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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (1970)

by Oliver Sacks

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
9,227168560 (3.94)265
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's 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's 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."… (more)
  1. 122
    The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist's Quest for What Makes Us Human by V. S. Ramachandran (lorax)
  2. 30
    Blindsight by Peter Watts (hnau)
    hnau: Science fiction inspired by the works of Oliver Sacks (among others).
  3. 20
    Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep?: A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain by Timothy Verstynen (Katya0133)
    Katya0133: A humorous and decidedly irreverent take on neuroscience which nonetheless manages to be incredibly informative.
  4. 20
    Awakenings by Oliver Sacks (chwiggy)
  5. 20
    Fractured Minds: A Case-Study Approach to Clinical Neuropsychology by Jenni A. Ogden (bluepiano)
    bluepiano: I read this for pleasure but have since learned it's used as a textbook. Quite probably it's not got so broad an appeal as Sacks' book but to me the Ogden not only seems more substantial but it's even more the page-turner.
  6. 20
    Toscanini's Fumble: And Other Tales of Clinical Neurology by Harold L. Klawans (joririchardson)
  7. 20
    The Man Who Forgot How to Read: A Memoir by Howard Engel (meggyweg)
  8. 10
    A Journey Round My Skull by Frigyes Karinthy (meggyweg)
  9. 10
    Love's Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom (clairecc)
  10. 10
    Bomb in the Brain : A Heroic Tale of Science, Surgery, and Survival by Steve Fishman (meggyweg)
  11. 00
    On the Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks (chwiggy)
  12. 00
    The Burning House by Jay Ingram (geophile)
  13. 00
    The Barmaid's Brain: And Other Strange Tales from Science by Jay Ingram (geophile)
  14. 00
    Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain by Antonio Damasio (ShaneTierney)
  15. 00
    The Rationality of Emotion by Ronald De Sousa (ShaneTierney)
  16. 15
    One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey (lucyknows)
    lucyknows: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey may be paired with The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks or even Awakenings by the same author. All three books explore the idea that once a person becomes ill or is institutionalised, they lose their rights and privileges.… (more)

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» See also 265 mentions

English (148)  Italian (6)  German (2)  French (2)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  Portuguese (Brazil) (1)  Swedish (1)  Danish (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (164)
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
A very interesting book. There are some extreme cases in there. I found it fascinating how a person can be quite normal in some respects, but very abnormal in others, and that sometimes it can be hard for an outsider to notice the pathology.

Chapter 1 is the same as the title of the book. He examined the man once in his office that the man count not recognize visual images. Music was his key to coping with the world.

The book is divided into parts:
The World of the Simple

a) Often the people are or seem quite unaware of their loss
b) The body and mind have marvelous coping power, sometimes enabling them to see or understand things that normal people don't detect.

Perhaps what makes this book feel so significant is that I don't feel very different from the people that he writes about. I mean that I don't feel that far from these kinds of disorder myself, and I feel that I could easily loose the rest of some central ability. Thus, I was interested in this book. I suppose that being poorly connected with other people would predispose a person to this kind of malady.

"Thus the feeling I sometimes have -- which all of us who work closely with aphasiacs have -- that one cannot lie to an aphasiac. He cannot grasp your words, and so cannot be deceived by them; but what he grasps he grasps with infallible precision, namely the expression that goes with the words, that total, spontaneous, involuntary expressiveness which can never be simulated or faked, as words alone can, all too easily ..."

"We recognize this with dogs, and often use them for this purpose -- to pick up falsehood, or malice, or equivocal intentions, to tell us who can be trusted, who is integral, who makes sense, when we -- so susceptible to words -- cannot trust our own instincts." (Page 82)

Some of the patient did not recover normal functioning. Some of the patients came up with effective adaptations. For example, the disembodied woman learned to adapt. The adaptations are powerful, but are also fragile, easily broken.

04/06/2006 Chapter 10 tells me how common it is for our human society to overlook a pathology or something unusual, or a phenomena until it is pointed out, and then it is noticed all over the place.

