The man who mistook his wife for a hat and other clinical tales

by Oliver W. Sacks

Hardcover, 1985




New York : Summit Books


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's 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'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. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine's ultimate responsibility: "the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject."… (more)

Media reviews

In addition to possessing the technical skills of a 20th-century doctor, the London-born Dr. Sacks, a professor of clinical neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, sees the human condition like a philosopher-poet. The resultant mixture is insightful, compassionate, moving
Show More
and, on occasion, simply infuriating. One could call these essays neurological case histories, and correctly so, although Dr. Sacks' own expression -''clinical tales'' - is far more apt. Dr. Sacks tells some two dozen stories about people who are also patients, and who manifest strange and striking peculiarities of perception, emotion, language, thought, memory or action. And he recounts these histories with the lucidity and power of a gifted short-story writer.
Show Less
1 more
The book deserves to be widely read whether for its message, or as an easy introduction to neurological symptoms, or simply as a collection of moving tales. The reader should, however, bring to it a little scepticism, for outside Sack's clinic, things do not always fall out quite so pat.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Matke
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a wonderful book about people who suffer from a variety ofneurological disorders. Note that: the book is about people and how these diseases effect their lives.

Dr. Sacks divides his book into four sections, orgainized by the effect of the disorder on the
Show More
patient. The author is possessed of a powerful imagination, an empath for his patients, and an insatiable curiosity about the workings of the human brain. He uses these traits here to illuminate the lives he portrays, causing the reader to be both amazed at human strength and courage and dismayed by the ravages casued by quirks, diseases or defects. This is a moving, thought-provoking, heartbreaking book. Well worth reading.
Show Less
LibraryThing member nandadevi
Is Sack´s book nothing more than a sophisticated version of the old time freak show where some of these people might have ended up in the good old bad old days? These case studies run the risk of turning other people´s tragedies into entertainment, which makes the reader as culpable as the
Show More
author. And yet... And yet there is something uplifting about these stories, these people whose stories are being told. In that sense (and he tries to convey it), telling their stories is about honoring their lives. It is not just about how they and their families try to live with the cards they have been dealt (sometimes they don´t), or what they have overcome. Sometimes it is just about how we are; more remarkably varied and complex than we can imagine. Someone like Oliver Sacks helps us understand this through the stories of these people. Which is a kind of gift his patients have given to him, and which he has passed onto us.

He could have explained this better, but the defence of his position might have taken longer to explicate than the stories themselves. He acknowledges – in the preface – the ´selfless help and generosity of the patients … who, knowing (as they often did) that they themselves might not be able to be helped directly, yet permitted, even encouraged, me to write of their lives, in the hope that others might learn and understand, and, one day perhaps be able to cure.´ But as I read the case studies, and picked up – between the lines as it were – just a hint of a little too much satisfaction (to say ebullient joy might be too harsh) every now and then in Sack´s narrative as he comes across some new and interesting defect, my doubts returned. The defect is always accompanied by a real human, someone whose life in many of the earlier cases is blighted and diminished.

