- Reading level: 18+ years
- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Picador (2 September 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0330523597
- ISBN-13: 978-0330523592
- Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.8 x 19.7 cm
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #98,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain Paperback – 2 Sep 2011
|Paperback, 2 Sep 2011||
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Fascinating. Music, as Sacks explains, 'can pierce the heart directly'. And this is the truth that he so brilliantly focuses upon – that music saves, consoles and nourishes us. Source: Daily Mail
An elegantly outlined series of case studies . . . which reveal the depth to which music grips so many people. Source: Observer
From the Author
Oliver Sacks is a physician and the author of many books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Awakenings (which inspired the Oscar-nominated film) and Musicophilia. Born in London and educated at Oxford, he held positions at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine and was Professor of Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University. He is the first, and only, Columbia University Artist, and is also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. In 2008, he was appointed Commander of the British Empire. His memoir, On the Move, was published shortly before his death in August 2015.See all Product description
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This is a slim book which would not require more than a few days to complete. Unfortunately, the text is padded by ruminations and divergent passages that make getting through the text difficult. My attention wandered, wanting to learn, "What happened next?" The illness occupied only a few weeks.
Dr Sacks' prose of course is flowery, and he has a good grasp of diverse English literature. (I am writing in the present tense; Dr Sacks passed away in 2015. The illness in this book occurred in 1974.) When he sticks to describing the illness itself, one can have a vivid account of paralysis and self-identity.
The book was early in the long literary course of Dr Sacks. I cannot help imagining that if a later Dr Sacks had written the book, it would have been more direct. A good editor could have been used.
Close to the time of Dr Sacks' passing away, a debate occurred in the scientific literature what exactly had occurred to him. Dr Sacks speculates a loss of ability to mobilize his leg caused by some sort of a peripheral nerve injury, associated with a peculiar deficient of function in the spinal cord. Sacks himself witnessed similar (but still much different) phenomena in patients he had taken care of, and even reports a similar deficit in a pet dog. A different noted neurologist ventured that actually this was what is nowadays termed "functional neurological disorder," in earlier years termed hysteria, conversion disorder, or psychogenic disorder. Sacks rebutted the notion, but he left his mind open to the possibility.
As a publishing neurologist myself, I side with the view that this was a functional neurological disorder, but not one that is founded on a foundation of anxiety or other psychiatric turmoil. More reports are appearing in the literature that some patients encounter impaired neurologic function following abrupt injuries, without the association of verifiable nervous system structural damage. These accounts, including Dr Sacks' experience, point to a kind of neurological dysfunction that is still very poorly understood, but it is very common and disabling. The good news is that such disorders can respond to concentrated physical therapy, as indeed assisted Dr Sacks himself.
Regardless of one's own opinion what may have caused the difficulty, the account provides the reader the rare opportunity for a neurologist to visit his own nervous system dysfunction, a look from the "inside out" rather than the outside perspective of doctors looking at their patients, including Dr Sacks himself in his many other wonderful books.
Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and physician from London, England, has practiced medicine for over forty years. He has always held a passionate interest in music, in fact, he claims that "'Music' has always been one of the first things [he looks up] in the index of any new neurology or physiology textbook." In his forty-year practice of medicine, he has come across a number of rare cases, particularly those with a focus on music as an ailment or as a treatment.
Musicophilia covers a variety of musically related topics in neuroscience. Sacks divides these topics into four main parts: First, the often haunting onset of the heightened sensitivity to music, followed by the relation of music to all senses of the body, then the strange presence of music in the lives of patients with mentally crippling disorders, and finally, the incredible impact (or lack thereof) of music in the lives of all people, even those without any kind of condition. Because he has been working with patients who experience auditory phenomena for almost 50 years, Sacks uses each chapter of his book to explain a particular case. Some chapters are filled with examples of patients who suffer or have come to terms with some kind of disorder; others, however, reflect on only one patient, perhaps indicative of the rarities of certain conditions. Most patients experience these conditions around older ages, but still some are born with them. The spectrum of these "musicophilic" or even "musicophobic" conditions is so vast that Sacks has truly pioneered the investigation into this field with his documentation of them.
