The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

Book description

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self - himself - he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.


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Why read it?

12 authors picked The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

I was simply stunned by this book. Dr. Sacks, a neurologist, drew me into the inner mysteries of the brain by describing the amazing lives and characters of some his most bizarrely afflicted patients. I was delighted to see how some of them overcame or coped with their afflictions, and I finished the book with an indescribable feeling of the magical alchemy of science and story to reveal our deepest truths.

Every time I revisit Sacks, especially this book, I am blown away anew at people’s ability to create meaning and value in the face of severe cognitive disability.

A man’s capacity to categorize objects is so impaired that when he moves to leave the room, he mistakenly reaches for his wife’s head instead of his hat. How can he even get through the day? With the help of familiar routines, his loving spouse, and music.

A “lost mariner” can’t retain any new information longer than a few minutes and still thinks he’s living decades ago, but he finds meaning in…

Fascinating and illuminating essays on the foibles of the human mind, written by a thoughtful neuroscientist and poetic observer of the human condition.

Oliver Sacks was an influential thinker and writer who chronicled psychological and medical mysteries with a self-critical eye trained on the science profession. He makes us feel how strange is the human mind and its ways of grasping the real world.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is a classic of popular neuroscience writing, and Oliver Sacks is one of the best science writers to ever do it.

This book really was the prototype for my book, as it is a collection of unusual neurological disorders and descriptions of the patients they affect. But of course, Sacks does it better than I ever could. He describes these cases as a series of captivating stories, each of which explains different aspects of brain function as well as helps you to appreciate the human side of neurology.

From Marc's list on learning about your brain.

Emo Phillips once said, “I used to think that the brain was the most wonderful organ in my body. Then I realized who was telling me this.” But the brain is fascinating, especially when things start going wrong. Oliver Sacks was a brilliant neurologist who wrote about the cases he’d investigated, including a man who was convinced he had an alien leg, a woman who was unable to perceive anything to her left, and a man who was unable to form new memories. The tales are heartbreaking and fascinating and show us the power of the brain and the danger…

From Jon's list on that are relentlessly twisted.

In these accounts of strange neurological misfires, Sacks shows how unreliable we can be as narrators of our own lives. The examples are extreme, sure, but they question the foundations of our certainty about the world and ourselves. Ordinarily, our senses make sense of the flux, label it and archive it for future reference; when the wires get crossed, we see hints of the essential changeableness of things and of the fictional self that tries to tame them. The book is a guided tour of what Sacks call our cerebral habitat: “Forcing or finding order in an imagined chaos.”

From Richard's list on meaning and mutability.

How could anyone confuse his own wife with a hat? This famous story of the effects of brain damage is beautifully, and movingly, described by Sacks, along with many other extraordinary cases. What is it like to have lost your memory, to think your own leg does not belong to you, to have a heightened sense of smell or extraordinary mathematical abilities? I rarely read a book twice but have returned to some of these cases many times. Just thinking about how these people experience the world broadens my ideas of what it means to be conscious. And consciousness, for…

From Susan's list on weird experiences.

This is a classic that never gets old. The late Oliver Sacks shares stories from his clinical practice about patients who have experienced inexplicable brain disorders that caused memory loss, failure to recognize friends and family, create involuntary body movements or cause some to shout obscenities. Written with clarity and compassion.

From Kevin's list on neuroscience for non-scientists.

Sacks is one of my all-time favourite writers, and I could have recommended several of his books. The man who mistook his wife for a hat is one of his collections of short stories about patients he worked with as a neurologist. These cases give a deep insight into the brain while remaining, at heart, stories about people. Sacks’ recounts the strangeness of these people’s symptoms, but the real focus is on how their lives, and those of their loved ones, are impacted. It is this sensitivity that shines through the book- you can see clearly on the page how…

From Ginny's list on the amazing human brain.

Sadly, our brain doesn’t always function correctly. This leads to neurological and psychiatric diseases. Oliver Sachs was a neurologist, and in this fascinating book, he describes some of the bizarre consequences. One is ‘agnosia’, a failure to recognize things; hence the title comes from a chapter in which Sachs describes a patient who mistook his wife for a hat. This book is compulsive reading.

From Richard's list on the human brain.

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