The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks
In this early collection (originally published in 1970), neurologist Oliver Sacks presents stories from his time working in a full-time patient care facility. While Sacks is still publishing new works, I’m glad I read this first. He not only relates fascinating neurological conditions, but tries to bring some humanity to the impersonal case studies that the field of neurology produced before him.
The conditions are jaw-dropping. One patient’s memory is frozen in 1945. Another cannot sense her limbs, and can move only by looking at them. A third cannot distinguish animate objects from inanimate; a fourth knows the difference between “left” and “right,” “father” and “sister,” but doesn’t consider such distinctions to be meaningful. Twins can’t perform arithmetic, but intuit 9-digit prime numbers.
What sets Sacks apart is his humanistic theorizing. He frequently cites classic literature and philosophy to help him describe a patient’s experience. How do they perceive the world? What philosophical construct do they embody? How can this disorder help us understand what it means to be human?
I suspect that this style is very divisive for readers. It is stuffy, and patients “talk” in a jocularly academic way that can’t be how they actually sounded. But, if you’re feeling ponderous, Sacks has some fascinating musings, best savored in small doses.
The 213 in 2013 series chronicles every book I read in 2013. Each review contains exactly 213 words, because 2013 words is too long and 2013 characters is too dang short.