The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I remember seeing this book in the bookstores in the '80s and thought it was a fantastically weird title.
Humor? Nah. But I stored it away in my head, thinking it was just some pop-psych stuff and I was SO not into pop-psych stuff because I was going to be a full-on psychologist.
It was a dream, right alongside being a world-famous writer.
And then I mistook my wife for a hat.
It's weird how cyclical reality is. :)
Honestly tho, I wanted to know more about the condition that prevented people from recognizing faces or facial expressions. I always wanted to read up on a ton of different right-brain issues.
What I didn't realize, way back in the day, was that this author also wrote Awakenings, which was turned into a movie with Robin Williams of the same name. And that he had been instrumental in a number of really fascinating discoveries and case studies.
Indeed, both the writing and the information within was pretty far from being pop-psychology. It was well-written, takes a focus on narrative for the express purpose of re-humanizing the people being discussed, and brought up a wide number of really fascinating conditions.
Moreover, the focus was never on dehumanizing anyone. Classifications and societal expectations being what they are, the tendency to drive people into "functional/nonfunctional", "dependent/independent" ignores the entire slew of capacities, individual excellence, and qualities that made these people special, regardless of their issues.
This isn't really a feel-good book so much as it highlights the limitations of the institution of neuropsychology up to that point in history. Most of the field had been focused on what was missing from the temporal left-lobe in patients -- or the ability to reason. But what about the ability to recognize reality? That's what the right hemisphere is best at.
Down's Syndrome might lack the left's strengths, but excel in the right. Autism is illustrated by a weakness in the right while being quite good on the left. (Of course, this is very simplistic and that's my fault here, not the book, but it's still a point.
Case studies are quite worthwhile. It shines a light on our own perceptions. People are not one thing. The real joy of this book is showing such a wide range of thinking and being. :)
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