiliency, adaptation and fortitude. In his 2010 collection of essays The Mind’s Eye, the aging, yet prolific, neurologist Oliver Sacks chronicles the lives of five patients, each with different neurological illnesses affecting their abilities to properly see and/or perceive the world in which they live. Although each case is unique, Sacks is able to unite the cases by highlighting a common denominator between all five patients: the ability of each patient, without their full cognitive capacities, to find new and creative ways to navigate their ever-confusing environments. Through his beautifully articulate storytelling, Sacks shows us the power of the human mind to overcome it’s own deficiencies, thereby working to crush the stigma of the neurologically impaired as ‘handicapped’, or even impaired at all.

From the onset of The Minds Eye, Oliver Sacks invites you inside the world of five of his patients, allowing you to experience their daily lives, routines and personalities. In that respect, Oliver Sacks’ eleventh book is very much like a work of fiction, with only one difference; Sacks’ writing is, at its core, a medical and neurological set of case studies. The collection of essays, if it weren’t for Sacks’ unique writing style, would be much like a textbook; describing patients as having a certain type of disease and discussing such a disease’s side effects. However, Sacks does not let the neurological deficits of the various patients take away any of their personality or character. In other words, Oliver Sacks’ five patients are people first and neurology patients second.

For instance, one of the five patients, named Patricia H., is an extremely vibrant and effervescent middle-aged women who suffered a stroke that rendered her unable to speak or understand words – a disease known as aphasia. Before describing or even alluding to any form of illness, Sacks uses the first handful of pages to describe Patricia’s life, character and family history. He writes about how ‘she loves to cook’, ‘ran an art gallery on Long Island’ and was married to ‘a man of many parts- a radio broadcaster and a fine pianist who sometimes played at nightclubs’. Sacks puts an image in the readers head of a perfectly normal woman - a strategy that alludes to Sacks’ overall goal of the text; to show how neurological diseases may take away one’s ability to talk, see or listen; but, for the most part, they do not take away a person’s personality or charm. Only after he chronicles Patricia’s personal history and unique attributes does Sacks describe how she lost her ability to speak after suffering a blood clot that left her in a coma for weeks. Sacks goes on to write about how Patricia, even without an ability to speak, ‘remained active and engaged in the world’. Rather than concentrating only on the disease itself (which he still does, even providing very interesting stories about the etymology and history of aphasia), Sacks focuses on how his patients overcome the disease. He highlights how Patricia, and the other four patients (including Sacks himself), adjusts to the fact that they are disabled, not in body but in mind. Sacks turns everyday patients into modern-day heroes by showing their toughness and courage to stay the course, endure strenuous therapy, and assimilate quite seamlessly back into society. Sacks does this (and more) for four other patients; a woman without stereoscopic vision set on working to be able to see again; another woman suffering from Posterior Cortical Atrophy yet maintaining her love of music and cooking by relying heavily on personal memory; a mystery novel writer who losses the ability to read; and finally himself, an eye-cancer survivor whose life was forever changed because of his near-complete loss of vision.

The Minds Eye is, however, still a work of science, deeply relying on neurological diseases, physiology and anatomy. But, to Sacks’ credit, the book has the paradoxical ability to both be extremely scientific yet not at the same time. For example, one of Sack’s patients (Lillian K.) suffers from Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a progressive, albeit gradual, degradation of the brain’s outer cortex in the posterior (back side) of the brain. In order to provide the reader with needed context, Sacks spends pages describing what exactly a highly complex disease such as Posterior Cortical Atrophy is (you have a sense of how complex the various diseases are from their names alone). However, wanting his essays to have a mainstream audience, Sacks describes such extremely technical medical conditions in layman’s terms; simplifying incredibly complex conditions by using the power of his conversational writing. Rather than being overwhelmed with scientific terms, concepts and labels, the reader is given the proper medical and scientific context in a reasonable and sensible manner.

