Neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks adds The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat: and Other Clinical Tales to his already impressive list of works, which includes bestsellers Awakenings and Musicophilia. Although the included case histories are intriguing, they are not what make the book so astounding. Rather, it is the way in which Sacks tells the patients’ stories, an approach which skillfully weaves into the case histories messages about the overcoming of obstacles and the relentless pursuit of an optimal ending. Many of his stories tell of patients who have been greatly troubled by their neurological disorders, but have persevered in overcoming them, staying committed to their recovery and treatment no matter how impossible it seemed that they would get better.
The title of the book in itself is thought-provoking and interests prospective readers. However, it does not accurately represent the true nature of the cases. The book’s name diminishes the extraordinary nature of these patients’ disorders by making it seem as though their conditions are almost comical. In reality Sacks tells many stories of patients who have utilized their condition to enhance their lives, or whose condition has strengthened one of their mental skills, such as in music or writing. Patients of this kind are best represented by Rebecca, the patient of focus in Chapter 21, who has myopia, a partial cleft palate, and other cerebral effects. Sacks tells of why she had been called a “moron” or a “fool” throughout her life, but mainly focuses on her moving “poetic power” (Sacks 179). This ability was what was most stunning to Sacks and his readers, as Rebecca’s physical capabilities were far below the average person, but her mind far more literate.
Sacks’ style, though it can be long-winded and at times confusing, can also be poetic and entrancing. The way he tells the stories of these patients draws his audience into his world of interaction with each subject. Each chapter leaves the reader feeling as though they have met, observed, and interacted with the patient just as Dr. Sacks did. The way in which Sacks describes his cases allows the reader to fully understand each condition’s anomalies. For instance, he writes of a Tourette’s patient whose tics were different than those of the average “Touretter”. He describes her tics as being a “caricature” of the people she passed. He further develops the image of this woman, describing her actions as being “frenetic” and her imitations to be “kaleidoscopic” (Sacks 122). Sacks depicts his patients in such a way that their stories are far more moving than they would be with only a medical term assigned to their conditions. The image Sacks creates allows his readers to understand and connect to the patient of discussion, rather than study them as a doctor would.
Readers can, and should, purchase The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. The $15.99 spent on the book will be well worth it, as the lessons it teaches and the knowledge it provides are invaluable. The stories in this Touchstone publication, each as compelling as the next, are full of vivid descriptions, moving stories, and lessons that are life-changing.
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