Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

by Oliver Sacks

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400033539
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/23/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 41,985
Product dimensions: 8.04(w) x 5.28(h) x 1.18(d)

About the Author

Oliver Sacks was a physician, writer, and professor of neurology. Born in London in 1933, he moved to New York City in 1965, where he launched his medical career and began writing case studies of his patients. Called the “poet laureate of medicine” by The New York Times, Sacks is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia, and Awakenings, which inspired an Oscar-nominated film and a play by Harold Pinter. He was the recipient of many awards and honorary degrees, and was made a Commander of the British Empire in 2008 for services to medicine. He died in 2015.


www.oliversacks.com

Hometown:

New York, New York

Date of Birth:

1933

Place of Birth:

London, England

Education:

B.M., B.Ch., Queen's College, Oxford, 1958

Read an Excerpt

A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia

Tony Cicoria was forty-two, very fit and robust, a former college football player who had become a well-regarded orthopedic surgeon in a small city in upstate New York. He was at a lakeside pavilion for a family gathering one fall afternoon. It was pleasant and breezy, but he noticed a few storm clouds in the distance; it looked like rain.

He went to a pay phone outside the pavilion to make a quick call to his mother (this was in 1994, before the age of cell phones). He still remembers every single second of what happened next: "I was talking to my mother on the phone. There was a little bit of rain, thunder in the distance. My mother hung up. The phone was a foot away from where I was standing when I got struck. I remember a flash of light coming out of the phone. It hit me in the face. Next thing I remember, I was flying backwards."

Then—he seemed to hesitate before telling me this—"I was flying forwards. Bewildered. I looked around. I saw my own body on the ground. I said to myself, 'Oh shit, I'm dead.' I saw people converging on the body. I saw a woman—she had been standing waiting to use the phone right behind me—position herself over my body, give it CPR. . . . I floated up the stairs—my consciousness came with me. I saw my kids, had the realization that they would be okay. Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light . . . an enormous feeling of well-being and peace. The highest and lowest points of my life raced by me. No emotion associated with these . . . pure thought, pure ecstasy. I had the perception of accelerating, being drawn up . . . there was speed and direction. Then, as I was saying to myself, 'This is the most glorious feeling I have ever had'—SLAM! I was back."

Dr. Cicoria knew he was back in his own body because he had pain—pain from the burns on his face and his left foot, where the electrical charge had entered and exited his body—and, he realized, "only bodies have pain." He wanted to go back, he wanted to tell the woman to stop giving him CPR, to let him go; but it was too late—he was firmly back among the living. After a minute or two, when he could speak, he said, "It's okay—I'm a doctor!" The woman (she turned out to be an intensive-care-unit nurse) replied, "A few minutes ago, you weren't."

The police came and wanted to call an ambulance, but Cicoria refused, delirious. They took him home instead ("it seemed to take hours"), where he called his own doctor, a cardiologist. The cardiologist, when he saw him, thought Cicoria must have had a brief cardiac arrest, but could find nothing amiss with examination or EKG. "With these things, you're alive or dead," the cardiologist remarked. He did not feel that Dr. Cicoria would suffer any further consequences of this bizarre accident.

Cicoria also consulted a neurologist—he was feeling sluggish (most unusual for him) and having some difficulties with his memory. He found himself forgetting the names of people he knew well. He was examined neurologically, had an EEG and an MRI. Again, nothing seemed amiss.

A couple of weeks later, when his energy returned, Dr. Cicoria went back to work. There were still some lingering memory problems—he occasionally forgot the names of rare diseases or surgical procedures—but all his surgical skills were unimpaired. In another two weeks, his memory problems disappeared, and that, he thought, was the end of the matter.

What then happened still fills Cicoria with amazement, even now, a dozen years later. Life had returned to normal, seemingly, when "suddenly, over two or three days, there was this insatiable desire to listen to piano music." This was completely out of keeping with anything in his past. He had had a few piano lessons as a boy, he said, "but no real interest." He did not have a piano in his house. What music he did listen to tended to be rock music.

