From Publishers Weekly
Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for observation to music and its relationship to the brain. The subtitle aptly frames the book as a series of medical case studies-some in-depth, some abruptly short. The tales themselves range from the relatively mundane (a song that gets stuck on a continuing loop in one's mind) through the uncommon (Tourette's or Parkinson's patients whose symptoms are calmed by particular kinds of music) to the outright startling (a man struck by lightning subsequently developed a newfound passion and talent for the concert piano). In this latest collection, Sacks introduces new and fascinating characters, while also touching on the role of music in some of his classic cases (the man who mistook his wife for a hat makes a brief appearance). Though at times the narrative meanders, drawing connections through juxtaposition while leaving broader theories to be inferred by the reader, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This book leaves one a little more attuned to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious of the role of music in our lives. (Oct.)
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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
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