Saturday, March 14, 2020

Oliver Sacks - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat

Here Dr. Sacks recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders: people 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.

Comment: I got curious about this book way back, while I was still a teenager. My psychology teacher at high school was telling us about how important memory is and how that might have a stronger influence in our state of mind than what we think and she mentioned this book. I wrote the title down but time passed, I was more into other things, I forgot about it (hah! ) and while at the university it got in my path again. Then I decided to buy it, now I finally picked it and I must say while it was immensely entertaining, it was not as fascinating as I have imagined.

In this non fiction, the author compelled several of his cases while working as a neurologist and how all his work was centered around the notion of memory or how the brain stores that for us. However, if something goes wrong with the brain for some reason, memory loss or memory change might significantly affect the patient's well being.

I won't take too long with this comment as I don't have enough knowledge to really address the subject conveniently.
I went into reading this book with some expectations because of the examples the author would give about each case he would introduce made me imagine this would be a heartfelt read.
In fact, each tale/case was interesting on its own merit, even though there were two or three I preferred.

This is a book with many references of other authors/doctors/experts who had their own cases and with whom this author based his approach to each case. I did expect this formal/professional side but I must say it was also a little too technical at times and I didn't always feel such a connection to the plights of those people, not just because it's so out of most people's experiences but because the clinical descriptions made the story feel dull.
I understand why but the notion of "sympathy" invoked in the blurb just wasn't there for most of the examples.
Like I said, only two or three cases were told/presented in such a way I felt the patient's trouble and difficulties appeared like touching stories. 

Another reader has commented on GR how the stories are told or from a too clinical POV or with colloquial add-ons that compel the reader. It's rare we have a good balance between the formal and the informal but deep down, a detail I also noticed is that each case is presented, the author talks about it in a more or less understandable manner and often has a post note explaining how the patient evolved, what new information he got with time and so on but besides the presentation of the fact and a little setting, not that much is explained - in an understandable way for the average public - of why those people had those problems. The ones who developed the neurological issues not because of tumors... why then, how did that happen? 
I think a bit more setting, more development would have helped.

I liked reading the book, i liked the cases presented and the notion we are amazing beings, with so many parts making up our bodies and our selves and if something goes wrong, all our parts might suffer.
The subject was a good one, yes. I'm interested in these weird/neurological issues. However, the way the author wrote about them and his often interpretations seemed a little off. I admit I thought I'd enjoy this one more but it was definitely entertaining.
Grade: 7/10

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