With this sudden onset of craving for piano music, he began to buy recordings and became especially enamored of a Vladimir Ashkenazy recording of Chopin favorites—the Military Polonaise, the Winter Wind Étude, the Black Key Étude, the A-flat Polonaise, the B-flat Minor Scherzo. "I loved them all," Tony said. "I had the desire to play them. I ordered all the sheet music. At this point, one of our babysitters asked if she could store her piano in our house—so now, just when I craved one, a piano arrived, a nice little upright. It suited me fine. I could hardly read the music, could barely play, but I started to teach myself." It had been more than thirty years since the few piano lessons of his boyhood, and his fingers seemed stiff and awkward.

And then, on the heels of this sudden desire for piano music, Cicoria started to hear music in his head. "The first time," he said, "it was in a dream. I was in a tux, onstage; I was playing something I had written. I woke up, startled, and the music was still in my head. I jumped out of bed, started trying to write down as much of it as I could remember. But I hardly knew how to notate what I heard." This was not too successful—he had never tried to write or notate music before. But whenever he sat down at the piano to work on the Chopin, his own music "would come and take me over. It had a very powerful presence."

I was not quite sure what to make of this peremptory music, which would intrude almost irresistibly and overwhelm him. Was he having musical hallucinations? No, Dr. Cicoria said, they were not hallucinations—"inspiration" was a more apt word. The music was there, deep inside him—or somewhere—and all he had to do was let it come to him. "It's like a frequency, a radio band. If I open myself up, it comes. I want to say, 'It comes from heaven,' as Mozart said."

His music is ceaseless. "It never runs dry," he continued. "If anything, I have to turn it off."

Now he had to wrestle not just with learning to play the Chopin, but to give form to the music continually running in his head, to try it out on the piano, to get it on manuscript paper. "It was a terrible struggle," he said. "I would get up at four in the morning and play till I went to work, and when I got home from work I was at the piano all evening. My wife was not really pleased. I was possessed."

In the third month after being struck by lightning, then, Cicoria—once an easygoing, genial family man, almost indifferent to music—was inspired, even possessed, by music, and scarcely had time for anything else. It began to dawn on him that perhaps he had been "saved" for a special reason. "I came to think," he said, "that the only reason I had been allowed to survive was the music." I asked him whether he had been a religious man before the lightning. He had been raised Catholic, he said, but had never been particularly observant; he had some "unorthodox" beliefs, too, such as in reincarnation.

He himself, he grew to think, had had a sort of reincarnation, had been transformed and given a special gift, a mission, to "tune in" to the music that he called, half metaphorically, "the music from heaven." This came, often, in "an absolute torrent" of notes with no breaks, no rests, between them, and he would have to give it shape and form. (As he said this, I thought of Caedmon, the seventh-century Anglo-Saxon poet, an illiterate goatherd who, it was said, had received the "art of song" in a dream one night, and spent the rest of his life praising God and creation in hymns and poems.)

Cicoria continued to work on his piano playing and his compositions. He got books on notation, and soon realized that he needed a music teacher. He would travel to concerts by his favorite performers but had nothing to do with musical friends in his own town or musical activities there. This was a solitary pursuit, between himself and his muse.

I asked whether he had experienced other changes since the lightning strike—a new appreciation of art, perhaps, different taste in reading, new beliefs? Cicoria said he had become "very spiritual" since his near-death experience. He had started to read every book he could find about near-death experiences and about lightning strikes. And he had got "a whole library on Tesla," as well as anything on the terrible and beautiful power of high-voltage electricity. He felt he could sometimes see "auras" of light or energy around people's bodies—he had never seen this before the lightning bolt.

