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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain [Paperback]

Oliver Sacks
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 23 2008 0676979793 978-0676979794 Rev Exp
What goes on in human beings when they make or listen to music? What is it about music, what gives it such peculiar power over us, power delectable and beneficent for the most part, but also capable of uncontrollable and sometimes destructive force? Music has no concepts, it lacks images; it has no power of representation, it has no relation to the world. And yet it is evident in all of us–we tap our feet, we keep time, hum, sing, conduct music, mirror the melodic contours and feelings of what we hear in our movements and expressions.

In this book, Oliver Sacks explores the power music wields over us–a power that sometimes we control and at other times don’t. He explores, in his inimitable fashion, how it can provide access to otherwise unreachable emotional states, how it can revivify neurological avenues that have been frozen, evoke memories of earlier, lost events or states or bring those with neurological disorders back to a time when the world was much richer.
This is a book that explores, like no other, the myriad dimensions of our experience of and with music.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain + This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Neurologist and professor Sacks, best known for his books Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, dedicates his latest effort to the relationship between music and unusual brain disorders. Embracing the notion that neurology is an inherently British phenomenon, foreign to the New World, Sacks's book is read by impeccably polished actor Prebble (PW's 2006 Narrator of the Year). As befitting so urbane and smooth a reader, Prebble sounds as if his shirt had just been starched and his lab coat carefully pressed before beginning. With nary a word out of place, Prebble steps onto the stage, playing the good Dr. Sacks for this one-time-only performance. Simultaneous release with the Knopf hardcover (Reviews, Aug. 27).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

From Booklist

Music seems to be meaningless, and our love of it inexplicable, but neurologist Sacks, one of the foremost physician-essayists of the day, charmingly argues that music is essential to being human in ways that have only begun to be understood. In many different circumstances, music may arise involuntarily within a person, as attested to by Sacks' initial presentation of cases of sudden intense affinity for music and development of musical skills, of so-called brain worms or tunes that automatically repeat within the mind, and of musical seizures and hallucinations. Despite the range of individual experience of music, from amusia, or incomprehension of melody and/or rhythm and/or harmony, to absolute ("perfect") pitch to synesthesia (e.g., "seeing" the colors of tones), it seems from the clinical literature that anyone could have a sudden loss or gain in musicality. Indeed, the seeming universality of musical mental imaging, even in the utterly deaf, has encouraged the therapeutic use of music to treat an ever-increasing number of illnesses, including the results of severe brain damage, congenital retardative conditions, and such degenerative neuropathies as parkinsonism and Alzheimer's. Sacks' reporting on all of this makes for quite an omnium-gatherum on the main contention that, in essence, musicality is humanity. His customary erudition and fellow-feeling ensure that, no matter how clinical the discussion becomes, it remains, like the music of Mozart, accessible and congenial. Olson, Ray --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Musicophilia made me realize how others perceive music. It was a shock. I assumed that everyone experienced music the same way. Wrong!

Do you ever ask anyone what happens when they hear music? I didn't before I read this book. Now I plan to ask everyone.

Dr. Sacks has the kind of fine writing style and awareness of music that makes his tales seem as appealing as the cases that Dr. Sigmund Freud wrote about. As Dr. Sacks pointed out, Dr. Freud didn't care for music so that gentleman failed to investigate and report on many of the phenomena in this book.

We don't exactly know why the mind and body interact with music in the ways that they do. Part is undoubtedly heredity. Part is undoubtedly due to exposure to musical influences. Some may relate to the language spoken in the home. Difficulties with seeing may also be an influence. Injuries to the body and brain can play a large role. Dr. Sacks does a masterly job of using case after case to explore one aspect or another of these dimensions so that a complex picture emerges that's even more remarkable than the brain processes involved in reading.

One of the biggest surprises in the book is that musical talent seems to be inhibited by some parts of the brain. In similar way, music can also inhibit some other brain functions that we would like to get rid of.

I had always wondered about those with perfect pitch, and the book explores that. There are also wonderful sections on other seemingly inherited musical abilities.

Dr. Sacks adds a lot of perspective to the history of music by making observations about various composers and the way that their compositions reflect certain musical abilities than others while explaining how the mental processes are different.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Minds making music July 9 2008
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
By now, it's a given that an Oliver Sacks' book is worth your time and close attention. His particular talent lies in making the science interesting without becoming a "pop-science" writer. This is not an easy achievement, but Sacks manages it with facility. He can explain the science in terms of case studies - many of which have claimed his medical attention. He does this while mixing in experiences of his own and some personal reflections which are anything but intrusions. While some of his books are essays on selected individuals ["An Anthropologist on Mars" is an example], this one has a very special focus: the minds that make music unbidden.

Music arising in the mind without prompting may seem a common enough occurence. The advertising industry has demonstated fully music as an uncontrollable meme. The cases Sacks portrays here are of another sort. In some cases the music has taken over - sometimes supplanting other thinking processes and reducing the victim to near helplessness. The chief problem is often a lack of variety. More than the adverts' jingles, particular tunes may emerge from the distant past to occupy the sufferer's waking hours. A well-disciplined mind, such as Doctor P's, may be able to use the uncalled for music in ways that get them through daily tasks. Others don't have that ability and the music proves a terrible distraction. The music renders them "incapable of hearing themselves think".

Therapy for such conditions is in its infancy and may actually be subverted by the deluge of music impinging our ears daily. Sacks notes the proliferation of the iPod devices bringing music to listeners who seem to pass the day in another realm. This, however, is not relieving a condition, but may be generating a new one.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A cut above the usual Sacks book May 23 2008
Format:Hardcover
Although this admission may make me a "bad" psychology student, it has to be said: I previously gave up on Oliver Sacks because I found his writing style boring, self-involved, and far too crammed with technical neurological terminology that lacked the detailed explanation that would allow those unfamiliar with brain physiology to follow. I generally prefer, for example, the work of Dawkins and Ramachandran, who always seemed to me to be able to balance the perfect ratio of the subjective and the objective, even when discussing phenomena that most humans would find surreal or supernatural. Despite my hesitations, I decided to read Musicophilia because its content deeply interested me, and I'm glad I did.

Although Sacks again re-uses many of his old case studies, now relating them to music, and still cites his own books and experiences more than anyone else's, he finally struck that chord of interest in me that had been strangely absent when reading his other work. Musicophilia is a highly intriguing exploration of how and why humans experience the many strange phenomena associated with what we call music, from the perspectives of both clinically normal and brain-damaged individuals. For example, where do auditory hallucinations come from and what do they mean? What occurs when we cannot get a song "out of our heads"? How is it that the most severely amnesic man in the world cannot even remember that he had been conscious one minute before, but can play from memory complicated piano pieces or conduct an orchestra?
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