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Editorial 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 In his introduction to this audiobook, Sacks himself explains that much of the content is now quite outdated, but he hopes, proudly in his soft British lisp, that The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat still resonates for its positive attitude and openness toward the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 Though this last section is perhaps the most obviously scientifically outdated section of the book, it also best demonstrates Sacks' deep feeling for the unique gifts of his subjects.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.

Critic Reviews

"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

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Darwin8u
  • Mesa, AZ, United States
  • 05-28-12

A Clinician's eYe, but a Poet's HEART

I love how Sacks, through his small clinical vignettes, exposes the complex, narrative powers of the brain. Written with a clinician's eye, but a poet's heart, I also love how he is able to show how these patients with all sorts of neurological deficits, disabilities, and divergences are able to adapt and even thrive despite their neurological damage. For the most part, they are able to find "a new health, a new freedom" through music, inner narratives, etc. They are able to achieve a "Great Health," a peace and a paradoxical wellness THROUGH their illness.

39 of 40 people found this review helpful

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  • ESK
  • Moscow, Russia
  • 02-23-13

"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.

33 of 34 people found this review helpful

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  • Pauline
  • Colorado Springs, CO, United States
  • 08-03-13

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.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • lynn
  • ADELAIDE, Australia
  • 07-07-11

Wonderful compassionate and insightfull

One of the pleasures of login on to audible is the surprise of which books are new to download. I have owned a text copy of this book since 1990 until I started to listen to the recording I had almost forgotten what an excellent series of compassionate single studies formed the book. It could be considered vicarious, the detailed study of individuals each with one or more "deficits". However it ends up as a deeply moving study of these individuals and in the process it tells us of the thin line that we each tread between fully functioning and being lost in the world. Great audio with the author reading the introduction and Jonathan Davis's voice pitched at exactly the right pitch to convey the pathos of each circumstance.

37 of 40 people found this review helpful

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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.

12 of 13 people found this review helpful

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  • Jamie
  • launceston, Australia
  • 02-03-12

Jaw dropping... in a very strange way

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I found this book very touching and absolutely fascinating...

What other book might you compare The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales to and why?

Oliver Sacks' other books are similar, but i found not as broadly interesting. Apart from that i have not ventured to read anything like it.

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

not having a background in psycho-anything, i think that reading the text would have been very difficult. i think that the narrator makes it possible to get the meaning while not needing the background, as i have found in other audiobooks.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

over and over

Any additional comments?

even if you don't think this book will interest you, i would suggest you give it a try, i was very surprised. i literally caught myself with my mouth wide open in some of the stories!

25 of 28 people found this review helpful

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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.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Phillip
  • Cape Town, South Africa
  • 11-03-11

Not your ordinary story book

Very well read - interesting subject matter - really enjoyed. Will listen to it again and again - worth its price, but not for just anyone.

19 of 22 people found this review helpful

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I rarely stop reading a book halfway through...

This book feels like it was written in 1885, not 1985. Granted, it isn't Oliver Sacks' fault that the brain is so poorly understood, but he comes across as a gentleman scientist in the Victorian era who studies patients in his parlor. He often uses very demeaning and unscientific vocabulary to describe people. In the chapter I'm on now he describes a man as an "amiable simpleton," and often refers to behaviors as bizarre and strange. Seriously? You are a neuroscientist man! If a person walked in with blood running down their leg no one would say, How Bizarre! That blood is supposed to be on the Inside of the body! What the heck is is going there?

I expected to be educated about brain function, but in most cases he doesn't explain what happened and why, but does throw in the occasional technical term with no explanation. For instance I can summarize the chapter on a woman who had a stroke thus: a woman had a stroke. One whole side of her brain is dead. She can't see anything to the left. Isn't that bizarre? He hooked up a video camera to show her the left side of her face on the right. She freaked out. End of chapter. Another: Johnny hasn't been able to retain any memories since 1946. He might have killed part of his brain with alcohol but who knows. The author doesn't seem particularly interested. Johnny thinks he is 17 but he is 60, so the doctor shows him his face in a mirror. HA HA! You are old! Johnny freaks out. He wonders if Johnny still has a soul (????) and the sisters at the home say he does because he pays attention during mass. Oh and he likes to garden. And he never gets better.