Some years passed, and Cicoria's new life, his inspiration, never deserted him for a moment. He continued to work full-time as a surgeon, but his heart and mind now centered on music. He got divorced in 2004, and the same year had a fearful motorcycle accident. He had no memory of this, but his Harley was struck by another vehicle, and he was found in a ditch, unconscious and badly injured, with broken bones, a ruptured spleen, a perforated lung, cardiac contusions, and, despite his helmet, head injuries. In spite of all this, he made a complete recovery and was back at work in two months. Neither the accident nor his head injury nor his divorce seemed to have made any difference to his passion for playing and composing music.



I have never met another person with a story like Tony Cicoria's, but I have occasionally had patients with a similar sudden onset of musical or artistic interests—including Salimah M., a research chemist. In her early forties, Salimah started to have brief periods, lasting a minute or less, in which she would get "a strange feeling"—sometimes a sense that she was on a beach that she had once known, while at the same time being perfectly conscious of her current surroundings and able to continue a conversation, or drive a car, or do whatever she had been doing. Occasionally these episodes were accompanied by a "sour taste" in the mouth. She noticed these strange occurrences, but did not think of them as having any neurological significance. It was only when she had a grand mal seizure in the summer of 2003 that she went to a neurologist and was given brain scans, which revealed a large tumor in her right temporal lobe. This had been the cause of her strange episodes, which were now realized to be temporal lobe seizures. The tumor, her doctors felt, was malignant (though it was probably an oligodendroglioma, of relatively low malignancy) and needed to be removed. Salimah wondered if she had been given a death sentence and was fearful of the operation and its possible consequences; she and her husband had been told that there might be some "personality changes" following it. But in the event, the surgery went well, most of the tumor was removed, and after a period of convalescence, Salimah was able to return to her work as a chemist.

She had been a fairly reserved woman before the surgery, who would occasionally be annoyed or preoccupied by small things like dust or untidiness; her husband said she was sometimes "obsessive" about jobs that needed to be done around the house. But now, after the surgery, Salimah seemed unperturbed by such domestic matters. She had become, in the idiosyncratic words of her husband (English was not their first language), "a happy cat." She was, he declared, "a joyologist."

Salimah's new cheerfulness was apparent at work. She had worked in the same laboratory for fifteen years and had always been admired for her intelligence and dedication. But now, while losing none of this professional competence, she seemed a much warmer person, keenly sympathetic and interested in the lives and feelings of her co-workers. Where before, in a colleague's words, she had been "much more into herself," she now became the confidante and social center of the entire lab.

At home, too, she shed some of her Marie Curie-like, work-oriented personality. She permitted herself time off from her thinking, her equations, and became more interested in going to movies or parties, living it up a bit. And a new love, a new passion, entered her life. She had been "vaguely musical," in her own words, as a girl, had played the piano a little, but music had never played any great part in her life. Now it was different. She longed to hear music, to go to concerts, to listen to classical music on the radio or on CDs. She could be moved to rapture or tears by music which had carried "no special feeling" for her before. She became "addicted" to her car radio, which she would listen to while driving to work. A colleague who happened to pass her on the road to the lab said that the music on her radio was "incredibly loud"—he could hear it a quarter of a mile away. Salimah, in her convertible, was "entertaining the whole freeway."

Like Tony Cicoria, Salimah showed a drastic transformation from being only vaguely interested in music to being passionately excited by music and in continual need of it. And with both of them, there were other, more general changes, too—a surge of emotionality, as if emotions of every sort were being stimulated or released. In Salimah's words, "What happened after the surgery—I felt reborn. That changed my outlook on life and made me appreciate every minute of it."


From the Hardcover edition.

