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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain [Paperback]

Oliver Sacks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Sep 2011

‘A humane discourse on the fragility of our minds, of the bodies that give rise to them, and of the world they create for us. This book is filled with wonders’ Daily Telegraph

Oliver Sacks’ compassionate tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own minds. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians and everyday people – those struck by affliction, unusual talent and even, in one case, by lightning – to show not only that music occupies more areas of our brain than language does, but also that it can torment, calm, organize and heal. Always wise and compellingly readable, these stories alter our conception of who we are and how we function, and show us an essential part of what it is to be human.

‘Fascinating. Music, as Sacks explains, “can pierce the heart directly”. And this is the truth that he so brilliantly focuses upon – that music saves, consoles and nourishes us’ Daily Mail

‘An elegantly outlined series of case studies . . . which reveal the depth to which music grips so many people’ Observer

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (2 Sep 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330523597
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330523592
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 12,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Oliver Sacks was born in London and educated in London, Oxford, California and New York. He now lives in America and practices neurology in New York, where he is also a professor of clinical neurology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He is the author of ten books, including the bestselling The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings. His most recent book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain was an international bestseller. He has received numerous awards for his writing, including the Hawthornden Prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Product Description


"Oliver Sacks is that rare creature, a respected man of science who is also a mean storyteller."
--"Toronto Star"

"From the Hardcover edition."


'Through anecdote, argument and science, Musicophilia makes a passionate case for music as a way to discover ourselves' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
I think whether one enjoys this book or not probably depends on the things one is interested in - other reviewers have complained about everything from the book being too introspective to being too much a list of Sacks' patients.

In part, it is both these things - as a book of case studies it cannot help being the latter, as a book written by someone who is himself an amateur musician as well as being knowledgeable about and intrigued by the neuroscience behind our musical brain, it is necessarily the former. However, neither of these things, for me, detracts in any way from the book.

If you have an interest in both science and music and enjoy books that are absorbing, sometimes densely written, very informative, and written by someone with both a wide knowledge of the subject and a keen curiosity about the whys and wherefores then you will probably enjoy this book just as much as I have, which is a great deal.

Not all of the cases have explanations, which sometimes makes them more intriguing - other, apparently stranger, cases, turn out to have fairly logical reasons. Sacks explores everything from the healing power of music to its capability of irritating or even tormenting those whose brains cannot control it, and the whole thing is intensely interesting for a musician with any interest in the science behind music.
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56 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a read 10 Nov 2008
This is a pretty good book, of interest to anyone who feels themselves somewhat musicophiliac and wants to know more about how music has the effect it does. Musicophilia isn't particularly focused and doesn't really go too deep into how music works on the brain, it's mostly just a string of case studies of people and conditions involving strange and intense relationships with music. It's well-written and accessible, and worth a read, though it doesn't attempt to give any major insights into why music is so important to people in general.

"Musicophilia" is preferable to "This is your Brain on Music" by Daniel Levitin, which was released around the same time and deals with somewhat similar themes, though Levitin's book includes much more technical info on music and neurology. This info is presented in a style that is dry, unengaging and lacking in clarity. Sacks on the other hand is an effortlessly good writer. For that reason, this book is worth reading, though it would have benefitted from greater cohesion, a more focused approach and some general theorizing along with the case studies.
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45 of 52 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A little clunky 10 Feb 2008
By doublegone TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I got quite excited when I read articles about this book. It has not really lived up to my expectations.

It tells you about people who hear music in their heads, people with perfect pitch who lose it and vice versa, people with tinnitus and so on. The trouble for me was that in the end it becomes just a big long list of notes on the patients Sachs has treated. I could have used a bit more context, or even philosophical speculation and wonder. But the author is a medical man so he confines himself pretty much to the facts. And he reams them out - the patient experienced this, the patient reacted like that....

Its fascinating material but in all honesty the book is not well written. It is more academic than I had expected. Of course some people will prefer that. I didn't.

Some of the snippets I read in reviews and magazine articles were quite intriguing, but when I got to the full book I found that many of them remained snippets - a footnote about a piece of shrapnel in Shostakovich's head is a good example. Its just a couple of sentences and you want to know more about it but you are left unfulfilled.

Maybe I had too high expectations of this book. I don't want to be too negative as its a perfectly OK book. Its just not anything like as interesting as it appears.
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70 of 82 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing introspection 29 Jan 2008
While I have been a fan of Oliver Sacks, I am beginning to realise that a lot of his books seem to be constructed so that they can be easily divided into magazine articles (or they at least appear that way). I have read the first few chapters of Musicophilia only so far and to be totally honest, as a musician with training in the neurosciences, I found it interesting as a subject. However, the book is not well written. It has long segments of rather egocentric introspection and navel gazing. I wish it would focus more on the case studies and have a much more consistent approach to the subject. It is convoluted in parts and much of it seems to lose it's thread and drift into talking about other things, especially at the end of chapters. While Oliver Sacks is undoubtedly an intelligent man, I think that maybe he has neglected the advice of editors and been allowed to do so because he has sold so many books in the past. I bought the book in hardback and actually regret spending so much on it.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music and memory 19 July 2009
By N. Legg
Oliver Sacks writes with obvious passion for his subject and tender empathy for his patients. Despite having no more than a listener's appreciation for music and little grasp of matters neurological, I found Musicophilia fascinating and accessible. The case histories described in this book illustrate the extraordinary way that music effects the brain and how it can both soothe and stimulate people with brain damage. I finished the book feeling frustrated that I wasn't taught more about music at an early age, but reassured that music may prove comforting to me in my dotage.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Music and the Brain
easy to read and absolutely fascinating. Very refreshing after having waded through some other books on the same subject. Highly recommended.
Published 8 days ago by Caro
5.0 out of 5 stars musicophilla
bought as gift for friend who enjoys oliver sacks books so far happy with all that i bought .so far.
Published 1 month ago by mamfa
5.0 out of 5 stars recommended
Since buying this book some time ago I feel as is if it forever comes up in conversation. Never have I experienced this with a book. It's a must-read. A textbook for living now!
Published 2 months ago by Jan
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and very moving
I have read most of Oliver Sacks' works and so this was a natural progression. But unlike the others, and possibly because of the underlying theme - the surprising power as well as... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting cases
I like reading patient cases. Here was a collection on people with brain damages. written in a thoughtful manner, presented interesting with a large collection on references to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
There is much to admire here. The book is full of intriguing stories of individuals who have suffered some sort of brain damage or abnormality, and how this is manifested in... Read more
Published 8 months ago by M. D. Holley
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read
I've always been fascinated by the power of music and long to understand how that comes about. The truth is we still don't really know much about it but this book takes us a few... Read more
Published 8 months ago by carol
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
This book gives us an insight into how music is perceived by the brain. Essential reading for any musician.

Sacks engages the reader so that each case becomes a story.
Published 11 months ago by Strolls
5.0 out of 5 stars Making new sense of notes
Brilliant and most fascinating book as, indeed, are all of Oliver Sachs's works.
Each day research from a variety of scientific disciplines increases our sense of wonderment... Read more
Published 12 months ago by T. Siggers
3.0 out of 5 stars Oliver Sacks' best book is Man who mistook his wife for a hat.
Oliver Sacks' best book is Man who mistook his wife for a hat.

The documentary to this book is a lot better than the book, I feel as though Prof. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Monte Carlo
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