In his most extraordinary book, one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth 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.

10 thoughts on “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales

  1. Patrick Patrick says:

    It s rare that I read non fiction It s just not my bag.That said, this is one of the most fascinating books I ve ever read I m guessing I ve brought it up hundreds of times in conversation.It s written by a neurologist who works with people who have stranger than usual brain issues And not only are the cases interesting, but the way he writes about the people invovled is really lovely It s not clinical at all Not judgemental It s very loving, I would say It s interesting to see someone who obviously knows a lot of hard line science write about these cases in terms that seem to me suited to someone who would be a philosopher or a spiritualist.Amazing book Can t recommend it highly enough

  2. Dru Dru says:

    Dear Dr Sacks, On page 112 of the paperback edition of your book, the second paragraph begins with the following sentence And with this, no feeling that he has lost feeling for the feeling he has lost , no feeling that he has lost the depth, that unfathomable, mysterious, myriad levelled depth which somehow defines identity or reality I ve read this sentence at least twelve times, and I still don t even have the slightest inkling of what the hell it means What is the subject What is the verb Why is the word that italicized twice Good God man, what are you trying to tell me Sincerely,Baffled in BrooklynSome people may think well, if I read the whole chapter, I m sure I could decipher the meaning To those people I say good luck, Charlie I hope you may succeed where I have so miserably failed This book has many fascinating studies of neurological disorders, and the stories behind the patients are easily understood and, in many cases, enthralling However, Dr Sacks seems to give his readers too much credit when he throws off hyperagnosia , Korsokovian , and meningioma like he assumes we had read an entire neurology textbook before picking this one up Also, many of his sentences like the example above include so many digressions and sudden turns that each one could practically be its own M Night Shaymalan film pitch All of this might have to do with the fact that it was written in the eighties, when I presume people were smarter.

  3. Sheffy Sheffy says:

    Despite so many people recommending this book, my high expectations were disappointed Yes, it s perversely interesting to hear about neurological conundrums that afflict people in peculiar ways, but Sacks isn t a particularly good writer, nor does he have a good grasp on his audience At times he obliquely refers to medical syndromes or footnotes other neurologists, as if he is writing for a technical physician audience, but on the whole his stories are too simplistic to engage such an audience He talks about phenomenology, but doesn t satisfactorily discuss mechanistically what is going on in the brain, so what s the point To quote a friend in college, it s his own mental masterbation he likes to show off how well read he his, how many bizarre patients have been referred to him or he s God s gift to them and erudite his vocabulary is, but fails to clearly get his points across On top of his confusing musings, his reconstructed dialogue is incredible unrealistic, it s clear why doctors need to learn to communicate better.

  4. Supratim Supratim says:

    When I had come across the title of the book on Goodreads, I had mistakenly assumed to it to be a humour novel But, when I finally found the book during one of my book hunts, I learnt that it is a non fiction book where the author, a neurologist as well as a gifted writer, has presented some fascinating case studies about his patients with unique afflictions.The book has been divided into 4 parts wherein each section contains the case studies pertaining to a particular category of neurological afflictions.Medical case studies are written in a dry, clinical language where the patient is dehumanized, and reduced to a cursory phrase In the preface the author says, Such medical case histories are a form of natural history but they tell us nothing about the individual and his history they convey nothing of the person, and the experience of the person, as he faces, and struggles to survive, his disease Thus, the author has attempted to deepen the case history to a narrative or tale and I liked the way he has talked about his patients with warmth, sympathy and respect.The narratives are often enriched with quotes, theories and experiences of other doctors, some of whom were stalwarts in their fields There is a reference to Anton Chekhov as well.I believe most of us understand what a magnificent and complex entity the human brain is, and the book reinforced the fact that how fragile it can be a little bit of damage and it can turn a person s life upside down, make it difficult or even impossible for the individual to do even some basic functions which are so mundane that we do not even think about them In the pages of the book, I came across afflictions I wouldn t have imagined possible even in my weirdest dreams A gifted music teacher suffering from visual agnosia had indeed mistaken his wife s hand for a hat, and provided the title of the book a woman would learn to use her hands at the age of 60 and prove herself to be a gifted sculptor a man had the problem of leaning like the Tower of Pisa without his knowledge and would come up with his own novel solution and the list goes on In some cases the patients would learn to cope, but in others they would not be so lucky What a coincidence that I had just read Forrest Gump, the story of a fictional idiot savant before coming across real life idiot savants in the pages of this book.One particular comment by the author The power of music, narrative and drama is of the greatest practical and theoretical importance , pleasantly surprised me I wouldn t have expected this from a doctor, but maybe I shouldn t have been surprised because the author did show his preference for a humane for the lack of a better word treatment of the patients.One problem you might encounter while reading the book is that the narrative is full of medical jargon Thanks to the internet, we can find out the meanings much effortlessly compared to a dictionary, but if you read a real book, like I did and always do, then you need to put in the effort to type the words in your browser a lot of times But, you know what, even if you do not check out every single jargon, you can till understand the fact of the matter.I understand that everybody might not like this book But, if my review has piqued your interest, then I would urge you to at least check out the Goodreads page of the book.I just came across the list of 100 books everyone should read by , and guess what This book is included in the list.