Table of Contents

Preface

Part I: Haunted by Music
1. A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia
2. A Strangely Familiar Feeling: Musical Seizures
3. Fear of Music: Musicogenic Epilepsy
4. Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination
5. Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes
6. Musical Hallucinations

Part II: A Range of Musicality
7. Sense and Sensibility: A Range of Musicality
8. Things Fall Apart: Amusia and Dysharmonia
9. Papa Blows His Nose in G: Absolute Pitch
10. Pitch Imperfect: Cochlear Amusia
11. In Living Stereo: Why We Have Two Ears
12. Two Thousand Operas: Musical Savants
13. An Auditory World: Music and Blindness
14. The Key of Clear Green: Synesthesia and Music

Part III: Memory, Movement, and Music
15. In the Moment: Music and Amnesia
16. Speech and Song: Aphasia and Music Therapy
17. Accidental Davening: Dyskinesia and Cantillation
18. Come Together: Music and Tourette’s Syndrome
19. Keeping Time: Rhythm and Movement
20. Kinetic Melody: Parkinson’s Disease and Music Therapy
21. Phantom Fingers: The Case of the One-Armed Pianist
22. Athletes of the Small Muscles: Musician’s Dystonia

Part IV: Emotion, Identity, and Music
23. Awake and Asleep: Musical Dreams
24. Seduction and Indifference
25. Lamentations: Music and Depression
26. The Case of Harry S.: Music and Emotion
27. Irrepressible: Music and the Temporal Lobes
28. A Hypermusical Species: Williams Syndrome
29. Music and Identity: Dementia and Music Therapy

Acknowledgments
Bibliography
Index

Reading Group Guide

“Powerful and compassionate. . . . A book that not only contributes to our understanding of the elusive magic of music but also illuminates the strange workings, and misfirings, of the human mind.”
The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of Musicophilia, a book in which Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition.

1. In the preface Sacks presents differing views on the origins and evolution of the music instinct [p. x]. On first reading, which explanation is the most persuasive? Did the book change or confirm your opinion?

2. Discuss the style and structure of Musicophilia. How does Sacks blend personal anecdotes, case histories, theories, and empirical research into an engaging narrative? How does he bring out the humanity of the patients he describes? What do the explanations of complex brain functions add to the portraits of each individual?

3. Tony Cicoria “grew to think [that he] . . . had been transformed and given a special gift, a mission, to 'tune in' to the music that he called, half metaphorically, 'the music from heaven'”[p. 7]. Is art by its very nature a “spiritual” endeavor? Does Sacks's conclusion that “even the most exalted states of mind, the most astounding transformations, must have some physical basis or at least some physiological correlate in neural activity” [p. 12] belittle the value of artistic expression?

4. In chapter four (Music on the Brain: Imagery and Imagination) and chapter five (Brainworms, Sticky Music, and Catchy Tunes), Sacks explores normal musical imagery, which almost everyone experiences, and the pathological version, when “music repeats itself incessantly, sometimes maddeningly, for days on end” [p. 44]. Do his explanations of the psychological and neurological components of these phenomena support his suggestion that people are more susceptible to brainworms today because of the pervasiveness of music in our lives [p. 53]? Does Anthony Storr's theory that even unwanted music has a positive effect [p. 42] mitigate Sacks's darker outlook?

5. The stories of musical hallucinations demonstrate the disruptive power of music [pp. 54-92]. Using these stories as a starting point, discuss the distinction between the “brain” and the “mind.” What accounts for the different ways people react to involuntary mental intrusions? What do the various coping mechanisms people employ reveal about biological determination and the exercise of choice and free will?

6. “Musicality comprises a great range of skills and receptivities, from the most elementary perceptions of pitch and tempo to the highest aspects of musical intelligence and sensibility…” [p. 104]. What do Sacks's descriptions of extreme conditions like amusia and disharmonia show about the many factors—neurological, cultural, and experiential—that shape an individual's response to music?

7. Sacks also introduces people who represent the “highest aspects of musical intelligence and sensibility.” What insights do these examples of extraordinary or unusual gifts offer into average musical sensibilities? What do his examinations of absolute pitch and synesthesia, as well as his stories about musical savants and the high level of musicality among blind people, reveal about the brain's innate strengths and weaknesses?

8. The story of Clive Wearing is one of the most memorable tales in Musicophilia. While it illustrates the persistence of musical memory with clarity and precision, it is much more than a well-written “case history.” How does Sacks capture the emotional impact of Wearing's devastating amnesia without descending into melodrama or sentimentality? What details help create a sense of Wearing as a distinct and sympathetic individual? What is the significance of Deborah's description of Clive's “at-homeness in music” and their continuing love for one another [p. 228]?

