Oliver Sacks is one of the foremost writers on the human brain and particularly on its dysfunctions. Sacks is a London-born neurologist who has spent his life studying autism, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s, and a wide range of other brain-related pathologies. Sacks is interested in these topics both on the broader level–how the disease or condition manifests itself in the brain tissues, how it can be treated, and what the origins of the condition might be– but he is also a keen observer of the effect that these conditions have on individuals, and how those particular cases respond to treatment or not. In his discussions with patients and his portrayal of them in his writing, Sacks’s compassion is always evident. He never lets an individual become just another statistic in the tracking of a medical condition.
Sacks also has a remarkable talent for making the inner workings of the mind and the chemistry and physiology of the brain understandable for the layperson. In earlier books, Sacks has explored what it is like to be deaf, (Seeing Voices), looked at the use of drugs in treating Parkinson’s disease (Awakenings), and examined the case histories of seven neurological patients (An Anthropologist on Mars). In each of these titles and his other works, Sacks raises questions of what the connections between perception and reality are, and offers readers both fascinating stories and much food for thought.
Sacks’s most recent offering, Musicophilia, continues his practice of using individual cases to explore broader questions. In this instance, all of his examples are drawn from the world of music. Here, Sacks looks at “earworms,” those bits of song that get stuck in your head and that you can’t seem to get rid of, at the case of a doctor who was struck by lightning which sparked a career in composition, at musical hallucinations that are frighteningly real, and at the concept of perfect pitch. Along with these studies and discussions, Sacks includes pieces about his own interactions with music as a player and as a physician. Musicophilia is Sacks at his best, a delightful, witty, and above all thoughtful blend of science, memoir, and anecdote. If you are a musician or just love music of any sort you will find much to enjoy here.
Check the WRL catalog for Musicophilia