Book Review: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat By Oliver Sacks

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks - Header

I am 5 weeks into a psychology degree at the University of Reading and whilst there are various reasons why I have chosen to go “back to school” as it were, and study psychology specifically, I will keep the explanations for another time, after all, this is meant to be a book review. But, it was during my first ever Neuroscience lecture that Oliver Sacks entered my life. He appeared as a throw away remark at the bottom of a slide, mentioned briefly and forgotten quickly, as the lecturer orated her topic.

I, however, was coming to the end of Once Upon A List by Robin Gold, and was looking for something new to read and being in a excitatory mood and wanting to jump fully clothed into the deep end of my new subject, this seemed perfect. After all, whether you’re fascinated by the mind or not, a book entitled “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” should never be passed by!

Oliver Sacks (Author) - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

The book is essentially a recounting of various types of neurological disorders, and their psychological effects, that Sacks has encountered during his time working in the United States. Sacks explains each situation through the case studies he worked and thankfully, doesn’t simply reel off a list of symptoms but rather, uses the people he treated and the lives they lead to highlight how the disorder changed their lives.

There are times when the book becomes a little bit scientific, and throughout Sacks’s language feels more like a doctor speaking with clinical authority rather than a friend narrativing an interesting tale; but even so, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat never forgets that while it’s author may do, it’s reader may not have the title “Dr” before his name and therefore, always manages to stop itself just before you become completely lost to some of the more complicated medical matters. There were times, however, when I just had to spend a few seconds more than normal clarifying a point, or getting an idea into the correct context in my head for it to make sense, but overall, the book is easy to follow, if a little stuffy in places.

Polaroid Pictures - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks

There is also an attempt by Sacks to try and create a structure to the book by grouping the types of case studies together. The problem is they are so individualised that the end result is a book that feels more like vignettes brought together in weak, forgettable subtypes than coherent sections and ultimately, the book feels long as a result. It feels like it is one story after another and I had absolutely no idea how long it was going to last. In fact, the ending, when it arrives is really abrupt. You finish the last snippet and that’s it. It’s just snaps shut without pausing for breath or offering a conclusion.

This may all sound like I didn’t really enjoy it, and/or that the book isn’t worth reading; that it’s a mismatch of literacy style and language but it does survive. Just. Purely because of the amazing idiosyncrasies of the people it presents.

House MD - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks

Some of the case studies are instantly forgotten, whilst other sadly, provoke a tinge of comedy within in, but often, like the titular man who mistook his wife for a hat and a lady involved with “cupid’s disease” I found the stories completely intriguing, thought provoking and the latter, left me smiling as well, as it was obviously the inspiration for an episode of House MD!

Oliver Sacks has published numerous books psychologically based books, but The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, while interesting just doesn’t have enough temperature or direction to make me want to delve further into his bibliography. The book is just a bit too impersonal and abrupt to really get my mind flowing and while I came away with a few bits of extra knowledge – like L-Dopa being used to treat Parkinson’s which actually cropped up in my last Neuroscience lecture – it was just a book that presented interesting topics without the literacy flow to do them the justice, or given them the richness of life, they truly deserved.

Posted on by 5WC in Book First Edition

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