9. Music therapy is used to treat conditions ranging from Parkinson's and other movement disorders to Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. In what ways does music therapy represent the perfect intersection of scientific knowledge and deep-seated personality traits like intuition, creativity, and compassion?

10. The relationship between music and universal human activities is a central theme in Musicophilia. Sacks writes, for instance, “The embedding of words, skills, or sequences in melody and meter is uniquely human. The usefulness of such an ability to recall large amounts of information, particularly in preliterate culture, is surely one reason why musical abilities have flourished in our species” [p. 260]. Drawing on the stories and studies presented in Musicophilia and on your own experiences, discuss the roles music plays in human society. Talk about its importance in creating a sense of community, evoking spiritual or religious feelings, and stimulating sexual desire, for example.

11. In a review for The New York Review of Books [March 6, 2008] Colin McGinn noted “Sacks generally confines himself to classical music, saying little specifically about jazz and rock music.” How do the emotional, psychological, and physical reactions to popular music differ from those elicited by classical music? Do you think a familiarity with or preference for certain kinds of music might influence a reader's reaction to Musicophilia?

12. What does Musicophilia show about science's ability to resolve intriguing quirks and mysteries? What do the new technology Sacks describes portend for future discoveries about how the brain works?

13. Does Musicophilia offer a new way of understanding what makes us human? Which facts, theories, or speculations did you find particularly compelling?

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Musicophilia 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 74 reviews.
Ryan_Shewcraft More than 1 year ago
Sacks relays some very interesting stories of the strange neurological cases that he has come across in his practice. The disorders sound like they were pulled straight from a science fiction book. It was a delight to read about the many tricks that the mind can play on our perceptions.