  5. Paquita Maria Sanchez Paquita Maria Sanchez says:

    This is not only an informative work on neurological disorders, but a humbling meditation on the beauty of imperfection Through entering the worlds of a number of limited individuals, Sacks reveals the brain s and therefore the individual s remarkable ability to overcompensate for cognitive deficiencies As a result of these heightened states of perception, the often frightening and infinitely compelling worlds of each individual are manifested in the means with which they organize and engage with the ordinary, whether it be through mathematics, dance, music, or the visual arts In simply dealing, they manage to transcend Sacks explores the varying cognitive expressions of his patients without coming across as cold, sterile, or objectifying Rather, he devotes a chapter to each individual case, creating in the reader a sense that they are engrossed in a series of fictional character studies, rather than a dry psychological manual or the surface level observations and blind assumptions of a pompous intellectual This would be a perfect starting point for anyone interested in learning a bit about abnormal psychology.

  6. Paria Paria says:


  7. PattyMacDotComma PattyMacDotComma says:

    10 This is such a classic that I can t possibly review it, so I ll just share some stories Oliver Sacks was the much loved, highly regarded neurologist who opened up the world of the mind and brain not only to doctors but also to the public The well known movie, Awakenings, where he was played by Robin Williams, was based on his successful treatment of catatonic patients including Leonard, played by Robert De Niro , frozen for decades after being afflicted with encephalitis Sacks s perception and inspiration led to the trial which awakened them, and he continued to use his remarkable insight and warmth until he died in August 2015.This book is a collection of cases of people with various brain anomalies, some caused by accidents or illness and some conditions present at birth It is disconcerting today to read some of the accepted references to patients in 1985 retardates, defectives, idiots, morons, simpletons The Man of the title piece, lost not only the ability to recognise faces, he didn t even know what a face was When he tried to put his shoe and sock back on after a medical test, he picked up his foot and asked if that was his shoe His wife was seated next to him, and he reached across and pulled on her head when looking for his hat He was almost like a blind man, guessing what and where things were by feel, smell, taste Yet he still functioned as a music school teacher and sang or hummed his way through his daily life to keep himself on some sort of track.Other cases include phantom limbs gone but still painful , limbs that are perceived as foreign it s somebody else s leg in my bed, doctor, and when I try to throw it out, I end up on the floor , and a woman who had completely lost her proprioception which is our sense of where our body is in space a common failing of drunks, but not to this extent We know how to pick up our foot and move it forward She had to concentrate every second on where her body was and what she needed to do or she folded up and collapsed Couldn t sit or stand without actively thinking about it Another woman s case is worth sharing, it s so unusual She has totally lost the idea of left , with regard to both the world and her own body Sometimes she complains that her portions are too small, but this is because she only eats from the right half of the plate it does not occur to her that it has a left half as well Sometimes, she will put on lipstick, and make up the right half of her face, leaving the left half completely neglected it is almost impossible to treat these things, because her attention cannot be drawn to them hemi inattention see Battersby 1956 and she has no conception that they are wrong She knows it intellectually, and can understand, and laugh but it is impossible for her to know it directly. Knowing it intellectually, knowing it inferentially, she has worked out strategies for dealing with her imperception She cannot look left, directly, she cannot turn left, so what she does is to turn right and right through a circle Thus she requested, and was given, a rotating wheelchair And now if she cannot find something which she knows should be there, she swivels to the right, through a circle, until it comes into view. If her portions seem too small, she will swivel to the right, keeping her eyes to the right, until the previously missed half now comes into view she will eat this, or rather half of this, and feel less hungry than before But if she is still hungry, or if she thinks on the matter, and realizes that she may have perceived only half of the missing half, she will make a second rotation and so on Incredible, isn t it Tourette s, Parkinson s, Syphilis, Epilepsy, so very many conditions that cause brain malfunctions The last part of the book deals with retardation and autism and how Sacks discovered that many people who were considered to be without any intelligence