The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks was THE very first popular science book I read. We were recommended it during my first year of my Neuroscience undergraduate degree. At that point I hadn’t heard of Oliver Sacks, and couldn’t quite get my head around the title either but… but dutiful student I was, I read it, and it turned out to be one of those career-defining books for me—affirming that this neuroscience gig was my indeed my calling…
Right, before I get too woo-woo, a few words about the book:
The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat is neurologist Oliver Sacks bestselling collection of clinical tales “from the far borderlands of neurological and human experience.”
Here Dr. Sacks recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders:
- people afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations
- patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts such as “The Lost Mariner”, Jimmie G., who has lost the ability to form new memories due to Korsakoff’s syndrome. He can remember nothing of his life since the end of World War II, including events that happened only a few minutes ago. He believed it was still 1945.
- who are no longer able to recognise people and common objects such as the man who mistakes his wife for his hat.
- those who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities
- “The Disembodied Lady”, a unique case of a woman losing her entire sense of proprioception (the sense of the position of parts of the body, relative to other neighbouring parts of the body).
- “The Twins”, about autistic savants who are gifted with uncanny mathematical talents
Since its publication there have been many imitations of this genre. But this is the original, and in my opinion, still the best.
You can read more about Oliver Sacks and his other publications here.
What happens after I read Oliver Sacks book?
In about two weeks time I’ll send out my newsletter with questions for you and your friends to discuss while you walk (and I’ll also put the questions here on the blog). If you haven’t already signed up for the Your Brain Health newsletter you can sign up here.
Please don’t stress too much if you don’t get to read all of the book. For a start, stress is bad for your brain health (you know that now, right?), and the questions will be designed to spark discussion about broader issues raised in the book, not a page-by-page analysis of the cases presented here!
If you need a reminder of the philosophy behind The Walking Book Club you can read more here….
I’ve got just one question for you to discuss this week!
After reading the book, which patient or story stuck in your mind, and why?
About Dr Sarah
I’m an Oxford University-educated neuroscientist, presenter of ABC Catalyst, director of The Neuroscience Academy, and author of The Women's Brain Book. The neuroscience of health, hormones and happiness.
download my free checklist
9 Daily Habits of Highly Healthy Brains
Learn how to use neuroscience in your everyday life.