However, I was hoping for a bit more technical explanation as to why these disorder occur. I am unsure if much of this was left out because the book was meant for a general audience or if the reason is that it is not yet understood. Lacking this technical aspect, I have to admit that I eventually dulled to the novelty of the stories and found myself getting slightly bored in the second half of the book. Nonetheless, the stories are told with genuine interest and passion, making for a both interesting and enlightening read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Musicophilia is a great book that really helps me because I am a singer with autism. I read some stories in the book that captivates for the musically active person in anyone. This is really helpful
MoriartyM More than 1 year ago
Musicophilia is not a single story, but a collection of different short stories about music and the brain. The tales range from experiences we commonly have, such as songs stuck in our heads, to other less known conditions such as musical hallucinations. Oliver Sacks is not only an author, but a professor of neurology at the New York University School of Medicine as well. His expertise allows for professional input that ties the book together. The overarching message that music is a uniquely human trait is apparent throughout the book.  The organization of the book is excellent. Each chapter has a several stories that all revolve around a common theme such as absolute pitch or synesthesia. The stories are dissimilar enough to maintain interest rather than repeat each other, yet they all demonstrate his point. The main thing I like about this book is I can make several connections to it even though I've never been struck by lightning followed by a sudden case of musical genius or had an epileptic fit over music. Instead of only considering rare cases of music and the brain, Sacks also included cases involving songs that get stuck in your head, times when music just becomes a bunch of indiscernible noises, and the emotions that come along with playing or listening to music. Perhaps, I enjoyed this book because music has played such a large part in my life. While I appreciated that the book was relatively easy to understand, there could have been a deeper analysis. Sacks usually switched topics before the analysis could get too far. That being said, you don't need a background of psychology, neurology, nor music to understand this book. There are few words such as “magnetoencephalography” that might trip you up. However, taking anatomy did a fine job with preparing me to break down these kind of words. That was probably the longest word in the book anyways. If you have any interest in music and how it affects you on the level of your brain, then by all means, read this book. It's interesting to say the least and will provide excellent topics of conversation if nothing else. I would recommend other books by Oliver Sacks such as An Anthropologist on Mars, Seeing Voices, or  The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. These books are also collections of stories of people with different neurological disorders. Some of the stories from these books briefly appeared in Musicophilia. 
Guest More than 1 year ago
I did enjoy this book but had hoped that it would conclude or be laced with a bit more analysis and theory rather than just being a litany of case histories, however interesting and unusual. I managed to glean my own conclusions from the stories within without much synthesis from the author. He approaches the subject as a musician and neurologist and provides very factual accounts of some rare cases of musical disfunction and aptitude. Perhaps an social anthropologist, a linguist or a behavioral psychologist might have put his findings in more of a cultural context. As it is, his observations are confined to the physiological and symptomatic rather than addressing the deeper questions of the origins of music and it's function for our species. All in all, a great read. Maybe my expectations were a bit out of tune.
peacemover on LibraryThing 18 days ago
I really wanted to like this book, but it did not fulfill my expectations. Sacks provides ample anecdotal and interesting case histories with some theory and basis for how the brain processes music weaved in. He does not 'connect the dots' very well as far as drawing out specific findings and specifics about the how, why, and what questions about music and the brain. As a musician and one interested in how the brain works, I hoped for more from such an eminent neurologist. Interesting stories, but nothing earth-shattering here.
sarahlu82 on LibraryThing 18 days ago
I was disappointed in this book. Sacks describes the "what" of a host of music-related neurological conditions, but rarely delves into the "why" or "how." He gives snippets of information about a multitude of case studies but doesn't treat any of them with any kind of depth, which just ends up being dissatisfying. I abandoned the book halfway through, which I almost never do.
justmeRosalie on LibraryThing 18 days ago
This is a fascinating study of the effect music can have on the brain's ability to adapt itself to trauma and loss using music. Sometimes it gets to be a bit tedius, yet it never fails to present something that is just awesome. Unless you are a neuroscientist, you would probably never imagine the things that can happen when the brain deals with music...very captivating.
scroeser on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Enjoyable reading, and the case studies are fascinating. At times it felt like Sacks just flits from case study to case study, without really drawing out the deeper issues that tie them together.
TheFlamingoReads on LibraryThing 18 days ago
I have been a fan of Oliver Sacks for many years. His books are extremely well written, although they can be a little esoteric at times. His insights into the neurological aspects of mental deficits via injury, illness, or other circumstances really bring to light the reality of how incredible the human brain is. In Musicophilia, we learn how music really is the universal language and how our brain can use it in spite of debillitations such as Parkinson's. He introduces us to the phenomenom of synthesia, the remarkable story of Clive Wearing, and other instances of the incredible plasticity of the mind. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the relationship between music and the brain - I promise you'll find it fascinating.
