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I have been intending to read this book for many years and now I have finally got around to doing so. It was worth the wait. Through a series of case histories, the author shows how mental illness - whether congenital or acquired - is very far from the imaginings of ordinary people who have had no personal experience of it. There are people whose whole view of the world is apparently skewed - such as the man of the title who genuinely could not distinguish between his wife and his hat but who still had tremendous musical abilities and knowledge.

Some of those with mental problems actually did not want them treated because they enriched their lives - for example the lady who was suddenly able to recall memories of her childhood which she had never been able to access before. I was also fascinated by the young man who found his sense of smell was heightened to the same level as that of a dog for a few weeks. He said it had added an extra dimension to his life which he missed when it was no longer there.

The book started me thinking about how modern society tries too hard to fit people into the normal range even though the definition of what is normal changes all the time. I was particularly struck by the twins who communicated by means of prime numbers and who could tell what day of the week a random date in eighty thousand years would fall on. They were separated in an attempt to help them to live `normal' lives and in the process they lost their phenomenal ability with numbers.

A case which brought tears to my eyes was the one of the young man who had been brought up in a musical family and had ended up in a home after both his parents were dead. He had an encyclopaedic knowledge of opera and a particular love for the whole of the works of Bach. Once he could attend church, sing in the choir and help with music performances his condition improved and he was once more enjoying life and was valued for his extensive knowledge in spite of his sometimes odd behaviour.

If you think you know what mental illness is - read this book.
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on 1 August 2003
This book is written in a beautifully accessible and entertaining style; it is also moving, funny and tragic in equal measures.
Consisting mainly of short stories relating patient 'oddities' that the author has treated in his long career as a neurologist it manages to come across as anything but a list of dry case histories. The inclusion of the emotions of the patient as they deal with their difficulties and the reactions of the author keep this book human rather than academic.
Although this is a recommended book for undergraduate students of various disciplines, it should not be discounted as a mere informative reader because of that. Anyone interested in stories of the human condition or those with a fascination/awe of the human brain will find this intriguing, engaging and interesting.
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on 3 February 2008
I first came across Oliver Sacks in a doctor's waiting room. There, lying on the table, was a copy of his first book, "Migraine". Since I suffer from bad headaches, I picked it up and started reading. Thoroughly intrigued by the elegantly written case studies it contained, I asked the doctor if I could borrow it, took it home, and finished it that evening. I then began to notice that Mr. Sacks periodically wrote articles for the New Yorker on strange neurological cases, and every time one came out I read it with delectation. So when I saw Mr. Sack's book "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" at my local bookstore I bought it immediately.

I was not let down. The book is a fascinating compendium of neurological case studies, classified into four parts: Losses, Excesses, Transports, The World of the Simple. Mr. Sacks takes us on a journey through a series of neurological disturbances with extreme effects. Initially, one reads them with appalled fascination, with a feeling of being at the Circus staring at the Bearded Lady or the Elephant Man; I was forcefully reminded of Sylvia Plath's lines in "Lady Lazarus":
The Peanut-crunching crowd
Shoves in to see

Them unwrap me hand in foot --
The big strip tease.

But Oliver Sacks writes soberly and with great compassion about his cases, and drags us away from mere peanut-crunching voyeurism to finally contemplate what the cases tell us about what it means to be us.
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on 2 December 2009
It is guaranteed that the reader will be utterly blown away with this extraordinary collection of medical insights into the symptoms that can occur when there are brain malfunctions with their consequenct bizarre changes in mental perceptions.This essentially is a collection of case histories that are quite out of the scope of the average persons understanding. Oliver Sacks' accessible style of writing gives us glimpses into the 'unreal' lives of patients who have to negotiate their everyday lives lacking some essential and basic abilities to relate to the world in a 'normal' way either in the business of memory, sensory perception or mobility.Each case reads like a whacky novel and leaves the reader with a feeling of walking on thin ice because the very foundations upon which we as 'normal'human beings base our lives come into question too.Not to be missed!
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on 11 April 2006
I can understand some of the critical reviews about this book but there is no doubt that it justifiably remains a classic and well worth reading - it was the first book of its kind and is for anyone interested in strange neurological case histories. Maybe the language is a bit dated but it was written a good few years ago. A more recent book that I've just read in a similar genre is 'Classic case studies in psychology' by Dr. Geoff Rolls - it contains different chapters on some of the best known cases in psychology (Genie, Phineas Gage, HM, David Reimer, and so on). It's a very easy and enjoyable read and most of the cases are perhaps better known than the ones in 'The Man who mistook his wife...' I notice that Amazon have paired it with Sach's book as a perfect partner so they must agree that the two are complementary. Both are well worth a read.
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on 10 November 2009
Very, very interesting and thought provoking. An insight into how complex a machine the brain is and how it can go wrong in the strangest of ways but in the process sometimes partially compensate with the most amazing displays of "computing power". Not for everyone and not sure it deserves the raving press reviews.
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on 17 April 2001
the man who mistook his wife for a hat is a collection of short stories, of patients of the physician Oliver Sachs. he tells many stories and the title is one. there are others such as the woman who kept falling asleep, the woman who had a coma and came out speaking perfect french. all very odd yet believable stories. and all true very good for the reader who needs to be able to put the book down occasionally. but likes to be challenged intellectually. there is enough medical detail there to keep the knowledgable interested, but not enough to make you fall asleep. and it won't give you nightmares....
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on 24 March 2009
A fascinating review of a few extreme cases of neurological dysfunction. These are people whose brains are dysfunctioning in a way that has profound effects on their conscious (and subconscious), making them see things (and do things) very differently to other people. The cases are described well and in an easy to read manner, and are explained equally well, introducing a gentle minimum of technical terms.
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on 10 January 2009
Well maybe not all that simple, but truly amazing. This is one of the first (and to my mind best) of the popular science books. The author, Sacks, uses terminology which cause the text to be somewhat hard-going at times. However, the glimpse into the lives of people whose brain misfunctioning causes them to live and see the world in extraordinary ways is stranger and more wonderful than any fiction.
The over-arching question Sachs poses to the reader is "What is it to be human", and the case histories of his patients cause us to reassess our thinking about the human-mind. These patient's possess minds just like our own but with either an excess or deficit of some function which leads to extremes which I did not imagine possible before reading the book.
Perhaps with the popularisation of some of the cases, in films like Rain-man and Memento, the book will have less of an impact on modern audiences. I would hope that it does not.
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on 20 May 2004
This book was everything I had hoped it would be. Interesting, entertaining, even funny in parts. It basically follows several case study's into unusual neurological disorders. Each chapter covers a different patient, and each one is as interesting as the last.
The book brought to light the amazing fact that we are controlled by a series of electrical impulses, in different locations of the brain, fired off by various external stimuli and at the same time effecting our every action and reaction to our environment, and that at any time that control system can go wrong causing incredible and sometimes amusing results.
To read this book is to be enlightened and introduced to the fringes of the amazing world of neurology.
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