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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain [Hardcover]

Oliver W. Sacks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Oct 2007
Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat.  But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does—humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks’s compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people—from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; from people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds—for everything but music.

Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: 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 whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.

Music is irresistible, haunting, and unforgettable, and in Musicophilia, Oliver Sacks tells us why.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group; 1 edition (16 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400040817
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400040810
  • Product Dimensions: 3.1 x 14.6 x 21.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,028,416 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

Review

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

'Fascinating' -- Guardian

'He uses a device in which he has almost cornered the market - the elegantly-written case study.'
-- The Independent

'He's incapable of writing a dull book, and consistently evokes a sense of real wonder.' -- Glasgow Herald

'It's easily digestible chapter-by-chapter, and demonstrates Sacks' principal strength: his understanding of the 'richness of the human context'.' -- The Music Teacher

'Through anecdote, argument and science, Musicophilia makes a passionate case for music as a way to discover ourselves' -- Daily Telegraph

'a special art that springs from deeper wells than any other' -- Sunday Times --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

'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
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
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
Format:Paperback
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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46 of 53 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
Format:Hardcover
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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minds making music 9 July 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
By now, it's a given that an Oliver Sacks' book is worth your time and close attention. His particular talent lies in making the science interesting without becoming a "pop-science" writer. This is not an easy achievement, but Sacks manages it with facility. He can explain the science in terms of case studies - many of which have claimed his medical attention. He does this while mixing in experiences of his own and some personal reflections which are anything but intrusions. While some of his books are essays on selected individuals ["An Anthropologist on Mars" is an example], this one has a very special focus: the minds that make music unbidden.

Music arising in the mind without prompting may seem a common enough occurence. The advertising industry has demonstated fully music as an uncontrollable meme. The cases Sacks portrays here are of another sort. In some cases the music has taken over - sometimes supplanting other thinking processes and reducing the victim to near helplessness. The chief problem is often a lack of variety. More than the adverts' jingles, particular tunes may emerge from the distant past to occupy the sufferer's waking hours. A well-disciplined mind, such as Doctor P's, may be able to use the uncalled for music in ways that get them through daily tasks. Others don't have that ability and the music proves a terrible distraction. The music renders them "incapable of hearing themselves think".

Therapy for such conditions is in its infancy and may actually be subverted by the deluge of music impinging our ears daily. Sacks notes the proliferation of the iPod devices bringing music to listeners who seem to pass the day in another realm. This, however, is not relieving a condition, but may be generating a new one.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Musicophphilia
Interesting book
Published 26 days ago by Sue Challis
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, highly readable, fascinating and helpful
Oliver Sacks once again bridges the gap between neuroscience experts and unqualified interested readers. It is an easy informative read.
Published 1 month ago by Steve Smith
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 3 months 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 4 months 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 5 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 5 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 6 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 11 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 12 months ago by Kindle Customer
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 14 months ago by Strolls
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