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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales | [Oliver Sacks]

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales

Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Groundbreaking neurologist Oliver Sacks has written a number of best-selling books on his experiences in the field, some of which have been adapted into film and even opera. Often criticized by fellow scientists for his writerly and anecdotal approach to cases, he is nevertheless beloved by the general public precisely for his willingness to exercise compassion toward his unusual subjects. In his introduction to this audiobook, Sacks himself explains that much of the content is now quite outdated, but he hopes, proudly in his soft British lisp, that The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat still resonates for its positive attitude and openness toward the neurological conditions described therein.

Audible featured narrator Jonathan Davis is more than up to the task of bringing these case studies to life. He adopts a tone that is both sympathetic and authoritative. In fact, he sounds very much like the actor William Daniels, who voiced the car in the television show Knight Rider, or for a younger generation, played Principal Feeny in the television show Boy Meets World. The stories in this book concern matters of science, to be sure, but they also contain quite as much adventure into uncharted territory as either of those television shows.

The cases are divided into four sections: losses, excesses, transports, and the world of the simple. "Losses" involves people who lack certain abilities, for example, the ability of facial recognition. "Excesses" deals with people who have extra abilities, for example, the tics associated with Tourette's Syndrome. "Transports" involves people who hallucinate, for example, a landscape or music from childhood. "The world of the simple" deals with autism and mental retardation. Though this last section is perhaps the most obviously scientifically outdated section of the book, it also best demonstrates Sacks' deep feeling for the unique gifts of his subjects. Indeed, Davis anchors his delivery of the facts in these admirable empathies, demonstrating that in terms of the cultural perception of neurological conditions, Sacks' early work still has much to teach us. —Megan Volpert

Publisher's Summary

In his most extraordinary book, "one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century" (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks' splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine's ultimate responsibility: "the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject".

PLEASE NOTE: Some changes have been made to the original manuscript with the permission of Oliver Sacks.

©1970, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985 Oliver Sacks (P)2011 Audible, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Dr. Sacks's best book.... One sees a wise, compassionate and very literate mind at work in these 20 stories, nearly all remarkable, and many the kind that restore one's faith in humanity." (Chicago Sun-Times)

"Dr. Sacks's most absorbing book.... His tales are so compelling that many of them serve as eerie metaphors not only for the condition of modern medicine but of modern man." (New York magazine)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Pauline Colorado Springs, CO, United States 08-03-13
    Pauline Colorado Springs, CO, United States 08-03-13 Member Since 2005
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    "Fascinating Look Into the World of Perception"
    If you could sum up The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales in three words, what would they be?

    Fascinating stories.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It opened up the world to some of the oddest self-perception dysfunctions known to medical practice. Hard to believe the mind tries so hard to work around some truly enormous deficits in order to function.


    Which character – as performed by Jonathan Davis and Oliver Sacks (Introduction) – was your favorite?

    The fellow who truly mistook his wife for a hat.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    Yes, and almost was.


    Any additional comments?

    This book gained a new fan of Oliver Sacks stories. Elegantly read, and consumately written.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Guns4all 12-05-12
    Guns4all 12-05-12 Member Since 2015
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    "intriguing--my first book by this guy"

    I really liked it. A bit dry at times, but entertaining and informative. I only lost attention a few times, but those moments would most likely really interest someone who was a student of mental dis(?)orders.

    I liked the reader quite a bit.

    Suprisingly, upon reflection, I rated this book more highly than I thought I would right after completion, so for me, that means ut caused me to think, reflect, and even have stuff stick with me....my definition of a good book, movie, or study.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 09-05-12
    Douglas Auburn, WA, United States 09-05-12 Member Since 2008

    College English professor who loves classic literature, psychology, neurology and hates pop trash like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "To my mind, the "original" Sachs book..."

    in the main because its eponymous essay was the first that I read of Sachs and because I have subsequently taught the essay many times (in actuality, Awakenings preceded Mistook by more than a decade). Like Selzer in Tales Of A Knife and Ramachandran in The Tell-Tale Brain, Sachs brings the reader startlingly close to his patients, revealing with poetic accuracy and detail the frightening, distressing, often bizarre and sometimes humorous effects of their neurological disorders. Sachs, again much like Selzer, is much more than a reporter, but a poet, a writer of vivid prose, not only bringing science to the layman but making it live for all.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Elison 05-01-12
    Elison 05-01-12 Member Since 2006
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "The Mind is a Scary Place"
    Would you recommend this book to a friend? Why or why not?

    I would recommend this to friends who enjoy exploring the workings of the mind.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Oliver Sacks? Why or why not?

    I would be willing to read another Oliver Sacks' book because his case studies are sometimes fascinating and it is clear that he has the personal experience to back up his work.


    What does Jonathan Davis and Oliver Sacks (Introduction) bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    The book is expertly read. Where I would have stumbled over terminology, it was nice to have a narrator deliver the words smoothly.


    Did The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales inspire you to do anything?

    I can't say that I was inspired, more than anything I felt a little fearful of what could potentially happen to my own mind.


    Any additional comments?

    The mind is an amazing and scary place! I think a layperson can definitely follow along, though it is occasionally bogged down with technical language that is obviously meant for the experts. Most of these case studies are the minute exception to the norm, but many of them are incredible. The most tragic common denominator for me is the fact that there are so many brain disorders that completely rob a person of purpose and happiness. The good part, I guess, is that some of them don't know it.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer 02-12-15 Member Since 2015

    I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.

