"Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls "musical misalignments." Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with "amusia," to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds - for everything but music. Dr. Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson's disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people who are deeply disoriented by Alzheimer's or schizophrenia." - Back cover.
There's the man who got struck by lightning, and then a few weeks afterwards suddenly found that the creation of new music was flowing through his mind, "like turning a radio on". There are musical hallucinations; interesting stories about music and synesthesia (when one hears the key of D for instance, one sees a colour - plainly, not just in imagination); about how people trapped in parkinsonian spasms suddenly move freely and easily to music; about absolute pitch, the ability to hear a note and know exactly what it is, as plainly as we see green and know that it is green. Stuff like that, told with a human warmth and interest in the people being discussed.
I came away from the book with the sense that music is more than we think it is - far more than a series of sounds. It's something that different people understand on such different levels (regardless of education and training), and something of extraordinary power. It's as if music is already out there, existing on its own without human intervention, and it's only our own varying perception that enables us to access or understand it.
I found Musicophilia interesting on many levels because music has played a profound role in my life and because my background in psychology allowed me to understand most of what Sacks writes about. A working knowledge of basic neurology would be useful but is not necessary to appreciate and enjoy this book. One could potentially skip over the scientific portions and focus on the patients’ emotional experiences and still get the “flavor” of what this book is all about, but instead, I’d recommend keeping a dictionary/intro neurology text/website close at hand…why not learn something new?
One question I have that has never really been answered: why is there music? What drives people to create it, to perform it, to listen to it? I know that Dr. Sacks does not speculate, but reports what he sees. And I am grateful for the scientific approach. But every now and then I crave a philosophical discussion. Still looking...
Interesting book, though much of it is more strongly related to neuroscience than music. The thing is I was more interested in the sections where the connection to music was overshadowed by the neurology. The sections more strictly on topic had a tendency to be repetitive and somewhat banal. Sachs also had a somewhat irritating habit of over-referencing specific music. It made sense to do so with a lot of his patients' stories since often the type of music had a relationship to their case, but when Sachs tells his personal stories it comes off like he just wants to display how evolved his musical tastes are. By some amazing coincidence (maybe) almost everyone mentioned in the book seems to almost exclusively listen to classical music, invariably Bach or Chopin.
I probably would have liked this more if it was read by the author. Professional readers always sound clinical to me, like they're more interested in proper enunciation than what they're reading. When authors read their books they are much more engaged in the reading and the content comes more alive for me.
The case studies reported here describe how DIFFERENTLY music reaches us. (My husband and I hear music quite differently. He is a professional musician and I am not.) A person who uses music as a background is hearing the same piece differently from one who pauses and gives it full attention.
Readers of "A Leg to Stand On" will recall the value of music to Sacks during his ordeal, and many who have heard him speak know he swims to music. It's not surprising that this book came from him.
I am finding this book an amusing read, if only for the fascinating case studies, but as a lay scientist I'm getting a little lost in the brain terminology and not coming away with satisfying hypotheses about why these phenomena occur. I guess that's sort of the point... this is not a science textbook or a regimented clinical study, but rather an exploration.
This was more alarming than I thought it would be. As a profoundly tone deaf person, sometimes I like reading things about music because it all seems so science fictiony to me. But when Oliver Sacks talks about it ... it's too weird having him describe ME in terms of a pathology. As we can all expect, the book's essay chapters deal with various ways that music issues -- usually either great musical talent or great musical defect -- intersect with the things we know about the workings of the human brain.
Recommended: I think more musical people might enjoy this, but overall, I don't think it's quite as successful as some of his other books, maybe because having perfect pitch doesn't seem as intriguing as mistaking your wife for a hat?