In Musicophilia, Sacks first recounts his experiences with patients who had, at some point in their lives, suddenly felt the onset of a heightened sensitivity to music. In his very first chapter, "A Bolt from the Blue: Sudden Musicophilia", Sacks tells us of Tony C., a fit forty-two-year-old orthopedic surgeon who was in great health. Tony remembered vividly the moment his onset occurred: He was at a family gathering, and though the weather outside was pleasant, a few storm clouds had accumulated in the distance when he went to make a phone call to his mother. While at the pay phone, he could hear rain amidst the conversation he was having when, upon witnessing a flash come out of the phone, found himself falling backwards to the ground. He had been struck by lightning. Tony even found himself in the middle of an out-of-body experience, believing himself to be dead, but what was even more strange for him was that once he was resuscitated, a short time later he had an insatiable craving for music. Feeling now more alive than ever before, his newly-formed passion for music stole away his every desire. His wife couldn't even bear it, filing for a divorce, but Tony remained indifferent. To this day, Tony still works full-time as an orthopedic surgeon, but his entire being revolves around music.
Though this passion for music may be seen as a blessing, others may see it as a curse. In subsequent chapters of Part I, Sacks tells of patients who, upon hearing a familiar tune, would convulse uncontrollably. Faced with the rare condition of Musicogenic Epilepsy, many of these patients would live in fear of hearing that one familiar tune that set off the attacks, and so Sacks illustrates the need for research in curing that aurally crippling ailment. Sacks also discusses the mechanisms and regions of the brain responsible for musical imagination and continuous playback, as in the case of a catchy tune, until finally, he delves into the rare condition known as Musical Hallucination.
Part II of Musicophilia concerns the vast range of musicality that individuals possess, and Sacks covers topics in Amusia, Absolute Pitch, Dysharmonia, Savant Syndrome, and even Synesthesia. Sacks demonstrates just how fascinating some of these conditions may be in his stories, and in one case of absolute pitch he tells of a former professor of music at Oxford who could even tell what pitch came from the wind blowing or his father blowing his nose.
Sacks moves on from there, illustrating the relationship music has with vital processes such as movement and memory formation. He recounts histories of patients with Tourette's Syndrome, Amnesia, Parkinson's Disease, Phantom Limb Syndrome, and even Musician's Dystonia. All of these patients have suffered through some kind of somatic condition, losing some kind of normal kinesthetic or neural function, yet have used music therapeutically to help at least temporarily overcome their obstacles. Perhaps the most inspiring story comes with Nick van Bloss, an English pianist who had, since age seven, developed a severe form of Tourette's syndrome which created for him a life of ridicule and bullying. It was not until his parents bought a piano that his life became transformed for good. "When I played, my tics almost seemed to disappear. It was like a miracle," he said, and from that he found his passion for a life in music.
Musicophilia closes with Part IV, demonstrating how music is intertwined with emotion and even identity. Sacks states that "music, uniquely among the arts, is both completely abstract and profoundly emotional" (300). In one patient, Harry S., music is the only emotion able to be fully felt after suffering through a brain aneurysm. It is truly amazing to read of the ways music has helped these patients, and even in closing, Sacks shares a truly heartwarming story of how music therapy even brought back certain memories to a person who struggled with dementia.
When I listen to music, I feel wrapped in it entirely. It makes up such a major part of my life, and I know that it impacts so many others in much the same way. Oliver Sacks' Musicophilia demonstrates the countless ways music has helped others in their lives, including adverse conditions such as Savant Syndrome, Amnesia, even Dementia - and for this reason I rate Musicophilia a five out of five stars. It is truly inspiring to hear how many of these patients whom Sacks has interacted with have relied on music in their lives, and uplifting to hear how music has brought back good memories or normal functions in them. In much the same way, it is fascinating to hear of all those who have been tormented by musicogenic epilepsy, or even hallucinations, and I feel that Sacks' patient histories illustrate the need for future research in treating these ailments.
I would, however, make the caveat that Sacks does not write for a scientific audience. I have even searched for his case histories on PubMed, a large database of scientific research studies, and not a single story of his was there. His writing style is not intended for research, as he instead comments on the patient's psychosocial behaviors and lifestyle outside of the normal clinical setting. I have found that he spends almost as much time covering the history and lifestyle of a patient as he does covering the pathology of the specific condition, removing certain physiological or biochemical details but instead adding a poetic, humanistic feel to his tales.
All-in-all, Musicophilia is as eye-opening as it is ear-opening! I would recommend this book to anyone desiring to learn the neurological background to many musical conditions, as Sacks provides the framework in a simple yet humanistic way.