gophergolfer on LibraryThing 18 days ago
This is a very interesting book. The case studies he mentions are fascinating. The book will be hard going for those who have no knowledge at all of brain structure. Sacks is a very well read, musically trained neurologist, who writes well about difficult subjects. One of the stories is about a gifted musician, choral leader, who suffers a brain infection and loses his short term memory completely. One day his wife, also a musician, brings in a piece of music and starts to sing it, and he joins in, remembering the words completely. Able to conduct a chorale, although he would need help getting to the session, being unable to remember the time, date, or place.
BlankReg on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite non-fiction writers. He tells many stories of people with modes of perception radically altered by disease, injury, genetics, or even the unexplained. I thoroughly enjoyed his previous works such as "Awakenings" and "An Anthropologist on Mars" as well as his recent departure from neurology to autobiography in "Uncle Tungsten".This book, dealing with the neurological impact of music, is a bit of a disappointment in several ways. The first that struck me is how much of a re-hash of his old books it is. He is constantly referring to cases covered (in much more detail, to be sure) in his previous books. As someone who has read them I found these reprises interesting, but only to a point. Far too much of the book is spent reviewing these and not really covering new ground, I can only imagine that for someone who has not read the referred works, reading this one might be very frustrating without the depth of background one gains from reading the more detailed account.In Sacks' previous works, he puts the disparate pieces of the patients' stories together to paint a detailed and always sympathetic portrait of his subjects. Due I suspect to the terse nature of the retrospectives in this book, that never happens. To make matters worse, the last section of the book contains some anecdotes that suggest some of the conclusions he drew in the previous chapters may be incorrect, yet he does nothing to integrate these into the rest of the book. The reader is left with a collection of mostly unrelated anecdotes which Dr. Sacks does little if anything to integrate int a whole.The book si not al bad. There are some new stories and even some of the old stories get some retrospective in light of new scientific data, and some of the analyses of composers and musicians are rewarding. These rewards are scattered throughout what, in the end, is a rather disjointed and scattershot book.
bnbooklady on LibraryThing 18 days ago
4.5 out of 5. From the acclaimed neurologist and author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat, An Anthropologist on Mars, and Awakenings, comes a fascinating collection of essays about the complex relationship between music and the brain. Sacks explains that humans¿ appreciation for music is scientifically mysterious because it serves no real evolutionary or biological purpose, yet it clearly has important effects on our functioning, our thoughts, and our emotions. Included are essays about an individual who, after being struck by lightning, develops a sudden and intense interest in music and ability to hear and compose music in his head; an individual who loses his ability to ¿see¿ music; and a woman who can no longer hear music because she is plagued by a loud and constant ringing in her ears. Sacks explains the neurological phenomena behind his patients¿ symptoms and invites readers to examine their relationships with music and consider what would happen if that relationship underwent a sudden change.I found Musicophilia interesting on many levels because music has played a profound role in my life and because my background in psychology allowed me to understand most of what Sacks writes about. A working knowledge of basic neurology would be useful but is not necessary to appreciate and enjoy this book. One could potentially skip over the scientific portions and focus on the patients¿ emotional experiences and still get the ¿flavor¿ of what this book is all about, but instead, I¿d recommend keeping a dictionary/intro neurology text/website close at hand¿why not learn something new?
blueslibrarian on LibraryThing 18 days ago
This very interesting book examines how people perceive music. Dr. Sacks looks at how the human brain absorbs music, and he tells interesting tales about the musical abilities of people with perfect pitch and people who "see" musical notes and keys as colors in their own mind. Also fascinating are Sacks' stories of people who have suffered brain injuries and strokes and the effects these have on their ability to perceive music. One of the interesting bits of information is the research finding that upwards for 50 percent infants with a severe visual impairment compensate with extraordinary hearing and musical comprehension, including developing perfect pitch. Sacks' stories come from interviews with patients and with a wide range of musicians, and also with doctors and psychologists working on the cutting edge of neurological research. This book is full of interesting tidbits about music and science and is recommended to anyone interested in the science behind music.
drbubbles on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Not bad in its own right, but not as satisfying as his earlier works. It's a collection of anecdotes and neurological speculation and surmise, mostly superficial because it's a complex topic that (relative to its complexity) has barely begun to be investigated clinically. I suppose much of the surmise could be considered hypotheses, but that doesn't make it any more satisfying. It's nice to see that these questions are being asked but, dammit, I want to know the answers, because the anecdotes are so fascinating. I guess I feel teased, in a way.My other response to this book is that I am now terrified of having a stroke. Cancer and heart disease kill the self all at once; brain diseases kill it piecemeal.