But then I read the last section - what Sack´s called the world of the simple – I was reassured. I can not recommend these stories too highly, and most of all Rebecca´s. I don´t know if it essential to come at these stories at the end of the book, having steeped yourself in the complexity of the mind and having gained a sense of how little we know, and how little we can do to help people with neurological defects. Would they seem less uplifting? Perhaps. But they are uplifting, and not in the sense of evoking pity, or suprise in the sense of many of the earlier stories. But in the sense that if we care to look, care to make an effort and care to understand there is the potential for wonderful things in some that we consider the most disadvantaged and unpromising. And by inference in all of us, and in ourselves. As he brings these stories to this conclusion I think Sack´s has squared the account. This is justifiably rated in some of the lists of the best books of all time.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Snakeshands
Completely changed my philosophy of mind. Very accessibly, and anecdotally, takes a look at the ways a person's entire personality or concept of the world can be warped by simple and localized damage to the brain. Sacks is definitely playing the affable old med school prof here, spinning anecdotes
Show More
into sweet little stories about the strange yet lovable people he's met in his research. Still, his writing is fantastically clear and the stories drag you in, from the man with no long term memory (so much stranger and more affecting than depicted in the movie Memento--and I love that movie), or the loss of the hidden sixth sense of knowing you're in your own body.If there's any clear starting point for someone interested in popular cognitive science, it's absolutely here. A little of the science has been surpassed since then, but the basics are all there and, and the discipline's way of looking at the mind is branded into your brain.
Show Less
LibraryThing member damsorrow
Thank you, fuzzy brain doctor Sacks! You give me a lot to think about about memory and how abnormal neural pathology can show us the truth and beauty of how normal brains function, even though this book was written before I was born.
LibraryThing member barbaretta
This book is a collection of "case studies" describing how a range of neurological conditions affect the brain and people's behaviours. Sacks is a neurologist, so one can assume the cases are accurately portrayed. On the one hand, this book could be regarded as a fascinating insight into brain
Show More
diseases and disorders. On the other,it could be regarded as a professional person,exploiting the distressing situations in which some of his patients found themselves to add to his probably already substantial income, and to satisfy the voyeuristic curiosity of the broader public. I'm in the second camp. I wonder how the patients would have felt, seeing themselves and their distressing conditions so publicly portrayed. For me, this book overstepped the ethical line. It was written to be entertaining about a subject that shouldn't be entertaining. I found it to be exploitative and distasteful.
Show Less
LibraryThing member murderbydeath
This has been on my shelf for at least 10 years, and I don't know why it took me so long to pick it up; I'm a sucker for case studies, and Sacks doesn't disappoint in that regard.

This is a collection of previously published case studies of various neurological disorders, and reading it reinforces
Show More
my sense that truly, every day is a miracle when your brain isn't forsaking you. I alternated between awe, horror, indignation, anger, sadness and, throughout a growing, overwhelming amount of respect for those that dedicate their lives to their patients. Sacks impressed me as both a doctor and a human.

The book wasn't perfect - Sacks had a tendency to meander through citations of similar cases, or other doctors' hypothesis, and when that happened, my eyes got a bit glassy, and I skimmed, but overall it's an incredibly readable collection. I wish there was more follow up for so many of these people - I'm left curious and hopeful that they all found some space in the world for themselves.
Show Less
LibraryThing member AlisonY
This best-selling book by the neurologist / writer Sacks was simply fascinating. This is neurology for the layman, split up into easily absorbed bite-sized case studies from Sack's patient files.

The first section centres on losses - some patients suffer from disorders which affect the memory,
Show More
others have lost the ability to undertake normal motor functions, and some have phantom limbs where amputations have occurred. All of the cases are tragic and yet fascinating in equal measure.

The second part focuses on excesses, looking at specific cases of patients with Tourettes, a patient with sudden lack of inhibition brought on by syphilis contracted 70 years previously, and a man considered a riot to all around him, who confabulates in a hilarious manner yet sadly has no true understanding of self remaining.

In 'Transports', Sacks talks about fascinating cases such as the woman who suddenly starts hearing Irish music continuously for months on end, and has previously inaccessible childhood memories awakened by the music. Perhaps my favourite was the case of the man who, after taking mind-bending drugs, had a super heightened sense of smell for a year, to the point where he could sniff out people like a dog.

The final section, 'The World of the Simple', exemplifies just how amazingly complex the human brain is. In many of the cases cited, despite the patients being scientifically considered retarded with very low IQs, they had amazing cognitive abilities, such as the ability to learn 2,000 operas in their entirety, or to instantaneously perform complex mathematical computations. These heightened abilities of siloed intelligence are juxtaposed with their general neurological limitations, and Sacks explains how many such patients can be 'reached' by vehicles such as music, drama, nature and numbers.

With all of the cases Sacks addresses in this book, the brain injuries or conditions are never cut and dry tales of limitations; the immense power and mystery of the human brain (and strength of character) consistently prevails, totally absorbing you as a reader.

Captivating, bizarre and thought-provoking, this is a fabulous insight into the enigma of the human brain. Our health is our wealth - we have much to be thankful for.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
The Brain is funny organ. I work at a hospital, see all manner of strangeness with brain injuries. Sacks shows us, in vivid, sometimes humorous, often heart-rending detail, what can happen when the brain malfunctions.