actually did have views of the world it just couldn t be measured He says testing measures deficits It doesn t allow for the human, as opposed to the neurological, vision of a person It reminds me of the saying Don t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree.Sacks says although our brain is computer like, it is also personal and involves judging and feeling Without that, our brains actually do become defective, and we can t understand what is real and concrete, like The Man He obviously can t really interpret the world except the part he understands through music And that still makes sense to him But Sacks watched hopeless cases carefully, figured out what they reacted to when he spent time with them, and had the insight and, dare I say, patience to interact with them They drew for him, played games, expressed themselves in their own way, and enjoyed his company One simple, clumsy girl who couldn t learn but who loved listening to her grandmother read stories, also loved being outside He approached her in the park one day, and she gave him a huge smile, gestured, and then called out single words spring, birth, growing, stirring, coming to life, seasons, everything in its time Sacks realised she did have her own very clear, poetic, perception of the world after all.Regarding the people who seem to have unexplained abilities with numbers and calendars but who cannot perform on tests, he understands that they may see the world in numbers as we see it perhaps in pictures or sounds In 1966, he met a pair of severely impaired young twin men who always sat together giggling and calling out long numbers to teach other They could also tell you any calendar date, but they didn t seem able to do mathematics Sacks started writing down their numbers, checked them, and discovered they were all, without exception, prime numbers like 3 or 5, divisible only by 1 or by themselves, for those of you unfamiliar with primes But these were several digits long So he got out his chart, sat with them one day, and then called out a prime number that was one digit longer than theirs They were stunned Sat and thought about it, smiled, and started calling out numbers the same length 7 and 8 digits They eventually outstripped him 12 digits , but Sacks had no way of checking anything than 10 They ended up with 20 digits, which he had to assume were also prime He quotes the mathematician Wim Klein, speaking about himself Numbers are friends for me, or less It doesn t mean the same for you, does it 3,844 For you it s just a three and an eight and a four and a four But I say, Hi 62 squared I don t know how much has changed in the thinking since this book was written, but I quite like his idea that we all respond to order and patterns, and while most of us respond in similar ways to similar things, some people need to have music to order their activities The Man could function as long as he sang or hummed , some need numbers, some need nature Given the right conditions, many people who were previously cast aside could enjoy life on their own terms He does caution about what we would now call mainstreaming people to make them like us The number twins were separated to give them a better chance to live a normal life, which they did to some extent catching public transport, etc , but the joy seemed to disappear What kind of price is that to pay to meet our standards instead of their own One is reminded somewhat of the treatment meted out to Nadia an autistic child with a phenomenal gift for drawing Nadia too was subjected to a therapeutic regime to find ways in which her potentialities in other directions could be maximized The net effect was that she started talking and stopped drawing Nigel Dennis comments We are left with a genius who has had her genius removed, leaving nothing behind but a general defectiveness It s a fascinating glimpse into a fascinating field of study It s scary to think how many people we ve passed judgement on over the years who could have been freer to enjoy life if we d figured out how to enable them.I m looking forward to reading some of his newer work to see where it took him and whether or not we re doing a better job of understanding the immense variation of the human condition today.P.S Another GR reviewer, Barbara, has done a nice job of summarising some of the cases in her review.

  8. ساره ساره says:


  9. Tim Tim says:

    I picked up this book because I am a fan of Oliver Sacks and his various speaking engagements lectures, public radio interviews, etc but I have to say I was fairly nonplussed with it.While the case studies in and of themselves make for interesting reading, the tone of the writing is fairly clinical andremoved Despite the review blurbs stating that these are personal and touchingly human looks at neurological disorders, I saw only a few glimpses of this warmth an example that springs to mind is the Returning To India story.I can t really pin down what I didn t like about the book, but reading it, I had the sense I was being whisked in and out of hospital rooms by a busy, clipboard toting doctorwhich wasn t the best feeling.