midiane on LibraryThing 18 days ago
a truly fascinating book. easy to engage with although the science is quite involved. but real people are involved. now there's a scientific reason behind brainworms and musicality...
mojomomma on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Sacks discusses the power of music and its effect on the brain. Music can reach people with impaired brain function such as amnesia and dementia.
datrappert on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Fascinating for anyone interested in the brain and in music, particularly classical music. This book is like having a very smart friend sit down and tell you a wonderful story. Perhaps while having a couple of drinks. A bit uneven - some parts are more interesting than others, but highly memorable and educational.
harperhaven on LibraryThing 18 days ago
I am a musician but I could not finish this book. While the case studies were interesting, they felt very random with no solid focus. This was an audiobook for me and maybe the reader was part of the problem for me. I don't frequently stop a book before finishing it.
nevusmom on LibraryThing 18 days ago
This was interesting to me on many levels. My daughter has aural "auras" prior to having a seizure, she and I have perfect pitch, I have worked with people struggling with amusia. The stories were well told.One question I have that has never really been answered: why is there music? What drives people to create it, to perform it, to listen to it? I know that Dr. Sacks does not speculate, but reports what he sees. And I am grateful for the scientific approach. But every now and then I crave a philosophical discussion. Still looking...
Esta1923 on LibraryThing 18 days ago
"Music was made for blind people," said one of Oliver Sacks patients. While we can understand the value of music for blind people, we know it reaches us all. The case studies reported here describe how DIFFERENTLY music reaches us. (My husband and I hear music quite differently. He is a professional musician and I am not.) A person who uses music as a background is hearing the same piece differently from one who pauses and gives it full attention. Readers of "A Leg to Stand On" will recall the value of music to Sacks during his ordeal, and many who have heard him speak know he swims to music. It's not surprising that this book came from him.
fundevogel on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Note: I listened to this as an audiobookInteresting book, though much of it is more strongly related to neuroscience than music. The thing is I was more interested in the sections where the connection to music was overshadowed by the neurology. The sections more strictly on topic had a tendency to be repetitive and somewhat banal. Sachs also had a somewhat irritating habit of over-referencing specific music. It made sense to do so with a lot of his patients' stories since often the type of music had a relationship to their case, but when Sachs tells his personal stories it comes off like he just wants to display how evolved his musical tastes are. By some amazing coincidence (maybe) almost everyone mentioned in the book seems to almost exclusively listen to classical music, invariably Bach or Chopin.I probably would have liked this more if it was read by the author. Professional readers always sound clinical to me, like they're more interested in proper enunciation than what they're reading. When authors read their books they are much more engaged in the reading and the content comes more alive for me.
SwitchKnitter on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Oliver Sacks writes books about odd neurological problems. This volume is on the brain and its relationship to music. Sacks talks about people who perceive music as cacophony; advanced dementia patients who still remember the words to dozen of songs; people who are hypermusical; differences in the brains of professional musicians compared to the rest of us; and more. It's quite interesting, although I don't think I'll pick up any of his other books. Reading case histories depresses me, especially when they involve dementia or a loss of some ability. Still -- good book. Worth reading.
ncnsstnt on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Some interesting chapters but not the best Sacks book. Some chapters are just anecdotes and seem to serve no greater purpose to the overall narrative. Sacks also gets riddled down with too many unnecessary notes. He also fails to discuss any type of music other than classical (his own favorite) and only passingly refers to jazz one time in a seemingly derogatory way: this woman used to enjoy classical music but then she got sick in the head and now she loves jazz? That's crazy! Too bad. Could have been 200 pages shorter and much better.
statethatiamin on LibraryThing 18 days ago
I should preface my review with an admission that I thought the book was going to take a different approach than it did. When I found out that a neuroscientist authored a book on music and the brain, being an aspiring neuroscientist myself, I jumped on it. I thought this book was going to outline leading theories on the particular neural mechanisms involved with music listening/creation, etc... Instead Dr. Sacks' focus was the role of music in the treatment of various brain diseases. This should have occurred to me earlier; Dr. Sacks has a taste for pathology (vis-a-vis "The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat"). Anyway, my mixup was not the author's fault, it was mine. Regardless, this was a very enjoyable read. Music's power to bring lucidity and spontaneity to severely demented corroborates what I have always guessed about the capacity of music.
breic2 on LibraryThing 18 days ago
Could not get through it. Superficial case study after case study---some just a sentence or two long. Over and over. But most of the case studies add nothing to the story. There are few conclusions or insights.