Sunday, March 11, 2001

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

by Oliver Sacks

Twenty-four case studies, grouped under four rubrics: Losses (amnesia, total loss of proprioception, etc); Excesses (Tourette’s, a Korsakov’s patient in a state of constant, frantic confabulation as a defense against amnesia, etc); Transports (cases of involuntary reminiscence and heightened senses); and The World of the Simple (autistic and retarded patients, mostly with eidetic powers).

Though it’s much more clinical in style than An Anthropologist on Mars, this is still an interesting collection.  Sacks makes a good case that a mind-set which is entirely abstract (the most fascinating titular patient) is even more alien than one which grasps only concretes, like the autistic.  He also critiques the “working vs. deficient” model of neurology, depicting phenomena and mental breakthroughs that can only come into being outside of the laboratory and traditional testing.  Aside from his arguments, as a collection of anecdotes, this book is enthralling and terrifying, an amazing look into just a few of the wondrous, bizarre ways mind can malfunction. 

four stars