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 In his introduction to this audiobook, Sacks himself explains that much of the content is now quite outdated, but he hopes, proudly in his soft British lisp, that The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat still resonates for its positive attitude and openness toward the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 Though this last section is perhaps the most obviously scientifically outdated section of the book, it also best demonstrates Sacks' deep feeling for the unique gifts of his subjects.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
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.
"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)
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (1985) by Oliver Sacks is a collection of mostly fascinating and moving case study narratives about patients Sacks treated during his career as a neurologist.
In his Preface (nicely read by Sacks), Sacks explains that he's equally interested in diseases and people, being a theorist and a dramatist who sees both the scientific and the romantic in the human condition, especially in human sickness. Why "tales"? Because although case histories of diseases are important, they usually lack the human subject, and to restore the human subject to the center requires a story: "Classical fables have archetypal figures—heroes, victims, martyrs, warriors. Neurological patients are all of these—and in the strange tales told here they are also something more…. We may say they are travellers to unimaginable lands—lands of which otherwise we should have no idea or conception. This is why their lives and journeys seem to me to have a quality of the fabulous. . . and why I feel compelled to speak of tales and fables as well as cases. The scientific and the romantic in such realms . . . . come together at the intersection of fact and fable, the intersection which characterizes. . . the lives of the patients here narrated."
The book, then, is divided into four sections of "clinical tales." Part One, Losses, features accounts of people who through disease or accident have lost the ability to recognize faces or to remember anything after the year 1945 or to perceive their body (or a body part) as theirs or to stand upright or to see anything on their left, and so on. This section demonstrates that the things traditionally viewed as lacks or deficits are in fact much more complex, because they involve the victim trying to compensate, "trying to preserve his/her identity in adverse circumstances."
Part Two, Excesses, concerns the opposite kind of cases, disorders of excess in which patients exhibit extravagant proliferation, generation, enhancement, etc. in abilities or perceptions, problems arising when such growth becomes monstrous or disabling. Examples are patients suffering from Tourette Syndrome (excess of energy and hyper-quickness of thought and action, etc.) or Syphilis (excess of "frisky" euphoria), or too fertile, rapid, and incontinent an imagination for making up stories about oneself and other people.
Part Three, Transports, is about "the power of imagery and memory to transport a person with abnormal stimulation of the temporal lobes and the limbic part of the brain." Examples concern people who suddenly start hearing loud music they had forgotten hearing as children, a man who suddenly regains the vivid memory of murdering his girlfriend, and epileptic or migrainic visions, Sacks arguing that the organic or physical causes of such reminiscences and visions don’t detract from their spiritual power and meaning for the people involved.
The last part, The World of the Simple, concerns the perception of the world and special abilities of the "mentally retarded," autistic, and idiot savants, people who may seem to be dysfunctional "morons," but who actually are innocent, imaginative, and creative. Treating such "simple" patients taught Sacks that the traditional approach of "defectology" (exposing their lack of conceptual ability to, in effect, undermine them) is inferior to the romantic approach of "narratology" (permitting their natural affinity to the concrete to ground and free them via music, art, and narrative).
Throughout Sacks shows himself to have been an intelligent, resourceful, and caring doctor, trying to observe his patients with an open mind, asking them how they feel, reading and or hearing their life stories, respecting their individual manifestations of various brain-centered malfunctions, taking a romantic-scientific approach to their treatment including new drugs and empathic communication, wanting to encourage the growth of their souls by helping them find or letting them do what they love doing.
Along the way he writes some thought provoking lines, like "Wellness can be genuine even if caused by illness," and "Who's more tragic? The man who knew he was damned or the man who did not?"
Along the way he references and quotes from a variety of thinkers about the human brain and mind, including Freud, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Russell, James, Leibnitz, and, of course, various earlier neurologists. He occasionally uses technical terms, but usually defines them, and his clinical narratives are absorbing rather than difficult.
Not all his clinical tales have happy endings! Sacks conveys the horror and sadness of losing control of one's perceptions or actions or memories, and doesn't shy away from the fact that we still (too often) can't find effective places for autistic "island" dwelling people in our society. But most often the human soul finds a way to survive.
Jonathan Davis gives his usual consummate reading of an audiobook.
Anyone interested in the human brain and its mysterious and wonderful and terrible permutations should find much of interest in this book.
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.
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.
Oliver Sacks is such an engaging, exciting, and thoughtful author. These stories far surpassed scientific documentation of odd mental illnesses and instead discussed the lived experience of his patients as people. Sacks is a formidable writer. I highly recommend this book.
“As you know, madness is like gravity...all it takes is a little push.” The Joker
I have been always fascinated by the brain science, how the mind work and psychology. But I found myself always gravitating to the non-clinical side of it, but the cognitive and social sides, that is "How the normal minds work and how the average person behaves", so I thought a clinical cases book by the great Dr. Sacks can help. I WAS RIGHT.
Why not 5 stars then? because the author didn't in some parts take into consideration that some non-professionals like myself would read it :) A lot of neurological terminology and drug names can sometimes get to my nerves.
After all, a must.
Just the right balance between fun stories and educational neuroscience that won't let you look at human consciousness the same way ever again. The book is a collection of clinical stories that are sad, funny, and uplifting. The stories are well read, and altogether enjoyable.
If you're interested in the brain, this book is for you. If you like clinical case study, this book is for you. I had a little bit of difficulty getting started but once the case studies started rolling, this was fascinating. The brain is mysterious and wonderful. This isn't so much about mental illness as it is about biological changes in the brain affecting behavior and interaction. Amazing diagnoses throughout.
The narrator did an excellent job personalizing it as though it was his case studies.
I value intelligent stories with characters I can relate to. I can appreciate good prose, but a captivating plot is way more important.
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.
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The book was interesting enough; I found the individual case-studies absorbing, but it got very dry and text-booky when going into detail surrounding the various medical conditions and that bored me.
Overall – not bad for 5$
Only the first half of it.
The first half of this book was so interesting. It always amazing me what can go wrong with the human body. But about mid-way through it just became repetitive and I felt like "you've heard one neurological study you've heard them all".
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