42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Case studies of the human mind: occasionally technical, frequently poignant,
This review is from: The Mind's Eye (Hardcover)
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This book is a collection of essays which illustrate how the human mind perceives and interprets information from the visual world. Like most of Oliver Sacks' other publications it is aimed at an audience who are familiar with (or can tolerate) a reasonable amount of medical and scientific data which is interwoven in a skillful fashion alongside the individual case studies.
The result is a publication that's brimming with insights about how the mind recognises faces, words, pictures and such and translates them into concepts which we can then act upon. But these are quite long and detailed chapters -- there are seven in a book of 200 pages -- written fluidly but in an old-fashioned style, with plenty of footnotes and references. So 'The Mind's Eye' isn't the kind of modern popular science book which you can dip into, or flick through. It's also a little hard-going to read at one sitting, especially as some of the information is repeated in different essays and the footnotes can be cumbersome (they disrupt the flow of reading for me).
Reading each chapter and then pausing to digest it meant that I got an enormous amount from this book, both in terms of understanding specific neurological conditions (such as the inability to recognise faces, or words) and across a broader scope. There's a fascinating review of how we take 3D, stereo vision for granted, and all kinds of odd tangental deviations from the core subject which illuminate peripheral scientific subjects. For instance, Sacks explains a useful theory about how writing developed in a brain which has no evolutionary need for it.
All the medical / scientific information is presented in a very human format, using each case study as an example and filling out the historical background to each condition and how the medical establishment has come to understand it. Some of the case studies involve inevitable mental deterioration and can be necessarily sad as a result; Sacks' skill is that he rarely allows them to become melancholy and emphasises the positive aspects of his patients' conditions. On many occasions this book celebrates the flexibility of the brain's function, durability of the human spirit and the individuals' determination to lead fulfilling lives despite their problems.
The section on the author's own diagnosis, treatment and reaction to loss of vision is particularly touching. Yet it's not sensational and nor is it self-indulgent.
'The Mind's Eye' isn't particularly easy going, but I found it to be very rewarding to read, and far more accessible than Sacks' previous 'Musicophilia' book.
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Initial post: 8 Nov 2010 11:39:37 GMT
K. Jardine says:
If footnotes "disrupt the flow of reading for me", then why read them? Footnotes are optional. That is why they are not in the main text. Personally I find Oliver Sacks' footnotes fascinating and sometimes even more interesting than his main text. But as they are optional I am baffled as to why anyone would complain about them. Footnotes are much better than endnotes, which force you to flip back and forth between two different parts of a book.
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