Nonfiction Book Report

The book I chose to read is The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks. In it, Sacks includes anecdotes of his experiences as a psycho-neurologist. The book was tolerable at best, and it was not something I would ever go out of my way to read. It is too dated to be useful to the casual reader. The cases it presents may still be interesting for those in the profession to analyze, but laymen will find nothing of worth. This book is so chock full of horrifying 1970’s-style racism—such as comparing “savages” to children— that the book’s credibility is compromised. Sacks had time to read and write a foreword for the audio edition, so why on Earth did he not take the time to go through the text, and at least update some of the worst blunders? There is no reason to perpetuate historical biases in what is sold as a popular psychology book, especially not when the author is alive, well, and could update the text for the modern reader.

I found it hard to lose myself in this book. Sacks’s writing feels overwrought and his style is self-conscious, as though he really needs us to acknowledge how clever he is. Although his intelligence is undeniable, there is a limit to how often one can rattle off medical terminology for disorders, treatments, and parts of the brain. Sacks does this without even a suggestion of what they mean and then wanders off into long, flowery descriptions and tangential quotes from various psychologists in an attempt to make us empathize with the patient. For me, this only served to make the book about the author instead of the patients and, at times, that did not serve the author well. Twice, he questions whether the patients still had “souls.” I do not even understand what that question is supposed to mean, and I suspect that even people who are religious might take issue with speculation like that. It sounded unscientific and unprofessional.
The poor review above does not in any way signify that the cases themselves were not interesting. Quite the contrary—they include a man who can mentally visualize but cannot implement that visualization, a woman who has lost the proprioception (the body’s self-awareness) in her hand, and to a soldier who cannot remember anything after 1945. As interesting the cases were, Sacks wrote too much about the cases and never spent a second explaining the causes of the ailment. I read the book thinking I would finish with new knowledge of the brain, but I just learned about the ailments. The walkaway content is little to none, which irked me.

Overall, I would not recommend this book. To the select few in the world who indeed can comprehend the impossible medical jargon (i.e., a neurologist that practiced in the 1980s), this is an interesting book. For the layman, it is an impossible read. Due to Sacks’s inability to hold the interest of the reader and explain content coupled with the fact that nearly everything in the book is completely outdated, this book is a total failure.