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    "Surprisingly well-written, thoughtful and touching"

    I had assumed that this book would be an interest, yet depressing and clinical examination of fascinating brain disorders. I was wrong. Oliver Sacks has written an uplifting, and unexpectedly beautiful book here.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason FPO, AP, United States 11-29-13
    Jason FPO, AP, United States 11-29-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Fascinating look at the brain gone wrong"

    I love Oliver Sacks, and this is one of his best!

    I read this title long ago, and it came up as a Daily Deal (I think) here on Audible, so I decided to enjoy it again - glad I did!

    If you don't know what Sacks is all about, he tells stories about some of the most amazingly strange things that can go wrong in our brains. People that can't identify others, what they are doing, or even who they are struggle to communicate and find themselves.

    This title is quite similar to "The Tell-Tale Brain" by VS Ramachandran, something I recently listened to as well, but not quite as detailed. "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" might be a little better for a more casual reader, it has a more narrative, less clinical feel than "The Tell-Tale Brain".

    Sometimes I was left wanting a little more detail and follow-up, especially in the cases where Dr Sacks only had one interview/meeting with the patient, and Sacks tends to wax a bit poetic from time to time, but those are truly minor complaints.

    The production is excellent, the reader professional, everything fine in that area.

    Very highly recommended!

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sam Motes Tampa 02-27-13
    Sam Motes Tampa 02-27-13 Listener Since 2009

    Audible obsessed lifelong learner.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Lack of mind control"

    Very disturbing read on how the mind can get out of whack and really cause a living hell for people. Trying to put oneself in the mental condition of one of these patients is an exercise in madness. The insight on aspirin or b6 prolonged overdose possibly contributing was interesting.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    ESK Moscow, Russia 02-23-13
    ESK Moscow, Russia 02-23-13 Member Since 2011

    There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times. ― Yevgeny Zamyatin

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    ""Lest we forget how fragile we are...""

    The book kept me thinking how easy it is to cross the fine line between what we consider to be sane and insane, normal and abnormal. We take so many things for granted (like walking, sitting, remembering) that we don't really pay attention to them. But when a disaster strikes, and your body/mind doesn't feel the same way it used to, how do you react? Give up, or fight to feel 'normal' and 'together' again?
    It was eye-opening to listen to this fantastic book. I felt that the author had never held himself aloof from his patients. The book was written with such compassion and empathy that I was so absorbed I couldn't do anything else. It's a must-have for anyone interested in neuropsychiatry, neurology and psychology.
    The book is made up of 4 parts:
    1. Losses (with special emphasis on visual agnosia)
    Essays:
    The man who mistook his wife for a hat;
    The lost mariner;
    The disembodied lady;
    The man who fell out of bed;
    Hands;
    Phantoms;
    On the level;
    Eyes right;
    The President's speech.
    2. Excesses (i.e. disorders or diseases like Tourette's syndrome, tabes dorsalis - a form of neurosyphilis, and the 'joking disease')
    Essays:
    Witty Ticcy Ray;
    Cupid's disease;
    A matter of identity;
    Yes, Father-Sister;
    The possessed.
    3. Transports (on the 'power of imagery and memory', e.g. musical epilepsy, forced reminiscence and migrainous visions)
    Essays:
    Reminiscence;
    Incontinent nostalgia;
    A passage to India;
    The dog beneath the skin;
    Murder;
    The visions of Hildegard.
    4. The world of the simple (on the advantages of therapy centered on music and arts when working with the mentally retarded)
    Essays:
    Rebecca;
    A walking grove;
    The twins;
    The autist artist.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ruth United States 11-06-12
    Ruth United States 11-06-12 Member Since 2014

    I love clean books of all sorts. Love mysteries, fantasies epic to kids stories, fairy tales, romances, humor, and historical fiction

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "An Amazing Look at the True Final Frontier"

    Two of my sister's professors recommended this book to her and she recommended it to me. As the mother of a child who has some problems similar to some of the neurological disorders in this book it has special significance for me. I do think that the Brain is the TRUE final frontier. For so many years we were told about our five senses and this book shows that truly there are more than that. These disabilities, many of them, are invisible. Imagine an individual who looks fine and still struggles to function. No one knows how to act or what to expect and many times people are either surprised, confused or offended. Many people and agencies won't even recognize what is going on as a true disability.

    The vocab is steep and I looked up more than a few words online guessing at spellings. Even when I didn't know every single word, I got the general meaning of things. The narrator is awesome. My husband has heard so much about the book, he's told me he's going to read it next.

    I was continually amazed by the poignant and compelling stories told. I was also extremely grateful for the author's compassion and recognition of the humanity of his patients. The common thread of each person trying to find the balance and their own version of normal was very interesting. Going through testing and trying to get services is so dehumanizing, and yet, each life sings its own melody; each life must be appreciated for its own goodness and uniqueness. This is an aspect which so often gets lost in society or modern medicine's quest for what they call normal.

    This book is truly amazing in every way. The author alludes to so many other works and studies and makes even the bizarre behavior of these real-life characters understandable. The patients and the problems are interesting. The way the author talks about them is interesting. The way some of them find "normal" is interesting.... Interesting is too bland a word. Maybe Fascinating, Surprising, jaw-dropping, eye-opening, as well as heart-rending. It gave me hope that surprising answers are still being found.

    This book is definitely worth your time and credit. I good solid break from fantasy, sci-fi, mysteries and YA fiction.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Myk Canberra, Australia 09-12-12
    Myk Canberra, Australia 09-12-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fascinating glimpse of the brain's failings"

    The details of the case histories presented are the gems in this book. I was slightly put off by the author's self-congratulatory tone describing his breakthroughs with individual patients, but that's a minor annoyance.

    Jonathon Davis's narration was excellent, hitting just the right whimsical curiosity and wonder while keeping a respectful tone.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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