Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Paperback – 1 Jun 2011
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A bestseller when it was first published in 1985, this is Oliver Sackss first collection of patients case histories, exploring both their neurological disorders and the strategies they adopted to cope with them. The 24 cases include a man with a special form of visual agnosia, patients with Tourettes syndrome, and the 'lost mariner', a former sailor with no recent memory, isolated in a single moment of being.
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What we have is a seemingly random series of accounts of patients, who had failed with other medical professionals, but who succeeded insofar as it was possible with him. Beneath the surface there is the irritant of Sacks’ egocentricity.
We are introduced to a wide range of neurological conditions: tilting bodies, aphasia, Parkinson’s, Tourette’s syndrome, autism and others. Some are really extraordinary, such as the identical twins suffering from autism, who have an astonishing ability to see numbers, often of numerous digits, provided that they are prime numbers. There seems to be little doubt that Sacks drew out special abilities in many different fields that others had overlooked owing to pigeon-holing the subjects, often in the light of their tested IQs. There is plenty of scientific reference to underpin Sacks’ conclusions. What we do not have is the broader contexts in which these people lived: their social connections, often whether or not they are permanently in institutions or whether they are able to function to a degree within society at large.
I don’t think that I have really answered my own question, but hope that I might have given a few pointers as to why I am unable to enthuse more warmly about this book.
My only problem with the book was with the terminology used in the section dealing with people with various kinds of learning disabilities. This is clearly a reflection of the time the book was written and not a lack of respect by Sacks, but it can be hard to read those terms which today are rightly considered totally unacceptable.
It was written by the doctor. However, there is no special language. Common people can enjoy.
My English language teacher recommended this book (long time ago).