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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

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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 ...
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The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales

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Overview

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' 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."

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Editorial Reviews

New York Magazine
Dr. Sacks' most absorbing book... His tales are so compelling that many of them serve as eerie metaphors not only for the condition of modern medicine but of modern man.
New York Magazine
Dr. Sacks' most absorbing book... His tales are so compelling that many of them serve as eerie metaphors not only for the condition of modern medicine but of modern man.
From the Publisher
Clarence E. Olsen St. Louis Post-Dispatch A provocative introduction to the marvels of the human mind...

Noel Perrin Chicago Sun-Times Dr. Sacks's best book.... One sees a wise, compassionate and very literate mind at work in these 20 stories, nearly all remarkable, and many the kind that restore one's faith in humanity.

New York Magazine Dr. Sacks's most absorbing book.... His tales are so compelling that many of them serve as eerie metaphors not only for the condition of modern medicine but of modern man.

Kirkus Reviews
If you enjoy medical case histories that are sensitive yet lively, weird but informative, then Sacks' book is your ticket. A neurologist who writes with wit and zest, he will fascinate you with stories of patients like the man in the title--a professor who couldn't recognize faces and who patted the tops of fire hydrants believing them to be children. Nietschze asked whether we could do without disease in our lives and the author explores this interesting concept with a rare and invigorating philosophic sense. Sacks is no ordinary practitioner; his patients suffer from rare complaints like Korshakov's syndrome, Tourette's and other afflictions, some of which make the patient unsure of the reality of his own body. Their tragedies and their courage are joined with the author's astute professionalism and humanity to make for a riveting foray into the unknown. The history of these strange cases and the state of the art of medicine are deftly probed. Yet in the midst of all this tragedy, there is an eerie comic quality. Take the 80-year-old ex-prostitute who discovers a new liveliness and euphoria, which she enjoys immensely. However, the reason for this is a recurrence of an old syphilis infection. Does she want to be totally cured and lose this new found ebullience? Not really. She relishes "Cupid's disease's" strange excitation of her cerebral cortex too much. To Sacks' credit, he agrees with her. This book ranks with the very best of its genre. It will inform and entertain anyone, especially those who find medicine an intriguing and mysterious art.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780671554712
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/18/1988
  • Pages: 233

Meet the Author

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California, and New York. He is professor of clinical neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the author of many books, including Awakenings and A Leg to Stand On.

Biography

"I think writing and language are not just to articulate or communicate, but they are also to investigate," the writer and neurologist Oliver Sacks once said. "For me, writing and medicine, writing and science, are not separate: they entail each other." Sacks grew up in a large and prodigiously gifted family of scientists; with their encouragement, he set up his own chemistry lab and spent his days in a swirl of sulfurous fumes and smoke. He was also fascinated by biographies, and spent hours poring over the lives of great scientists like Dmitri Mendeleev, Humphrey Davy,and Marie Curie. When the chaos of World War II and traumatic experiences at boarding school intruded on the "lyrical, mystical perceptions" of Sacks' childhood, he clung to scientific knowledge as a means of ordering and understanding the universe.

After his medical training at Oxford, Sacks migrated to the States to pursue a career in neurology research. But he made a clumsy lab researcher. "I was always dropping things or breaking things," he explained in a lecture, "and eventually they said: 'Get out! Go work with patients. They're less important.'" Sacks went to work at Beth Abraham Hospital in the Bronx, where he was struck by the sight of patients who had survived encephalitis lethargica, the "sleeping sickness." The patients were nearly immobile, but the nurses who cared for them insisted that there were living personalities behind the frozen masks, and Sacks believed the nurses. The story of his work with these patients is told in Sacks' 1973 book Awakenings, which inspired a movie starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro and also formed the basis of a play by Harold Pinter.

But Sacks is perhaps best known for his collections of case histories (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars et al.), which probe the experiences of people with disorders and rare neurological conditions. In telling their stories, he often questions our assumptions about the nature of human consciousness. Part what distinguishes Sacks' work from the traditional case study is his interest in how a patient functions with a disorder, not just how he or she is impaired by it.

Sacks has also drawn on personal experience for wonderfully resonant scientific memoirs that recall his remarkable family, people who have influenced and inspired him, and his lifelong love of medicine and physical science. Meanwhile, he continues to work with patients, to understand them through writing about them, and to point his readers toward new ways of understanding themselves. As Thomas P. Sakmar, interim president of Rockefeller University, said in awarding Sacks the Lewis Thomas Prize: "Sacks presses us to follow him into uncharted regions of human experience -- and compels us to realize, once there, that we are confronting only ourselves."

Good To Know

As a child, Sacks was fascinated by the periodic table of the elements at the Science Museum in London. His boyhood love of chemistry hasn't waned: according to an article in Wired, Sacks owns half a dozen T-shirts with the periodic table printed on them, along with periodic-table coffee mugs, tote bags and mousepads.

Sacks's memoir Uncle Tungsten inspired the creation of Theodore Gray's Periodic Table Table, a wooden table representing Mendeleev's table of the elements and containing samples of each element. Sacks later paid a visit to see the Periodic Table Table -- wearing, of course, one of his periodic-table T-shirts.