"In 1985 Gilles de la Tourette ... described the astonishing syndrome which now bears his name. 'Tourette's syndrome' ... is characterized by an excess of nervous energy..." p92
"In the years that followed ... many hundreds of cases ... were described." p92
"... Tourette's syndrome ... was scarcely at all reported in the first half of this century. Some physicians, indeed, regarded it as 'mythical' ... It was as forgotten as the great sleepy- sickness epidemic of the 1920's' p93 (encephalitis lethargica)
"In 1969 ... I started to speak of 'Tourettism', although I had never seen a patient with Tourette's." (p93)
"The day after I saw Ray, it seemed to me that I noticed three Touretters in the street in downtown New York. I was confounded, for Tourette's syndrome was said to be excessively rare.
... yet I had apparently seen three examples in an hour. ... The next day without specially looking, I saw another two in the street. At this point I conceived a whimsical fantasy or private joke; suppose (I said to myself) that Tourette's in very common but fails to be recognised but once recognised is easily and constantly seen.*"

A very similar situation happened with muscular dystrophy, which was never seen until ... 1850's. ... 'How come that a disease so common, so widespread, and so recognisable at a glance -- a disease which has doubtless always existed -- how come that it is only recognised now? Why did we need M. Duchenne to open our eyes?'" p94

From the last half of the book I didn't copy out any quotations. However, I would like to observe that he has an appreciation for the beauty, complexity, and depth found beneath the simplicity of what we label as mentally handicapped. He found that people who are very awkward when we try to force them into our mold, can become very graceful and beautiful in their own environment.
(page 231)

"This brings us to our final question: is there any 'place' in the world for a man who is like an island, who cannot be acculturated, made part of the main? Can 'the main' accommodate, make room for, the singular? There are similarities here to the social and cultural reactions to genius. (Of course I do not suggest that all autists have genius, only that they share with genius the problem of singularity.) ..." ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
If you ever want to read a book that makes you paranoid about all the ways your brain can go awry without you being aware of it, this is the book for you! It's fascinating, morbid, and occasionally funny, and gave me a new appreciation for the sheer wonder of life. ( )
  James_Maxey | Jun 29, 2020 |
I had high expectations coming into this book, but unfortunately The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat didn’t live up to them. The first three parts were interesting, but not particularly well-written (at least not for a book that’s targeted at a general audience). A lot of terminology and footnotes are used which only students or professionals of the field of psychology/neurology would easily understand. At the very least a glossary could have been provided for those whose knowledge on neurology is limited.

Then, I got to part four. This part was mainly about autistic people, and as an autistic person I found it extremely uncomfortable to read how these patients were treated and regarded by professionals, including Dr. Sacks himself. Dr. Sacks enforces the notion that autistic people are only worthwhile when they have a genius of some sort. He enforces the stereotype that we are “broken”, which is untrue.

There were a lot of generalisations - especially in chapter 24 - such as us (autistic people) being an “island” and cut off from society, or that we have no interest in the “abstract” (my paraphrasing). Not to mention he referred to an autistic artistic girl as “highly gifted but autistic”, as if it’s a shame she’s autistic. I’m not going to give him credit for treating his autistic patients like people, because that’s how we deserve to be treated. I’m aware this was written 40 or so years ago, but it still didn’t sit right with me.

Dr. Sacks is clearly an intelligent person, but I felt like this could’ve been edited better. And if you’re autistic, I’d reconsider if this is a book worth reading. ( )
  frtyfour | Jun 16, 2020 |
  kristi_test_02 | Jun 16, 2020 |
  kristi_test_02 | Jun 16, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 148 (next | show all)
In addition to possessing the technical skills of a 20th-century doctor, the London-born Dr. Sacks, a professor of clinical neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, sees the human condition like a philosopher-poet. The resultant mixture is insightful, compassionate, moving and, on occasion, simply infuriating. One could call these essays neurological case histories, and correctly so, although Dr. Sacks' own expression -''clinical tales'' - is far more apt. Dr. Sacks tells some two dozen stories about people who are also patients, and who manifest strange and striking peculiarities of perception, emotion, language, thought, memory or action. And he recounts these histories with the lucidity and power of a gifted short-story writer.
The book deserves to be widely read whether for its message, or as an easy introduction to neurological symptoms, or simply as a collection of moving tales. The reader should, however, bring to it a little scepticism, for outside Sack's clinic, things do not always fall out quite so pat.
added by jlelliott | editNature, Stuart Sutherland (pay site) (Dec 26, 1985)

» Add other authors (35 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Sacks, Oliverprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cassel, BooTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, JonathanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldberg, CarinCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moll-Huber, P.M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Morena, ClaraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wensinck, F.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To talk of diseases is a sort of Arabian Nights entertainment.

- William Osler
The physician is concerned (unlike the naturalist)... with a single organism, the human subject, striving to preserve its identity in adverse circumstances.

- Ivy McKenzie
To Leonard Shengold, M.D.
First words
Neurology's favorite word is 'deficit', denoting an impairment or incapacity of neurological function: loss of speech, loss of language, loss of memory, loss of vision, loss of dexterity, loss of identity and myriad other lacks and losses of specific functions (or faculties).
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Book description
A romantic rendering of the daily sufferings of people with relatively obscure neurological issues.
Haiku summary
Neurology doctor
Studies people as people
Not sacks for strange brains (Marissa_Baden)

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