The most moving part for me was when Sacks asked one of the Sisters looking after
Show More
the Lost Mariner, if he had a soul. That story itself was worth the cost of the book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
I suspect that I am only being mean and deducting one star from this book because it had the temerity to discomfort me. Accepting that the information therein is accurate, this book challenges all concepts of intelligence, free will and a purpose to life.

This book is a series of studies by the
Show More
author, of people whose thought processes are at variant to the norm. Sometimes this is due to illness, or accident but on occasion, just that people have been born with a different way of thinking.

The most amazing part of this book is, however, the resilience of these people. I would tear my hair out, were I to instantly forget anything that I was told. The frustration of living in a constantly 'new' world would fry my brains and yet, a chap so burdened, smiles and seems to happily accept his fate, without being a drooling mental wreck.

This is not a book to read at bedtime, as I can confirm: it leads to some most disquieting dreams!
Show Less
LibraryThing member LynnB
Oliver Sacks presents a series of case studies from his own files to explain various neurological conditions. I was awed by the compassion with which he views his patients. Writing decades ago, he was ahead of his time in terms of valuing each patient for his or her strengths and uniqueness. His
Show More
thoughts about what would constitute a "cure" for various patients, and what would be lost in each case, touched my heart and gave me a much deeper perspective on valuing diversity.

I found the book difficult at times because Dr. Sacks seems to vary between writing for the general reader and writing for those who study neurology. There are several references to other doctors and case histories that I was not familiar with, and which are not explained in the book. That being said, it is still worth reading to gain insight into humanity, the human brain and the human spirit.
Show Less
LibraryThing member flydodofly
As interesting as individual stories were, and as open the approach, I could not escape the guilty feeling I am peeping onto tragic lives for my own entertainment, insight, name it what you like. Oliver Sacks was a fascinating, interested and well-meaning personand has done a world of good for both
Show More
science and the understanding of it, but his voice in the book did not help me get rid of the feeling I mention above. Otherwise, the world introduced in this book is the one strange and familiar at the same time and therefore even more difficult to digest at times.
- This unquestionability of the body, its certainty, is, for Wittgenstein, the start and basis of all knowledge and certainty.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Moniica
Dr Sacks describes some of the extraordinary patients whom he has studied as a neurologist. From the mentally retarded, to a man who had a dream about being a dog which came slightly true the next morning with his heightened senses - in particular, smell.
I have enjoyed reading this book and all the
Show More
interesting people involved. Never would I have thought of half these things being possible, nor even imagined such a thing.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ashishg
A fascinating collection of amazing and unimaginable mental illness (neuropsychological) revoking horror, sadness and wonder at the same time. You cannot imagine what could go wrong with you as much as you try.
LibraryThing member keylawk
One of the first practitioners to write about the clinical manifestations of brain "deficits" -- permanent lapses, dystoniae, dysfunction, etc. -- as if those suffering these mere symptoms were IMPORTANT. Doctor Sacks has written a collection of "biographies" of people you look at in a whole new
Show More
Show Less
LibraryThing member dvf1976
This book was probably a reference for every neurological/psychological disorder movie that Hollywood has produced.

I see stories similar to Memento, Rain Man, and Awakenings (which this guy also wrote/experienced).
LibraryThing member sgerbic
Reviewed June 1999

