Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book: Oliver Sacks - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (1985)

Neurologist Oliver Sacks presents 24 extraordinary stories about his patients. He tells their stories, how they deal with afflictions from Tourette to autism and beyond.

Most of us hold on to the idea that our body and our spirit are separated from eachother, and that our identity is an indivisible whole, but neurological diseases seriously question that assumption, and it makes neurology unnerving and fascinating at the same time. To read about people who have to fight to maintain their identity, their soul, against the most bizarre symptoms of a damaged brain; to read about those that do not even realize that something has gone wrong, strikes a deep chord.

Every case of neurological disease is a very personal one, because the very identity, the spirit, of the sick is at stake. In the 19th century it was common practise to present such a case as a life story, until the advent of the more cathegorical, distant neurology of the 20th century. Oliver Sacks means to bring the personal story back, to show how patients with neurological problems battle for their identity as heroes in a tale, and find their own ways of dealing with it.

Sacks as an observer is very thorough, human and sympathetic. His insights bring light in the worlds of his patients that are so difficult to understand. His stories are heartfelt, exciting and arresting for anyone who values his own mind, and for anyone who ever suspected that sanity is relative and self-identity can be a fleeting thing, easily lost.

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