The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is such an eye catching title. As soon as I heard it a few years ago, it placed itself firmly on my ‘To read’ list. I finally got around to reading Oliver Sack’s famous book this year and I have to say, I’m a little disappointed. What I expected to be a mesmerising series of neurological illnesses and explanations turned into basic reflections of the author that were void of either information or sense of importance. There were a few sections, however, that were surprisingly poignant. Many of us believe that just because someone is different, they have a deficit and this one trait consumes their entire being. Slowly and peacefully, he encourages to question this notion, which is the one thing that saves this book.
Overall, the book is rather dry. We read about people with autistic savants, major memory issues (such as Korsakov), proprioception problems and agnosia. It’s funny but the main issue I have with the book is that the way these concepts were presented. They were either too dull or too brief for me, but I ended up not really understanding them. The only thing I remember is that when in doubt, it’s an issue with the temporal lobe. As I struggled with understanding these concepts, it made me question whether the target audience were professions (in which case the information was too brief and superficial) or the average Joe like me (in which case there was not enough). Even though the focus was on how it affected the people, losing a strong understanding of what they are going through lessens the impact.
There is a sense of realism with the patients, but there was also something a little off. The relationship between them and Oliver Sacks was a bit stinted. Even in instances where they communicated such as with the twins, I felt like he was trying too much for the sake of his reputation instead of being genuine. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason for this, but something just felt a little clinical throughout the story (which is off for a clinical tales, right?). Perhaps it was the dialogue that was included which didn’t seem natural. It felt like they were saying what Sacks wanted them to say instead of what they really said. Most of the styles of speech were similar to one another, which shouldn’t happen as the individuals were so different.
The way the individuals are presented, however, is nice. Sacks emphasises the point that just because their brain may not function the same way as you or me, it doesn’t mean that they are defected. He even explicitly defends this belief, which is important for many of us to hear every once in a while. This becomes a focus in a chapter discussing how people start hearing music and it can even be a good thing. Honestly, the section about an Irish woman was the most touching part and if anything, I recommend you read that essay. This theme does occur in many other essays, but the one with the music highlights it perfectly.
Even though I don’t love this book or even like it that much, I really do appreciate it. It brings a sense of humanity to what many people may consider problems. I might not have a better understanding of some of the disabilities than when I started, but I’m sure others will get more out of the book depending on their current knowledge. However, some sections are a bit dry, so focus on reading essays instead of the book. Even if you just read two or three parts of the book, it can lead to a better understanding of the individuals who have a neurological issue. 6.8/10
Question: What is the best the best book you have read that explains certain disabilities?