The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales

  • by Oliver Sacks
  • Narrated by Jonathan Davis, Oliver Sacks - introduction
  • 9 hrs and 36 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

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' 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".
PLEASE NOTE: Some changes have been made to the original manuscript with the permission of Oliver Sacks.

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Audible Editor Reviews

Groundbreaking neurologist Oliver Sacks has written a number of best-selling books on his experiences in the field, some of which have been adapted into film and even opera. Often criticized by fellow scientists for his writerly and anecdotal approach to cases, he is nevertheless beloved by the general public precisely for his willingness to exercise compassion toward his unusual subjects. In his introduction to this audiobook, Sacks himself explains that much of the content is now quite outdated, but he hopes, proudly in his soft British lisp, that The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat still resonates for its positive attitude and openness toward the neurological conditions described therein.
Audible featured narrator Jonathan Davis is more than up to the task of bringing these case studies to life. He adopts a tone that is both sympathetic and authoritative. In fact, he sounds very much like the actor William Daniels, who voiced the car in the television show Knight Rider, or for a younger generation, played Principal Feeny in the television show Boy Meets World. The stories in this book concern matters of science, to be sure, but they also contain quite as much adventure into uncharted territory as either of those television shows.
The cases are divided into four sections: losses, excesses, transports, and the world of the simple. "Losses" involves people who lack certain abilities, for example, the ability of facial recognition. "Excesses" deals with people who have extra abilities, for example, the tics associated with Tourette's Syndrome. "Transports" involves people who hallucinate, for example, a landscape or music from childhood. "The world of the simple" deals with autism and mental retardation. Though this last section is perhaps the most obviously scientifically outdated section of the book, it also best demonstrates Sacks' deep feeling for the unique gifts of his subjects. Indeed, Davis anchors his delivery of the facts in these admirable empathies, demonstrating that in terms of the cultural perception of neurological conditions, Sacks' early work still has much to teach us. —Megan Volpert

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What the Critics Say

"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." (Chicago Sun-Times)
"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." (New York magazine)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

A Clinician's eYe, but a Poet's HEART

I love how Sacks, through his small clinical vignettes, exposes the complex, narrative powers of the brain. Written with a clinician's eye, but a poet's heart, I also love how he is able to show how these patients with all sorts of neurological deficits, disabilities, and divergences are able to adapt and even thrive despite their neurological damage. For the most part, they are able to find "a new health, a new freedom" through music, inner narratives, etc. They are able to achieve a "Great Health," a peace and a paradoxical wellness THROUGH their illness.
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- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"

I rarely stop reading a book halfway through...

This book feels like it was written in 1885, not 1985. Granted, it isn't Oliver Sacks' fault that the brain is so poorly understood, but he comes across as a gentleman scientist in the Victorian era who studies patients in his parlor. He often uses very demeaning and unscientific vocabulary to describe people. In the chapter I'm on now he describes a man as an "amiable simpleton," and often refers to behaviors as bizarre and strange. Seriously? You are a neuroscientist man! If a person walked in with blood running down their leg no one would say, How Bizarre! That blood is supposed to be on the Inside of the body! What the heck is is going there?

I expected to be educated about brain function, but in most cases he doesn't explain what happened and why, but does throw in the occasional technical term with no explanation. For instance I can summarize the chapter on a woman who had a stroke thus: a woman had a stroke. One whole side of her brain is dead. She can't see anything to the left. Isn't that bizarre? He hooked up a video camera to show her the left side of her face on the right. She freaked out. End of chapter. Another: Johnny hasn't been able to retain any memories since 1946. He might have killed part of his brain with alcohol but who knows. The author doesn't seem particularly interested. Johnny thinks he is 17 but he is 60, so the doctor shows him his face in a mirror. HA HA! You are old! Johnny freaks out. He wonders if Johnny still has a soul (????) and the sisters at the home say he does because he pays attention during mass. Oh and he likes to garden. And he never gets better.

That's been more or less the shape of each chapter. Person has traumatic accident or illness, manifests difficulty doing ______, the doctor makes notes on all their "bizarre" symptoms, and can't do anything to help them. In one chapter he DOES help a woman regain use of her hands and I was so relieved. Finally!

I'm putting this book because I've learned nothing much I didn't know about the brain. And if I am going to read sad stories about people struggling to live day to day life I need to feel that something was accomplished by recording their stories, but there is little evidence in this book that studying these people would result in scientists being able to help someone else.
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- Rusty

Book Details

  • Release Date: 06-21-2011
  • Publisher: Audible Studios