Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

I picked up Oliver Sacks most famous book on neurological disorder after I saw someone assign it to their class at work last summer. Like all my books, it sat for quite some time on my shelf.

I'm glad that I picked it up. Sacks discusses some of his most interesting patients with right brain disorders. In the Introduction to the book, he discusses the differences between right and left brain disorders. He also discusses the process of creating a "case study" and claims that people with right brain disorders are better material for case studies that take a more humanistic approach. I am sort of enamored of this idea of medicine as storytelling.

The cases are fascinating, although sometimes in a morbid way. I have heard criticisms of Sacks claiming that he romanticizes brain disorders, while the real face of mental illness is a terrifying one. I disagree with this criticism, at least for the most part. Sacks conveys rather well how terrifying a disorder must be that makes you (for instance) unable to recognize any faces, or relive a moment over and over again. The exceptions are perhaps some of the portraits he paints of autism, or the woman with syphilis induced dementia (which was portrayed in an episode on the first season of House). However, I think that he is relatively true to his patient's stories.

Bottom Line: Definitely worth reading. I found the first few case studies engaging, but then began to lose interest. This might be a book that is better read in small segments while reading something else simultaneously.


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