When Dr Oliver Sacks’s collection of case studies of neurobiological and neuropsychiatric conditions was first published in 1985, it touched an unexpected chord with the public, becoming an instant bestseller. Its appeal lies in our eternal fascination with how consciousness, memory and minds actually work. We meet Jimmie G., the amnesiac stuck in 1945, and the autistic twins incapable of even the simplest arithmetic but who can identify six-, eight- and ten-figure prime numbers. Some of the stories are tragic: Christina loses her ‘proprioception’ and is thus unable to control her own body; Stephen’s amnesia leaves him with ‘a gaping time-wound, an agony that will never heal’. Others are optimistic, even life-affirming, such as Mr MacGregor, who invents a pair of glasses that enable him to overcome some of the effects of Parkinson’s Disease; or Rebecca, a girl with severe mental disabilities whose life is transformed when she is enrolled in a special theatre group. Throughout all the histories runs Dr Sacks’s own deeply respectful and sensitive care for his patients and his ability to show us the people as well as the conditions. In the end, this book is nothing less than a philosophical exploration of what it means to be human.
‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat must rightly be regarded as one of the greatest, and most popular, science books of our age. Written originally as a series of articles for medical journals, it remains eminently readable, with Oliver Sacks employing a lightness of touch and a witty bravado to describe these sometimes inexplicable conditions. This exploration into the hidden depths of the mind reveals just what can happen when that finest-balanced of all our organs, the brain, either wobbles slightly or topples over completely. It reveals conditions whose effects can range from the absurd to the bizarre, but which we are all potentially capable of experiencing, and it is perhaps this which makes the book so fascinating, and so disturbing.’