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      1933
    2. Place of Birth:
      London, England
    1. Education:
      B.M., B.Ch., Queen's College, Oxford, 1958

Table of Contents

Preface

PART ONE: LOSSES

Introduction

1 The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

2 The Lost Mariner

3 The Disembodied Lady

4 The Man Who Fell out of Bed

5 Hands

6 Phantoms

7 On the Level

8 Eyes Right!

9 The President's Speech

PART TWO: EXCESSES

Introduction

10 Witty Ticcy Ray

11 Cupid's Disease

12 A Matter of Identity

13 Yes, Father-Sister

14 The Possessed page

PART THREE: TRANSPORTS

Introduction

15 Reminiscence

16 Incontinent Nostalgia

17 A Passage to India

18 The Dog Beneath the Skin

19 Murder

20 The Visions of Hildegard

PART FOUR: THE WORLD OF THE SIMPLE

Introduction

21 Rebecca

22 A Walking Grove

23 The Twins

24 The Autist Artist

Bibliography

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 27 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 10, 2004

    Unconventional Minds and Uncommon Sense

    I just finished reading 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat' by Oliver Sacks. I'm so glad that I bought this book. The author is a neurologist who describes some of his most fascinating patients. I feel like these characters will stick with me for the rest of my life. Among the characters you'll meet in this book are a music teacher(the title character) who can no longer recognize faces, twins diagnosed retarded who can generate six-digit primes, and a murderer who forgets his crime. There's also a sailor who is convinced that it is still 1965. The cases themselves are amazing but Sacks treats their stories with a beautiful kind of dignity. Sacks never loses sight of the person, of the soul, that he treats. This book left me with a deep sense of gratitude and a fresh hope in humanity.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 29, 2008

    Couldn't put it down!

    This great read was long overdue and I could not put it down. I would recommend this story, filled with love and courage, to anyone. Shannon Morgan

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2007

    A very interesting and compelling book.

    The book was very fascinating and really showed how people in the clinical cases and people with the same brain disorders or brain malfunctions lived. The book attempted to explain how, but more importantly, what was lost or gained because of the person's trauma or neurological disorder. It achieved its goal and showed a view from both the patient and the doctor. Even though the human mind may not be functioning properly, when closely looked at, the person has gained more than lost without them knowing it. This is the beauty of the brain and all of nature.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 4, 2014

    Fascinating Read & Perfect for AP Pyschology Assignments

    I must confess that I have a love-hate relationship with Dr. Sacks' writing as this is the second title of his that I have read. He is brilliant. I am not. His writing and story telling is remarkable & entertaining - & requires me to always have a dictionary present.

    I love how this book was written in short vignettes as it made it easy to read a chapter before my 2 children pulled my attention away. I also love how he incorporates the arts into the science of neurology as it is perfect for my science students at a performing arts high school to relate to their own lives.

    If you are fascinated by the mysteries of the brain, love science, love the arts, or love writing with meticulous grammar and advanced vocabulary, then this book is a must read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The Impaired and Interesting

    Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook his WIfe for a Hat was an teresting read, unlike anything I have previously encountered. It told the stories of several mentally and physically impaired patients struggling to live a normal life. Sacks is a neirologist who wrote about what each of his patients were experiencing and how it affected their life. He described it in such humanistic terms you could almost feel what that patient was enduring through the pages. Sacks not only gave the scientific explanation, but also included what was gained and lost in that person's life due to their disability. The book took you from the comfort of your own life of normalcy, and exposed you to what life would be like without a perfectly functioning body. I would reccomend this read to everyone; it allows you to see life through new eyes and gravitates you into the office of a neurologist with some pretty interesting patients whose stories give you an insight to a side of reality you otherwise wouldn't encounter.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2005

    a door to the world of the impaired..

    Dr Sacks is a neurologist and a people observer rolled into one..it is amazing how he narrates neurological disorders not just in medical terms but also in a humanistic way..reading the book transports you from the comforts of your normal life to the world of a lost memory and other abberations with a sense of kindness and sympathy to the people with neurological disorders. Definitely a refreshing medical book written in an artistic way accesible by our humanistic and sympathetic nature as humans..

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2003

    There is more in our minds than we have ever been able to dream in our philosophies

    There are few science or medical writers who have the ability to make their case- histories so vivid and interesting as Sachs does. He writes with tremendous insight and sympathy about worlds of mental aberration and strangeness which truly are beyond ordinary imagining. The world seems a stranger and more troubling place after reading this book. But the reader too has the sense that he has been given insights into areas of reality he would never by himself have come across.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 3, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks is a coll

    The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks is a collection of intriguing instances of neurology in some of his patients.

    Oliver talks about these patients and their strange but interesting disorders.

    For instance, the title character has a difficult time seeing certain things like faces and other images, and in one instance, he pulls on his wife's head because he thinks it's his hat.

    One of my favorite excerpts is about a neurological disorder of the temporal lobe in the brain, which can be called "musical epilepsy."  Basically, a few elderly women were experiencing seizures which would cause music to be playing loudly in their heads.

    Sacks said, "Conversation was far from easy, partly because of Mrs. O'C's deafness, but more because I was repeatedly drowned out by songs-she could only hear me through the softer ones."

    Sounds humorous, but the patients couldn't "adjust" the volume or "choose" their songs, so it's kind of like being in the car when another person is in charge of the radio.

    In between the vignettes, there was a lot of doctoral gibberish.  Well, to me it was gibberish.  But I read as much as I could and skimmed through the rest of those parts.

    If these strange neurological instances sound like something you'd want to read about, pick up a copy of the book.  Just keep in mind that you might need to or want to skim through the more technical aspects of a lot of these stories, which mainly occurs in the postscript.

    What's the strangest medical condition you know of?

    Thanks for reading,

    Rebecca @ Love at First Book

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  • Posted August 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Read

    Oliver Sacks has a great ability to tell a story and suck you in. These short stories about real cases are intriguing and thoughtful. I am eager to read his other works as well.

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