Second time reading this book. I owed it at one time but loaned it out somewhere (2008 just purchased it again). The first time reading it I was enthralled by the stories but lost in the tech talk. we are asked to read and report on a psychology book, and I thought of this one
Show More
and decided to reread it now that I am so much more "educated". Well the stories are still very interesting but the tech talk is still there. I also find De. Sacks way over my head in areas of music and philosophy, he quotes poets and authors I've never heard of and generally just runs on. (It's now 2008, wonder if I'm educated enough to try again?) how was this book ever passed by an editor I will never know. Either it's a book for reference by other neurologists or it is a book for the curious. Dr. Sacks compassion for humans is charming, but then would you really expect him to write himself any other way? The title story I didn't enjoy as much and the stories of, "the Lost Marine," "The Twins," and "A Walking Grove."I would have liked to have seen a lot more follow up and less searching for souls that he seems to be hoping to find. Apparently Dr. Sacks is the doctor from "Awakenings," which I loved and seen many times. In the movie the doctor had little to do with humans and rarely related to them until he woke several. This Oliver Sacks sees to be a strong people person. (2008 edit) have Since read the book, "Awakenings" and realized how cleaned up the movie was. Very tragic story originally.
Show Less
LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a collection of essays by a neurologist, written about some of his most unusual and extraordinary patients. He divides the cases into four sections - deficits, excesses, transports, and the "simple" - but what unites all of them is the suggestions they make
Show More
about how amazing, complex, and nuanced our brains/psyches must be.

Oliver Sacks is a caring doctor, and he writes about every one of his patients with compassion and genuine interest in them. But some of the cases are horrifying - the woman who has been 'disembodied' by her mind, or another who is trapped within a 'super-Tourette's' in which she runs through mimicry of everyone around her rapidly. Fascinating, but also heartbreaking when Sacks concludes that their condition has not, or cannot, be treated, as some of them cannot. This is an amazing book which opens up the complexities of our neurology, and how delicately we, and our 'self,' have been crafted
Show Less
LibraryThing member develynlibrary
THe Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and other Clinical Tales is a facinating recount of clinical cases involoving neurological disorders. A witty, humorous, and intellectually stimulating read. A must read for anyone intrigued by the inner working of the human mind.

Facinating but still really
Show More
easy to read. Each story is unique and keeps the reader wanting to turn the page. Very fun but also very educational all in one.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Whaddney
A beautifully written set of accounts of people suffering from right brain disorders.
LibraryThing member CKmtl
A fascinating collection of neurological case studies, compiled by a curious and sympathetic doctor.

It can take a while to get acclimated to Sacks' somewhat florid writing style, and his habit of waxing philosophical can be off-putting to a read who is more interested in the cases than in their
Show More
Show Less
LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Interesting, eye-opening, slightly scary and pointless. I kept waiting for some solution to people’s problems or a unifying theme for his clinical portraits, but there is none. At best this is a fascinating window into how very wrong the human brain can go and sometimes still function well in
Show More
other areas and even excel in some. At worst it’s a useless collection of clinical essays meant to communicate to his peers how wise, insightful and caring the author is. I’m not sure, but I do hope nothing like this ever happens to me although if it does I think I’d much rather be one of those who has lost part of herself, but never realizes it.
Show Less
LibraryThing member iayork
A Fascinating Read : A neurologist, Oliver Sacks, discussed and brought to light the neurological disorders in case by case in this book with an interesting choice of the title: "Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat." This is the first book by Sacks that I have read, and I found his writing style to
Show More
be quite enjoyable.

Not only that, this book contains an extraordinary collection of cases of individuals with neurological disorders that brings one to understand a bit on how human brain works. While this book was first published in the early 1970s and the understanding of the human brain mechanism has changed and increased since then, I found this book to be very insightful.

Out of all the cases I have read from this book, I found the following cases (or stories) to be of great interest to me: "Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," "The Man Who Fell Out of Bed," "Witty Ticcy Ray," "Cupid's disease," and "The Autist Artist."

This book is a fascinating read and deeply recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member nevusmom
I am amazed at the things that can go wrong in the brain. The author presents some unusual cases he has faced, in a somewhat clinical manner. Having read many case studies that were directed only towards doctors, I think Sacks did a fine job of using plain English to describe what was going on with
Show More
the patients. Still, the habit of writing dispassionately about a case is clearly ingrained in him. There were a couple of instances where it was apparent he really "clicked" with a particular patient, and in those cases, his writing became more personal.

A fascinating book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member TheWasp
Fascinating. These case studies highlight the amazing abilities of the brain to function in adversity. the passion for his subject, and compassion for his patient is very evident.
LibraryThing member TheCrow2
Another look into the strange human psyche through the eyes of Oliver Sacks. If you like his other book, especially An antropologist on Mars, you'll like this...



Page: 0.8693 seconds