The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Paperback – 1 December 2011
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|Paperback, 1 December 2011||
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- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0330523627
- ISBN-13 : 978-0330523622
- Product Dimensions : 19.7 x 1.7 x 13 cm
- Publisher : Picador (1 December 2011)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: 11,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the Author
Oliver Sacks was born in 1933 in London, England (both of his parents were physicians) and earned his medical degree at Queen's College, Oxford. In the early 1960's, he moved to the United States and completed an internship in San Francisco and a residency in neurology at UCLA. Since 1965, he has lived in New York, where he is clinical professor of neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, adjunct professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine and consultant neurologist to the Little Sisters of the Poor.
In 1966 Dr. Sacks began working as a consulting neurologist for Beth Abraham Hospital, a chronic care facility in the Bronx where he encountered an extraordinary group of patients, many of whom had spent decades in strange, frozen states, like human statues, unable to initiate movement. He recognised these patients as survivors of the great pandemic of sleepy sickness that had swept the world from 1916 to 1927, and treated them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, which enabled them to come back to life. They became the subjects of his second book, Awakenings (1973), which later inspired a play by Harld Pinter (A Kind of Alaska) and the Oscar-nominated Hollywood movie, Awakenings, with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams.
He is the author of A Leg to Stand On, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Seeing Voices, Migraine, An Anthropologist on Mars, Neurology of the Soul,The Island of the Colourblind and most recently Uncle Tungsten.
From the Publisher
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: ‘Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far’. Oliver Sacks's autobiography, On the Move which was published before his death in 2015, makes it abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going.
- In his most extraordinary book, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks recounts the stories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. These are case studies of people who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognise people or common objects; whose limbs have become alien; who are afflicted and yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents. In Dr Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, each tale is a unique and deeply human study of life struggling against incredible adversity
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The stories are quite interesting, describing the various ways that neurological pathways can become faulty and the resultant symptoms. As far as Sacks's style goes, if he is writing for the layperson then there is far too much medical terminology and references, making it heavy going in parts. The book is at its best when he simply describes the patients' issues and his interactions with them.
Overall, my feeling on completing the book was mostly one of gloomy sadness that these people's unfortunate disabilities have ended up as curiosities in a book, although the light shines through when we see Sacks learning from some of them. At these moments it seemed a worthwhile read, but Sacks' literary style lets it down.
And in these accounts of the strange tricks the brain can play on the person, those individuals are vividly portrayed with their coping strategies - the woman who, unable to see left would turn a full circle right; people who lose sense of their bodies and need to look in mirrors to adjust their posture.
He considers the occasional 'plus' side of mental disturbance - the heightened sensations of drug use; the re-living of past happy times, as when an elderly woman suddenly started 'hearing' songs from her early childhood, a time that had been sealed off to her in a subsequent hard life. "She felt illness as health, as healing."
He looks too at the mysteries of the 'idiot savant' - twins with learning difficulties such that they could not do simple maths, and yet were inexplicably able to perform mindboggling feats of calculation.
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What we have is a seemingly random series of accounts of patients, who had failed with other medical professionals, but who succeeded insofar as it was possible with him. Beneath the surface there is the irritant of Sacks’ egocentricity.
We are introduced to a wide range of neurological conditions: tilting bodies, aphasia, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s syndrome, autism and others. Some are really extraordinary, such as the identical twins suffering from autism, who have an astonishing ability to see numbers, often of numerous digits, provided that they are prime numbers. There seems to be little doubt that Sacks drew out special abilities in many different fields that others had overlooked owing to pigeon-holing the subjects, often in the light of their tested IQs. There is plenty of scientific reference to underpin Sacks’ conclusions. What we do not have is the broader contexts in which these people lived: their social connections, often whether or not they are permanently in institutions or whether they are able to function to a degree within society at large.
I don’t think that I have really answered my own question, but hope that I might have given a few pointers as to why I am unable to enthuse more warmly about this book.
Indeed it reads like a list of his consultations, in no particular order or connection. Symptoms and conditions are described but without any real compassion or insight, but almost with a sense of scientific analysis. I was left with a feeling that these poor individuals appeared to paraded as oddities, somewhat of a circus sideshow.
Eventually I gave up, and it took me few months to venture into another of Sacks’ books “Musicophilia” – which was extremely compelling, fascinating and highly compassionate. This is a book I would highly recommend.
My only problem with the book was with the terminology used in the section dealing with people with various kinds of learning disabilities. This is clearly a reflection of the time the book was written and not a lack of respect by Sacks, but it can be hard to read those terms which today are rightly considered totally unacceptable.