More than anything, The Mind’s Eye is a bedside book. The collection of essays feels as if it were meant to be read comfortably next to a crackling fire with a hot cup of something delicious in hand. It is much more of a fun read than a set of neurological case studies, and that’s the power that Sacks has; he invites you in the world of the neurologically impaired, not from a medical perspective, but from the perspective of a omnipresent third-eye looking in; quietly overseeing the lives of Lillian, Pat, and others. Being a cancer-patient himself, Oliver Sacks wants you to see what he sees in his patients and also what he hopes to find in himself; a super-human ability to overcome, to endure, and ultimately, to prevail.

However, The Minds Eye, like most anything in life, does have a few shortcomings. Being a collection of essays, the respective chapters of the book seem to lack coherence. Each of the cases is starkly different than the rest, with each chapter dedicated to each patient (including Sacks’ own review of his vision loss). In that sense, each chapter seems like a book unto itself. Also, throughout the various essays, Sacks continually referenced his older literary texts (The Man that Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings, etc.) without much explanation or context; references that I assume must have been very confusing for readers unfamiliar with Sacks’ quite expansive body of work.

Given the book’s few flaws, Oliver Sacks’ The Mind’s Eye is still a fantastic read for any type of booklover. Science-oriented readers will thoroughly enjoy Sacks’ explorations of various neurological diseases, while the non-science bookworm can find appreciation in Sacks’ beautiful prose and the book’s unique narrative structure. Because of Oliver Sacks’ fantastic ability as a storyteller and writer, I highly recommend The Mind’s Eye to anyone who wants to navigate the world of the mind and find splendor in the human quality of perseverance.
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on November 23, 2013
This is another great book by Oliver Sacks. I have them all. A section of this book deals with his loss of vision in one eye. I have recently had an eye removed because of chorordial melanoma which I believe he describes as his affliction. I had similar symptoms as his, but not as many, and they all went away after eye removal. I had very little pain. He has survived at least eight years after his treatments. I hope I do as well. I notice I bump into things as he describes, and I just got ketchup all over my thumb from a dispenser at a hamburger joint.
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on September 9, 2017
Dr. Sacks, fortunately or unfortunately, has personal experience with some of the situations covered. I wish he were still around!
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on February 22, 2012
I really wanted to like this book. I have enjoyed most of Sacks' other books I have read. This was only ok.

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.
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on May 15, 2014
Did you know that when some people say they can't remember faces, what they really mean is they can't perceive people's facial features? It's called prosopagnosia, and Dr. Sacks himself has an extreme case of it. Hint: if you live in his apartment building and you get a new dog, don;t be insulted if he fails to greet you in the elevator. He recognizes you not by your face but by things like the breed of dog you own, your gait, etc. This and other interesting variations of visual experience are related by the author through reflections on the conditions of his individual patients. His appreciation of them as people always shines through. This is a profoundly humane human being.
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on April 20, 2011
Therapist and author Oliver Sacks spends intense moments redefining darkness from the point of view of an educated therapist who "once was was blind, but now I see" in reverse. The sighted,hearing, speaking persons of normal sensory heritage too often takes for granted these tangible gifts they are born with, and most often cannot view the world as if they were without them. Oliver takes us by the hand down the path of non sensory perception from his experience of loosing most of his own sight while dealing with his patients and clients case studies who have lost their abilities to hear, see, or even strain words through their lips. This book is a must read for anyone who daily deals with communication challenges and would easily awaken any who do not understand the disability of many forms of natural communicaton and sight.
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on November 18, 2017
One story in the book tells us the amazing or extreme potential of our human brain is yet to be discovered and understood.
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on October 22, 2017
Oliver Sachs has a gentle and engaging way of sharing his insights into brain function through the exploration of loss. This book, like others by Sachs, was a pleasure to read- full of insightful wisdom and deep human compassion, conveyed in straightforward, accessible language.
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