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Publisher's Summary

Have you ever seen something that wasn't really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing?

Hallucinations don't belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. People with migraines may see shimmering arcs of light or tiny, Lilliputian figures of animals and people. People with failing eyesight, paradoxically, may become immersed in a hallucinatory visual world. Hallucinations can be brought on by a simple fever or even the act of waking or falling asleep, when people have visions ranging from luminous blobs of color to beautifully detailed faces or terrifying ogres. Those who are bereaved may receive comforting "visits" from the departed. In some conditions, hallucinations can lead to religious epiphanies or even the feeling of leaving one's own body.

Humans have always sought such life-changing visions, and for thousands of years have used hallucinogenic compounds to achieve them. As a young doctor in California in the 1960s, Oliver Sacks had both a personal and a professional interest in psychedelics. These, along with his early migraine experiences, launched a lifelong investigation into the varieties of hallucinatory experience.

Here, with his usual elegance, curiosity, and compassion, Dr. Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture's folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.

Permissions Acknowledgments

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

American Academy of Neurology: Excerpt from "Anton's Syndrome Accompanying Withdrawal Hallucinosis in a Blind Alcoholic" by Barbara E. Swartz and John C. M. Brust from Neurology 34 (1984). Used by permission of the American Academy of Neurology.

American Psychiatric Publishing: Excerpt from "Weir Mitchell's Visual Hallucinations as a Grief Reaction" by Jerome S. Schneck, M.D., from American Journal of Psychiatry, copyright 1989. Used by permission of American Psychiatric Publishing.

BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.: Excerpt from "Heautoscopy, Epilepsy and Suicide" by P. Brugger, R. Agosti, M. Regard, H. G. Wieser and T. Landis from Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, July 1, 1994. Used by permission of BMJ Publishing Group Ltd.

Cambridge University Press: Excerpts from Disturbances of the Mind by Douwe Draaisma, translated by Barbara Fasting. Copyright 2006 by Douwe Draaisma. Used by permission of Cambridge University Press.

Canadian Psychological Association: Excerpt from "Effects of Decreased Variation of the Sensory Environment" by W. H. Bexton, W. Heron and T. H. Scott from Canadian Psychology (1954). Copyright 1954 by Canadian Psychological Association. Excerpt from "Perceptual Changes after Prolonged Sensory Isolation (Darkness and Silence)" by John P. Zubek, Dolores Pushkar, Wilma Sansom and J. Gowing from Canadian Psychology (1961). Copyright 1961 by Canadian Psychological Association.

Elsevier Limited: Excerpt from "Migraine: From Cappadocia to Queen Square" in Background to Migraine, edited by Robert Smith (London: William Heinemann, 1967). Used by permission of Elsevier Limited.

The New York Times: Excerpts from "Lifting, Lights, and Little People" by Siri Hustvedt from The New York Times Blog, February 17, 2008. Used by permission of The New York Times.

Oxford University Press: Excerpt from "Dostoiewski's Epilepsy" by T. Alajouanine from Brain, June 1, 1963. Used by permission of Oxford University Press.

Royal College of Psychiatrists: Excerpt from "Sudden Religious Conversion in Temporal Lobe Epilepsy" by Kenneth Dewhurst and A. W. Beard from British Journal of Psychiatry 117 (1970). Used by permission of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Scientific American: Excerpt from "Abducted!" by Michael Shermer from Scientific American 292 (2005). Copyright 2005 by Scientific American, Inc. All rights reserved.

Vintage Books: Excerpts from Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, copyright 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1967, copyright renewed 1994 by the Estate of Vladimir Nabokov. Used by permission of Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

©2012 Oliver Sacks (P)2012 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"Effective - largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose. A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks." (Kirkus Reviews)
"Fascinating.... Writing with his trademark mix of evocative description, probing curiosity, and warm empathy, Sacks once again draws back the curtain on the mind’s improbably workings." (Publishers Weekly)
"Sacks' best-selling nonfiction stories based on his practice of clinical neurology constitute one shining reason for thinking that we're living in a golden age of medical writing.... Sacks defines the best of medical writing." (Booklist)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story

Not Just Hallucinations

Sacks sheds light on what's current in many conditions on "the spectrum" of various conditions - autism, migraine, schizophrenia, hoarding. I liked that the chapters were organized into various dysfunctions and malfunctions, and not all syndromes that are described (in anecdotal form) actually cause what we have come to know as typical hallucinations; his definition is quite broad.