That's been more or less the shape of each chapter. Person has traumatic accident or illness, manifests difficulty doing ______, the doctor makes notes on all their "bizarre" symptoms, and can't do anything to help them. In one chapter he DOES help a woman regain use of her hands and I was so relieved. Finally!

I'm putting this book because I've learned nothing much I didn't know about the brain. And if I am going to read sad stories about people struggling to live day to day life I need to feel that something was accomplished by recording their stories, but there is little evidence in this book that studying these people would result in scientists being able to help someone else.

46 of 56 people found this review helpful

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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.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 04-30-14

Neurology can be fun!

Would you listen to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales again? Why?

I'll definitely revisit this book because it's full of fascinating observation, acutely noted, about strange tricks the mind plays due to small chemical imbalances... On first reading the major stories stick out. I'm hoping to revisit the book for detail

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales?

The most memorable anecdote is probably about hyper osmia; the subject feels like a dog, led by his nose.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The reflections on what exactly makes us a person

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

Just about

Any additional comments?

Definitely accessible

12 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • Dr Nik Jewell
  • 06-20-17

Intriguing clinical cases

This is one of those books that I have meaning to read for half my life so I was glad to finally get round to it.

The cases are all fascinating, I enjoyed the level of technical detail, and Sacks comes across as warm and sympathetic to his patients. I enjoyed his intelligent, and often groundbreaking, analyses, which are frequently informed by his forays into philosophy.

I have read before that this is his best book but I am sure I will try some of the others now.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-13-16

beautiful insight into the mind

and how the brain works. fascinating and eye-opening. really superb reading performance too. enjoyed every moment

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-04-17

Engaging and warm book.

Beautiful account by Oliver Sacks of human conditions and his account of their personal experiences and existence. Warm and encouraging are his tales of various disorders and bizarre defecits in perception and cognition.

Oliver Sacks not only constantly reminds the reader of our fragile mortality but that even those that we may shrug off as 'mad' or 'broken' have diverse and vivid internal worlds. His focus not on defecits in cognition but on the art and music that defines us all: Bridging the gap between our conscious experiences and those that may be lacking in, and in over abundance of, specific perceptual modalities.

Great book, would thoroughly recommend.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Katharine
  • 11-14-15

Truly inspiring . Pure poetry .

A must read for anyone, regardless of whether you or someone you know have ever come into contact with a brain injury / neurologist. Sachs is an inspiration for all. His empathy and the stories gave me goosebumps. One of those books you feel honoured to have read.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • ashley greenaway
  • 07-24-15

Neurological wonders

I found these anecdotes fascinating. I'd say that many of them deserve a book in themselves. The full case studies that Sacks wrote, on which these are presumably based, would interest me.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • HMPS64
  • 07-07-14

Medical read

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes to all student doctors. This is a fun way of learning neurology.

What did you like best about this story?

The stories.

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

Can be a dry book to rwad on its own merits

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

Some understanding of difficulties and human complexities

Any additional comments?

Get this book students

6 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 09-13-17

fascinating , well read, loses some "pace"

fascinating , well read, loses some "pace" (maybe wrong word) in the middle as he talks of very abstract concepts sometimes

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Nike
  • 08-16-17

Brilliantly read

Famous book in psychiatry. Very well read. Thank you very much audible You have done it again!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • G. M. J. Langan
  • 08-13-17

Beautifully written and read.

Dr Sacks' book gives psychological insites into his clients and also directs the reader towards more universal, philosophical realms.
The reader, Jonathon Davis reads brilliantly, using pause and intonation that brings an extra dimension to this remarkable book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 04-04-16

Interesting insight

I love reading medical case studies and found this book extremely interesting. Written in a style and language which makes it accessible to the average person with no medical background and well narrated making it very easy listening. Definitely recommend!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Amanda
  • 10-09-15

So Very Interesting

So happy I now have a greater insight into these special people's minds. Thanks to the author for writing a piece that non medicos can understand. Beautifully read.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 10-21-17

brilliant

No struggle, no difficult. Just a great book and an equally great narrator. One of my favourites.

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  • Michael Nye
  • 06-29-17

Interesting Stories

Gets a bit slow the second half, but the last few stories are worthwhile listening through the end

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  • Benjamin
  • 06-29-17

No wonder it's a must read.

loved it. the book has left me with a deeper appreciation to the human brain