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Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

- Abstract

Mystic Chords
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
by Oliver Sacks
Knopf. 400 pp. $26.00

A general surgeon once remarked to me that neurologists do not cure disease—they admire it. While the fairness of this statement is debatable, it is true that the therapeutic armamentarium of the neurologist is rather limited. When a bit of brain tissue is lost to a stroke, infection, or some other malady, the knowledge and skills that depend upon it tend to be lost as well, often irrecoverably. It is for precisely this reason that the disorders of the nervous system inspire wonder about the nature of thought, identity, and consciousness in a way that disorders of the gastrointestinal system, for example, generally do not.

By the surgeon’s standard, Oliver Sacks—the author of Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars, among other books—must rank as one of his generation’s foremost neurologists. Indeed, it would be hard to name a more prolific or more eloquent admirer of neurological disease than Sacks, whose finely crafted essays about his patients and correspondents over the past four decades are like picture windows into the malfunctioning brain. The disorders he describes are not necessarily obscure, but Sacks has the ability to make even common ailments seem both personal and profound.

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