I learned to be not so fearful of my ocular migraines, and that they are a virtual line drawing of an electrical arc as it passes through the brain.

Sacks does not narrate - well, only for short introductory passages - due to his ocular melanoma which has affected his vision. I'm not a doc and this is only what I have read.

This is a book I plan to re-read soon.

34 of 36 people found this review helpful

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  • Alison
  • Philadelphia, PA, United States
  • 11-08-12

Sacks at his best, why couldn't he narrate?

Sensitive, compassionate and interesting case studies, with a sprinkling of autobiography. As always, Sacks writes at a level that is interesting to this neuroscientist, without being too jargon-y for my sweetie, who also loved the book. Major drawback is the narrator. At least Dan Woren can pronounce all the brain structures correctly (thank goodness) -- but Sacks' voice doesn't really get translated in the flat performance. We get a tease of Sacks' fantastic reading of the introduction, so we know what could have been with appropriate narration. As the title suggests,the book is an exploration of hallucination - seen, heard, smelled and felt through avenues involuntary (associated with some neuropathology), or voluntary (drug induced). Hallucinations is historical, witty, and scholarly without being dispassionate or boring. Well worth a credit.

21 of 23 people found this review helpful

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Oliver Sacks writes another great one

Would you consider the audio edition of Hallucinations to be better than the print version?

It is nice to hear the author in the beginning; I wish he read all his books.

Any additional comments?

This book brings up an important facet of the human experience and helps to put it in context. Oliver Sacks delivers another great one.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Ruined by narrator imitating voices

Is there anything you would change about this book?

The narrator vocally characterizes when reading quotes from personal accounts, often bordering on cartoon-ish. His higher-pitched soft-voiced imitations of women are particularly distracting, and inconsistent to boot.<br/><br/>People do not sound like cartoon characters in real life, why should they in a non-fiction audio book? <br/>Bad buy. Switching to kindle version.

8 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • marjorie
  • EAGLE RIVER, AK, United States
  • 11-15-12

enlightening.

Would you consider the audio edition of Hallucinations to be better than the print version?

I listen to audio books while commuting. I feel then that the drive is not a down time.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Hallucinations?

Validates the person having the hallucination really believing that this is truth to them and the challenge for those not having the hallucination dealing with that person.

What does Dan Woren and Oliver Sacks bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The amazing brain and all that the brain can do to us.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

I laughed and cried. I have worked for years in an emergency room and I have had to deal with people hallucinating

Any additional comments?

Good listen

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Awful Accents

The reader insists on using accents for any quote. He even does a high pitched voice for women. At its best it's bad, at its worst it's offensive. Someone somewhere should have intervened. Otherwise the performance is great.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Annoying voice

The stories are awesome. However, the narrator whistles his S's which was extremely distracting for me. Sorry if my observation ruins it for anyone else.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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story great, but audio quality hard to get through

the sibilence of his voice for most of the book is jarring and and made it hard to listen to. that said, one of my favorite books.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • ct
  • 02-13-16

Hallucinations an excellent read / listen

Love Oliver Sacks style of writing and his observations on Everything Neurological. The star removed from performance is only because when reading his work, I hear his own voice in my head whereas being read to, this is not possible. That said, this book accompanied me on a few long winter runs and kept me very entertained.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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His personal experiences are fascinating

The book is organized more by types of hallucination than by case studies of specific individuals, and it suffers as a result. The case studies are too short and really aren't as engaging and satisfying as those in his earlier books. But hearing Oliver Sacks talk about his drug use in the 60s is pretty amazing. It is a different kind of story about doing drugs -- about a shy, smart young man trying to find some transcendance and joy (which he ultimately finds in writing, not in drugs) not a tell-all memoir about a rock star or celebrity.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful