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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

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With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age o With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music. Illuminating, inspiring, and utterly unforgettable, Musicophilia is Oliver Sacks’ latest masterpiece.


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With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age o With the same trademark compassion and erudition he brought to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Oliver Sacks explores the place music occupies in the brain and how it affects the human condition. In Musicophilia, he shows us a variety of what he calls “musical misalignments.” Among them: a man struck by lightning who suddenly desires to become a pianist at the age of forty-two; an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans; and a man whose memory spans only seven seconds-for everything but music. Illuminating, inspiring, and utterly unforgettable, Musicophilia is Oliver Sacks’ latest masterpiece.

30 review for Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

  1. 4 out of 5

    Glenn Sumi

    Have you ever experienced an “ear worm” – i.e., a melody “stuck” in your head? Have you ever found yourself humming or whistling a tune for no reason, then thought back to the lyrics or theme of that song and realized it had something to do with what’s on your mind? Have you ever tried to remember what letter comes after another in the alphabet and found yourself singing that “ABC” song from childhood? Check, check and check. All of these are explored in Musicophilia, a fascinating series of essay Have you ever experienced an “ear worm” – i.e., a melody “stuck” in your head? Have you ever found yourself humming or whistling a tune for no reason, then thought back to the lyrics or theme of that song and realized it had something to do with what’s on your mind? Have you ever tried to remember what letter comes after another in the alphabet and found yourself singing that “ABC” song from childhood? Check, check and check. All of these are explored in Musicophilia, a fascinating series of essays by Dr. Oliver Sacks (Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat). His writing is clear, civilized and genial, if occasionally repetitive and dryly scientific. (A more ruthless editor might have helped.) Drawing from more than half a century of clinical work as a neurologist, Sacks recounts tales of patients whose conditions have something to do with music. Among his subjects are people who: • have musical hallucinations (they constantly hear songs, often Christmas carols or marching tunes) • associate certain notes or musical intervals with colours or pictures • suddenly discover, after an accident or some other incident, that they have an aptitude for music or, conversely, lose their musical abilities There are some absorbing case studies, such as Martin, who was born “normal” but contracted meningitis at three and succumbed to seizures, limiting his intelligence and physical abilities. As an adult, he had a low IQ but remembered 2,000 operas and all of Bach’s cantatas, including melodies and what each instrument and voice played. I was also intrigued by the woman who can remember pages of text, but only when they’re associated with a melody. (Her professor, recognizing his own lecture notes written verbatim on an exam, thought she was cheating until he discovered her gift.) And there are eye-opening tales about composers like Ravel, whose famous Bolero, with its relentless repetition, might have been influenced by his frontotemporal dementia, and Shostakovitch, who refused to have a piece of shrapnel removed from his head because it mysteriously provided him with music which he then incorporated into his compositions. Also included is the incredibly moving story of concert pianist and teacher Leon Fleisher, whose loss of the use of his right hand for three decades transformed his life and approach to art. Sacks’s description of Fleisher playing a transcription of Bach’s “Sheep May Safely Graze” (the pianist regained use of his hand later in life through Botox treatments) for him alone will bring tears to your eyes. And what about those people who hate or feel indifferent towards music? One of them was the great writer Vladimir Nabokov, who wrote: “Music... affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds… The concert piano and all wind instruments bore me in small doses and flay me in larger ones.” Before reading this book I didn’t realize that music crops up rarely in the works of Sigmund Freud, or the two James brothers, philosopher William and novelist Henry, although all three were sensitive to other varieties of human experience and expression. In a work filled with jaw-dropping stories, one of the most incredible happened to Sacks himself. One day he woke up from a musical dream, which followed him throughout the day. I found something deeply disturbing and unpleasant about the music, and longed for it to stop. I had a shower, a cup of coffee, went for a walk, shook my head, played a mazurka on the piano – to no avail. The hateful hallucinatory music continued unabated. Finally I phoned a friend, Orlan Fox, and said that I was hearing songs that I could not stop, songs that seemed to me full of melancholy and a sort of horror. The worst thing, I added, was that the songs were in German, a language I did not know. Orlan asked me to sing or hum some of the songs. I did so, and there was a long pause. “Have you abandoned some of your young patients?” he asked. “Or destroyed some of your literary children?” “Both,” I answered. “Yesterday, I resigned from the children’s unit at the hospital where I have been working, and I burned a book of essays I had written…. How did you guess?” “Your mind is playing Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder,” he said, “his songs of mourning for the death of children.” I was amazed by this, for I rather dislike Mahler’s music and would normally find it quite difficult to remember in detail, let alone sing, any of his Kindertotenlieder. But here my dreaming mind, with infallible precision, had come up with an appropriate symbol of the previous day’s events. And in the moment that Orlan interpreted the dream, the music disappeared; it has never recurred in the thirty years since. Amazing. Near the end, Sacks provides an illuminating and moving chapter on the connection between grief and music. How come some compositions provide consolation and catharsis? And there’s a touching chapter on patients with Williams Syndrome, people who tend to have IQs less than 60 but who have universally friendly personalities and extraordinary musical ability. There’s no overarching thesis or direction to Musicophilia – how could there be, really? – but there are plenty of studies and stories that will make you think twice next time you find yourself turning on Spotify. ** Fun fact: I noticed Sacks cites a study by a Simon Baron-Cohen. I Googled and, sure enough, the scientist is Borat’s (Sacha Baron Cohen) first cousin!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Sacks is, for me, a perfect meeting of a science writer and a writer of creative non-fiction. He has an equal interest in telling an affecting, human story and with exploring how (and why) the brain works. While lots of science writing is dry and objective (as it should be) and while mainstream feature writing often ignores the more complicated science stuff, Sacks is a rare talent who has a penchant for story telling and for explaining the newest research on the brain. He doesn’t condescend, an Sacks is, for me, a perfect meeting of a science writer and a writer of creative non-fiction. He has an equal interest in telling an affecting, human story and with exploring how (and why) the brain works. While lots of science writing is dry and objective (as it should be) and while mainstream feature writing often ignores the more complicated science stuff, Sacks is a rare talent who has a penchant for story telling and for explaining the newest research on the brain. He doesn’t condescend, and he doesn’t mind forming personal relationships with his subjects. In Musicophilia, Sacks focuses on the mysterious and fascinating connection between music and the brain. Through studying musical oddities in patients, he hopes, we can hope to better understand our greater relationship with music - something that, although it is universal among cultures, doesn’t seem to have a clear function or origin. For example, the book opens with a middle-aged man who is struck by lightening. He isn’t badly hurt, but since the accident, he’s been obsessed with the urge to play the piano. He’s never really played before or had an interest in music, but suddenly he’s up all night composing and trying to get better. Why has this happened? Why is unaffected except for this urge, which takes over his life? Brain scans show that his left frontal lobe has been damaged and Sacks hypothesizes that the left hemisphere of the brain might actually inhibit the more creative and musical right side of the brain. Left brain damage might lead to more “freedom” in the right brain. The book moves on from there to cover a huge spectrum of diseases, phenomenones, and rarities - spanning from music therapy for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s, to people who suffer from musical hallucinations, to people with perfect pitch, to people with amusica (to them, music sounds like noise - Nabokov suffered from it), to musical savants. The structures of the chapters are very satisfying to me: they start with a story of an individual and then, by the end of the segment, lead to a more general description of the science behind the patient’s symptoms. One of the more fascinating chapters covers children with William’s Syndrome, which affects about one out of 10,000 people. These people, who all have strangely elfin features, suffer from severe mental disabilities: they can’t ad 5 + 3, they can’t draw a square, they can’t tie their shoes. They have IQs around 60. However, they also tend to be very verbal, very social, and exceptionally musical. Most have perfect pitch and start composing as toddlers. Unlike some cases of severe autism who show a more mechanical and isolated musical talent, patients with William’s Syndrome love to play music in groups - within a community. Sacks visits a camp for children with William’s Syndrome - which is a constant drum circle, sing-along, and musical wrapped up in one. As in all of his tales, Sacks is sure to find the hope and humanity in even the most difficult patients. One man, an amnesiac who has a short-term memory of only a few seconds, can only stay present within himself while he plays the piano. More importantly, Sacks doesn’t see his patients as freaks or abnormalities who are simply interesting to read about, but rather as windows into how we can collectively understand how we function. In Musicophilia, I was truly moved by what I read - both by the humanity of the patients and by the awesomeness of the science.

  3. 5 out of 5

    India Clamp

    Sacks relives the pathologies of musical response in his patients while working at Beth Abraham Hospital. He describes music as a panacea and says, “they were liberated by music.” This applies to patients with dementia and those suffering from Williams Syndrome. Despite low IQ, he honors them in kind descriptive terms: having wide mouths, upturned noses and a true adoration of music. “We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one...we perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melo Sacks relives the pathologies of musical response in his patients while working at Beth Abraham Hospital. He describes music as a panacea and says, “they were liberated by music.” This applies to patients with dementia and those suffering from Williams Syndrome. Despite low IQ, he honors them in kind descriptive terms: having wide mouths, upturned noses and a true adoration of music. “We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one...we perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melodic contours, harmony (perhaps most elementally) rhythm. We integrate all of these and “construct” music in our minds...” ---Oliver Sacks, MD Sacks' deeply warm and sympathetic study is about pathologies of musical response and erudition gained from a "normal" faculty of music. In addition, within are new findings from anatomy. We also learn “how is the musicians mind different than others?” There is the curious case of Harry S. having a perfect tenor voice yet he showed no emotion, except when he sang---as if music brought him to life. Exceptional study and storytelling by Dr. Oliver Sacks. The connections that music impart and patient studies (L-Dopa) are in “Awakenings.” I found interesting the case study of a 42-year-old man struck by lightning, then he developed an exigent thirst for music learned to play piano and compose. Truly an effervescent account of life. Found personal “drug use” confessions by Sacks surprising. Read and explore your reaction to music.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jafar

    This book was interesting, I guess. Lots of anecdotes about the effect of music on behavior and personality, but not enough analysis. Sacks usually is more of a story teller than a hardcore neuroscientist in his popular book – at least in the other two that I’ve read by him – but in this book he fails to be a good story teller too. Too many tidbits and little stories. I definitely recommend This Is Your Brain on Music over this book if you’re interested in a real scientific analysis of music and This book was interesting, I guess. Lots of anecdotes about the effect of music on behavior and personality, but not enough analysis. Sacks usually is more of a story teller than a hardcore neuroscientist in his popular book – at least in the other two that I’ve read by him – but in this book he fails to be a good story teller too. Too many tidbits and little stories. I definitely recommend This Is Your Brain on Music over this book if you’re interested in a real scientific analysis of music and our obsession with it. Every time that I read a book by Sacks or something similar I get a depressing feeling of being a slave to my brain. It just reinforces the idea that we are our brains. You don’t need to have any of the weird and often fascinating problems that Sacks’ patients have. Even in us “ordinary” people, our personality and behavior are governed by our brain chemistry and neural connectivity. Anatomy is destiny, as Freud said, if anatomy is to mean brain. The positive side is that this way of looking at people can lead to a better understanding and acceptance of others. Next time that you encounter someone with an unpleasant personality trait, or an annoying behavior, or a different outlook to life than yours, just remember that he has a different brain organization from yours. He’s just different from you. This helps to accept people and become less judgmental.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    It’s not a common characteristic, but I recommend this book for all environments where you read. Coffee shop, living room, park bench, subway, or to ignore your spouse--it receives my seal of 4+ stars. Musicophilia is a lurid, but respectable, look into the brains and lives of people that appear normal on the outside, but have strong, strange and intractable relationships to music. The relationship is sometimes harmful, often incomprehensible, sometimes therapeutic, even charming, but always unf It’s not a common characteristic, but I recommend this book for all environments where you read. Coffee shop, living room, park bench, subway, or to ignore your spouse--it receives my seal of 4+ stars. Musicophilia is a lurid, but respectable, look into the brains and lives of people that appear normal on the outside, but have strong, strange and intractable relationships to music. The relationship is sometimes harmful, often incomprehensible, sometimes therapeutic, even charming, but always unforgettable. And that’s the bottom line here for this book--incredibly interesting, highly readable, and, after reflecting about people in your lives with contagion to music, totally unforgettable. - Why do some people hear every musical tone in irrepressible color, like fireworks? - Why do snippets of songs lodge in the brain for days, weeks, years, even a lifetime? This is my introduction to Oliver Sacks. A renown neuroscientist with over 5 decades of experience, and a talent for presenting case studies to a plebeian reading public. The great majority of writers are not good writers. And, they’re not neuroscientists either. Sacks, however, is both. - What about the man with a 60 IQ who knows each note of 2500 symphonies? - Why do people with gross stuttering speak perfectly when they sing? Every human has a disease. Sometimes that disease is visible on the outside, and we stare and point, and tell our friends what we saw today--an alien rheumatoid hand, a debilitating kyphosis, a piebald psoriasis scar. Sometimes the affliction is in the mind and worn outside, like an Obsessive Compulisive Disorder, a neurodegeneration or a crippling social phobia. But, for the most part, we all have something--an undiagnosed disease or affliction--something we can manage to hide from everyone (so that people don’t point and stare and go home and tell their friends about what they saw in us today). Perversion, narco, nympho, criminality, victim, depression, protein mutation, future Alzheimer, next year’s dementia, next week’s suicide, next month’s spousal abuse, future diabetic, compulsion, addiction. We all mix together. Some of it’s our fault, some not. But it’s there. And most of it’s in the brain. I like reading psychological analysis of material cases. Psychology ‘levels’ the playing field, in a manner. It helps to know you’re not the only one that suffers from hidden affliction. - What about the man with amnesia so severe he can’t remember anything beyond 7 seconds ago, yet he plays the piano flawlessly when he never could before? - Why does music induce epilepsy? Based on a lifetime of personal interaction with patients, the author reveals scores of cases regarding music-related idiosyncrasies. Like a barbell, on the left are people who cringe at the sound of music, on the right are people who fail to thrive without music, and both sides are connected by a continuum, balanced through the middle. Musicophilia is a compilation that highlights a very recent surge in psychoanalytic and neuroscientific interest in music-based ailments and music-based therapy. There are fantastic new insights to how the brain compartmentalizes music, and how music is integrated as a global cortical tool. Apparently the brain has allocated a large--a mysteriously large--global amount of neurons to music, and we are only beginning to understand how and why. Medicine and science are beginning to pay attention to these emergent signs and symptoms. What was once overlooked and ridiculed, a mere footnote in the literature, is now a fertile growth area in psychoanalysis. - Why do only 1 in 1000 people have perfect pitch? - Why can music penetrate depression and dementia when human voice cannot? This book may not be a watershed event in science, but it was for me. I am amusical, arhythmic, and dysharmonic. It was refreshing to read that many people are like me, on the left side of the barbell. For every person that sings out loud or under their breath at work, there are 2 or 3 of us that can’t carry a tune and refuse to karaoke. It’s not that I don’t like music or can’t be moved or buoyed by music; it’s simply that I don’t have a complex relationship to music, and for the most part, I can take it or leave it. I listen to music about 45 minutes a week, mostly on radio during commute. I don’t collect music, stay current with music, play music, or talk about music. It’s quite common, even though you music-o-philes gasp incredulously at my hideousness. My parents are like this, my wife, my siblings, many of my friends. If I was imprisoned, I would miss reading and exercise, but not music. - Why is the prime symptom of Williams Syndrome an indefatigable attraction to music? - Why do humans have music hallucinations? Perhaps I was attracted to the title Musicophilia subconsciously. I know I’m socially deficient regarding things music, and maybe I wanted to discover what power music holds over people. Perhaps I wanted to apply definitions and causes to my amusia. Alas, I’m not deficient. My brain appreciates music, but has developed in other ways. Despite Oliver Sack’s covering cases like mine, I was quite interested to learn how important, indeed life-sustaining, music is for certain brains. - Why does music cause such a constellation of emotion in humans? - Why does a brain on music light up like cherries during CAT scans? My recently deceased grandfather had dementia near the end. A lanky nonagenarian with a full shock of white hair. He forgot a lot of things, including our names and when to urinate, but he didn’t forget how to polka or whistle or play the harmonica. Musicophilia will tell you why, but I like to think it’s because Gramps had something special I can’t yet find. I would have awarded 5-stars, but there was no transition between the chapters. Sometimes that works, but in non-fiction I like to see a framework guiding the book. I discovered a loose organization, but each chapter could stand independently in a journal like Neuroscience, Scientific American, or Psychology Today. Still...great take-aways. New words: synesthesia, metanoia, hypnagogic, hypnopompic, anhedonia

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    This was unexpectedly touching. I'm glad I finally read it. Review to come.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lynne King

    I was flying forwards. Bewildered. I looked around. I saw my own body on the ground. I said to myself, ‘Oh shit, I’m dead.’ I saw people converging on the body. I saw a woman – she had been standing waiting to use the phone right behind me - position herself over my body, give it CPR … I floated up the stairs – my consciousness came with me. I saw my kids, had the realization that they would be okay. Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light … an enormous feeling of well-being and peace. Th I was flying forwards. Bewildered. I looked around. I saw my own body on the ground. I said to myself, ‘Oh shit, I’m dead.’ I saw people converging on the body. I saw a woman – she had been standing waiting to use the phone right behind me - position herself over my body, give it CPR … I floated up the stairs – my consciousness came with me. I saw my kids, had the realization that they would be okay. Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light … an enormous feeling of well-being and peace. The highest and lowest points of my life raced by me. No emotion associated with these … pure thought, pure ecstacy. I had the perception of accelerating, being drawn up … there was speed and direction. Then as I was saying to myself, ‘This is the most glorious feeling I have ever had’ – SLAM! I was back.” I will never cease to be amazed by books. This above account was given by Tony Cicoria, forty-two, very fit and robust, and a well-regarded orthopedic surgeon in a small city in upstate New York. He survived an experience of being struck by lighning. He continued his work but from this time on he had the most incredible need to connect with music. He was subsequently divorced and continued with his incredible sudden love for music and composition. I am not religious and I am not a believer, as such, but I know there is another life after death. I cannot describe it. It is certainly not faith but a certainty from what I have experienced during the last two years that tells me, yes, life continues after death. Many will believe that I am an absolute idiot but I really don’t care. We come from nothing (but there is no proof about this) indeed with birth, but we do indeed go to an illustrious future. Oliver Sacks has made the most incredible research of people with neurological conditions and all of these case studies are riveting. You can literally pick up this book and look at whatever page and find something amazing. It is really a remarkable reference book and I was just so enthralled to see individuals with evidently insurmountable problems and yet who managed to overcome these through music. Music is a wonderful thing and it indeed takes up a large part in our brain and so we must enjoy it. Well I do anyway. It was fascinating when Sacks said that there are certain musical pieces that he has to listen to over and over again before he moves on to a new composer. I can so relate to that. I am on “overkill’ at the moment with Grieg and Sibelius but there are indeed other composers waiting in the wings to enthrall me. Music – my… What else can I possibly say! I absolutely loved this book and continually look at it. It is in my library and there to stay.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    The neurologist Oliver Sacks has a great book called Musicophilia (and a series of talks available on YouTube) which goes into some really interesting descriptions of the brain's relationship to music. One story involves a man getting hit by lightning and afterward having a newly acquired and deeply profound love of music (almost any music, too), profound to the point that he would feel a euphoria akin to religio-mystical rapture or an extremely pleasurable drug experience in all situations if m The neurologist Oliver Sacks has a great book called Musicophilia (and a series of talks available on YouTube) which goes into some really interesting descriptions of the brain's relationship to music. One story involves a man getting hit by lightning and afterward having a newly acquired and deeply profound love of music (almost any music, too), profound to the point that he would feel a euphoria akin to religio-mystical rapture or an extremely pleasurable drug experience in all situations if music began to play. And then the depressing opposite of this, a woman who hated all music because it all literally sounded like pots and pans clanking around. Her brain simply couldn't sort out the frequencies properly. Full Lecture by Oliver Sacks on Musicophilia: http://fora.tv/2007/10/21/Oliver_Sack... Shorter clips on the same subject: Amusia - total inability to hear music as "music" Music Therapy and Parkinson's The Power of Rhythm Strokes, Language, and Music - overcoming aphasia through music Bright Blue Music - synesthesia and music Earworms - the neurology of catchy tunes Amnesia and Music Bolt From The Blue - the one I mentioned about the guy being struck by lightning and so forth...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Keith Putnam

    I am a huge sucker for pop science about human consciousness. Sacks, unfortunately, has the habit of boring me with far too many anecdotes which he fails to link in any progression of Greater Understanding.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Oliver Sacks has been one of my favorite authors ever since I first read The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. I still completely amazed, and a little bit disturbed, when I think back to his account of the woman who lost her sense of proprioception - the internal body sense that lets you know your body is there, even when you have your eyes closed. No other author (since Proust) has explored the nuances of consciousness so carefully, nor pointed out how tenuous the our grip on reality can be. I Oliver Sacks has been one of my favorite authors ever since I first read The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. I still completely amazed, and a little bit disturbed, when I think back to his account of the woman who lost her sense of proprioception - the internal body sense that lets you know your body is there, even when you have your eyes closed. No other author (since Proust) has explored the nuances of consciousness so carefully, nor pointed out how tenuous the our grip on reality can be. I've enjoyed his other books that I've read, but his lost something since he wrote Man..". His subjects in that book were all his patients at one point - and that kind of clinical closeness gave a depth to his analysis that is slightly lacking in some of his later writing. The sense of amazement is still there, but it seems slightly shallower. Musicophilia may have the same problem, but it more than compensates with the sheer enthusiasm that Sacks brings to the project. His love of music permeates the whole book, and his obsessiveness regarding the subject brings back the depth that he lost with clinical distance. Certain chapters, such as the one on Synesthesia, rank as some of the best Sacks has written. He gives scientific backing to an idea often dismissed as myth, while at the same time bringing his usual humanistic bent - I was particular enchanted by a description by a synesthete of a conversation in his first grade class, in which he said he was "counting the colors until friday." Really fantastic stuff.

  11. 4 out of 5

    A.G. Stranger

    " All arts aspire to the condition of Music". Now, it's scientifically proven.( Not that it needed to.)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bobby

    I really tried to perservere with this book, but after 100 pages I had to put it down. First, although marketed to a popular audience (even making it to the best sellers list), there are massive amounts of musical jargon and a background of musical knowledge would be extrememly helpful. Second, the books seemed to lack cohesive threads or narritive. I found it extremely disjointed with every few paragraphs changing to a different patient with very few being fully developed or resolved. Third, I I really tried to perservere with this book, but after 100 pages I had to put it down. First, although marketed to a popular audience (even making it to the best sellers list), there are massive amounts of musical jargon and a background of musical knowledge would be extrememly helpful. Second, the books seemed to lack cohesive threads or narritive. I found it extremely disjointed with every few paragraphs changing to a different patient with very few being fully developed or resolved. Third, I was also disappointed that specific discussion of music was usually about classical music. No mention of the effects of more popular musical genres was made in the portion I read. Other than a few interesting accounts and facts, I obtained little enjoyment or education from this book that seemed so promising.

  13. 5 out of 5

    liz

    I wasn't hugely impressed with this. Sacks's writing sometimes gets extremely dry as he goes into the technicalities of how the brain functions. I found his other books, with chapters each covering a variety of conditions ("Anthropologist on Mars," "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"), to be much stronger, even though they were less consistent thematically. It seemed that at times Sacks had to stretch to find patients with some of the musical conditions he described -- not a good sign, sinc I wasn't hugely impressed with this. Sacks's writing sometimes gets extremely dry as he goes into the technicalities of how the brain functions. I found his other books, with chapters each covering a variety of conditions ("Anthropologist on Mars," "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"), to be much stronger, even though they were less consistent thematically. It seemed that at times Sacks had to stretch to find patients with some of the musical conditions he described -- not a good sign, since some of his best work consists of describing individuals' conditions and then working out what might be causing them. He also borrowed heavily from cases described in his other works. It made me wonder, what would motivate someone to write a book if he didn't have the necessary new material? ...infants at six months can readily detect all rhythmic variations, but by twelve months their range has narrowed, albeit sharpened. They can now more easily detect the types of rhythms to which they have previously been exposed; they learn and internalize a set of rhythms for their culture. Adults find it harder still to perceive "foreign" rhythmic distinctions.

  14. 4 out of 5

    brian tanabe

    This is my first oliver sacks -- I always meant to read the Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat but alas never got around to it. I love mr. sacks' delightful anecdotal storytelling and his intellect that makes fresh and accessible the study of the brain. It *almost* makes the issues dealt with in the book pleasant. In a nutshell, this book is about the power of music, backed by many accounts from the medical perspective of the interaction between music and the brain. It's hard to tell without a lot This is my first oliver sacks -- I always meant to read the Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat but alas never got around to it. I love mr. sacks' delightful anecdotal storytelling and his intellect that makes fresh and accessible the study of the brain. It *almost* makes the issues dealt with in the book pleasant. In a nutshell, this book is about the power of music, backed by many accounts from the medical perspective of the interaction between music and the brain. It's hard to tell without a lot of background knowledge on mr sacks and his previous works, but it seems as if in part this book is a culmination of much of his previous works and observations. A peripheral discussion that continued to dance through my head while reading this book is what is the "best" music to listen to? I kind of got the impression that classical music was most close to the primal drummings of the soul, but perhaps not. I mean mr sacks is an older fellow, and much of his observations were of patients from his earlier days practising, so is it fair to assume that classical music had a more august position in those days and was thus more clearly regarded as the truest form of music? Would any music do, any beat and rhythm that strikes a cord with the individual? I came away from this book wanting to listen to less podcasts and more music. I came away yet again regretting that I've never tried to play an instrument in my life. Ultimately, though, I came away with much more reverance for the power of music, more convinced that music just might be the surest and most direct path to self and the soul.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Musicophelia is an enchanting read, though one is struck more by the phenomena depicted—amusias, musical hallucinations, comatose patients suddenly "awakened" by nothing more than a familiar melody—than the manner of their depiction. Sacks has always been lauded for his fluid, personable style, and for good reason, but in the wake of classics such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Uncle Tungsten, his writing seems excessively florid and repetitive—neither tight enough nor substantial Musicophelia is an enchanting read, though one is struck more by the phenomena depicted—amusias, musical hallucinations, comatose patients suddenly "awakened" by nothing more than a familiar melody—than the manner of their depiction. Sacks has always been lauded for his fluid, personable style, and for good reason, but in the wake of classics such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Uncle Tungsten, his writing seems excessively florid and repetitive—neither tight enough nor substantial enough to match the subject he loves so well. My other criticism is that for all it's heartstopping wonder, Musicophelia rarely buckles down to the core of things. Only at specific points does Sacks truly explore the philosophical or psychological implications of his subjects. I confess I've encountered many of these "clinical tales" in his earlier books and articles, and hence, the net result feels to me more like a compendium or "greatest hits" album rather than a fully realized examination like Migraine. The key questions—what do organized tones mean to us? why have we evolved to perceive and celebrate rhythm? what is the relationship between music and language?—are touched upon, but only superficially discussed.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Faye

    2.5 stars I am a music geek. I play piano and I'm also taking a Music Theory Class right now. So I was really pumped to read a book about how music affects you. But the thing is, all these concept aren't explored. I feel like too many topics were squeezed into one book. Even more, some of them are very repetitive. In this book, I've read in so many chapters about how people with certain disorders and illnesses have a special reaction to music. Yes, there are many diseases, but it just got really r 2.5 stars I am a music geek. I play piano and I'm also taking a Music Theory Class right now. So I was really pumped to read a book about how music affects you. But the thing is, all these concept aren't explored. I feel like too many topics were squeezed into one book. Even more, some of them are very repetitive. In this book, I've read in so many chapters about how people with certain disorders and illnesses have a special reaction to music. Yes, there are many diseases, but it just got really repetitive. I even ended up skimming some of these chapters. But I did learn some new things. I wasn't anymore convinced that music is amazing, because I already knew that, but I did learn some new things neurologically speaking about music. But this book really was so repetitive and boring.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Malbadeen

    Woooooooa!!! Heeeeeeey!!!! Look at me I'm Oliver Sacks and I'm tellin you some more wacky stuff about brains. oh-la-la. I'm so fancy. (interesting topic but I prefer the podcast interview to the book - which I was able to stick with through apx. chapter 6 before throwing in the towell. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/st...)

  18. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Starts off with a fairly unsatisfying collection of anecdotes around loss or gain of musical ability. The real heft arrives halfway as Sacks starts pulling together the real research and making implications. The message here is that music is not some frivolous side effect of our neurology. Rather, music is processed by dedicated machinery in our brains and can affect us in profound and surprising ways. There are tantalising implications that humans have the capacity for much greater musical abilit Starts off with a fairly unsatisfying collection of anecdotes around loss or gain of musical ability. The real heft arrives halfway as Sacks starts pulling together the real research and making implications. The message here is that music is not some frivolous side effect of our neurology. Rather, music is processed by dedicated machinery in our brains and can affect us in profound and surprising ways. There are tantalising implications that humans have the capacity for much greater musical ability, if it were developed correctly. One suggestion is that people in Western countries miss out on developing 'perfect pitch', because our languages are agnostic to the tone of voice used - unlike the sing-song tonality of say, Chinese. Evidently one of the few books around on the subject - worth a read but not Sacks' best.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    I get the feeling Oliver Sacks likes to reuse material. He retells the stories of his clients throughout his books, always with references to his other work. This isn't entirely bad, but I had to speed through some parts that were a tad bit repetitive. The subject matter is fascinating, and perfectly delivered for the layman(Which I happen to be). I have a newfound respect for the power of music therapy and music itself.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Syed Ashrafulla

    I know this book is cute to its readers because it makes them feel intelligent. "Hey look at me now I understand music from a brain perspective." This book is far far too narrow to pull that off. It's actually a terrible message to send to readers that music is inherently related to brain damage. The obvious question to ask is whether every good musician is mentally damaged, a question to which Sacks would answer yes apparently. He continually insinuates that great musicians probably had small m I know this book is cute to its readers because it makes them feel intelligent. "Hey look at me now I understand music from a brain perspective." This book is far far too narrow to pull that off. It's actually a terrible message to send to readers that music is inherently related to brain damage. The obvious question to ask is whether every good musician is mentally damaged, a question to which Sacks would answer yes apparently. He continually insinuates that great musicians probably had small mental issues which were a side effect of their genius. That is just bad bad storytelling. I am not knocking anecdotal evidence; anecdotal evidence is very strong because unlike controlled experiments anecdotal evidence is data found in real-life with the conditions of real-life rather than contrived conditions. I am knocking the construction that Sacks makes between music and deformed brain conditions. This doesn't account for the numerous musicians who do not have a defect yet still show the same musical abilities. The lack of a counterfactual is because Sacks is a neuroclinician; he's not going to see people who have non-pathological brains. This is a very frustrating point to make because it is fairly obvious to me. If a mental condition is associated with music it implies that a) music requires the sacrifice of mental faculties, and b) those who have non-pathological brains are insinuated to be "lesser" musical beings. Neither of these things are true and neither of these things make any sense whatsoever. Yet somehow Sacks and his readers (the book I read was a new edition with notes from multiple readers) find it fascinating that there is this association which doesn't exist. I disliked the entire message of this book, which is why I downgraded it so much.

  21. 4 out of 5

    mai

    part i: holy crap, this book so far is so fucking boring. let's give 500 examples that describe the exact same thing. zzzzZZZzzzZzZzZZ...i really hope it gets better. so far, the author is just introducing us to several different patients who exhibit the same or similar symptoms, doesn't discuss further and then just leaves us hanging. there's no in-depth explanation as to why these things are happening, we don't get to know the patients. it's interesting for a minute, and then after the 10th, 2 part i: holy crap, this book so far is so fucking boring. let's give 500 examples that describe the exact same thing. zzzzZZZzzzZzZzZZ...i really hope it gets better. so far, the author is just introducing us to several different patients who exhibit the same or similar symptoms, doesn't discuss further and then just leaves us hanging. there's no in-depth explanation as to why these things are happening, we don't get to know the patients. it's interesting for a minute, and then after the 10th, 20th, 30th patient example, it's fucking dull. i had very high hopes for this book since i love music so much and find science and neuroscience so interesting, but so far, a total letdown. 12/09/2011 - i couldn't finish this book. it's been a long time since i've given up on a book, but i just found it so redundant, repetitive, and boring. i don't enjoy the author's writing style at all. once i started to find the book or an anecdote interesting, he'd jump to something new and lose my interest.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    This is nonfiction neuroscience.....about the brain and music and how each of them can effect the other. Some of the science was fascinating. I also enjoyed the plethora of (case studies) stories the author cited. All the examples were different. I really felt for some of these patients because some of this sounded like awful afflictions, not a gift.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bob

    Summary: Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks chronicles the neuroscience of music–the various ways music affects the brain, and the unusual effects of various neurological conditions on our perception, performance, and experience of music. Oliver Sacks died on August 30 of this year. A few months earlier, my son gave me this book, and it seemed especially appropriate to pull it off the “to be read” pile and acquaint myself with the work of this neuroscientist and physician. Before opening the book, Summary: Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks chronicles the neuroscience of music–the various ways music affects the brain, and the unusual effects of various neurological conditions on our perception, performance, and experience of music. Oliver Sacks died on August 30 of this year. A few months earlier, my son gave me this book, and it seemed especially appropriate to pull it off the “to be read” pile and acquaint myself with the work of this neuroscientist and physician. Before opening the book, I had one of those heart-stopping moments as I found myself staring at the cover picture of Sacks and thought I was looking at a doppelganger! I guess balding men with graying beards, glasses and a certain shape of head can look a bit like each other. What Sacks does is chronicle the fascinating ways music and the brain interact and some of the unusual conditions that involve unusual responses to music. In the course of this book he explores a range of phenomena beginning with a sudden onset of musical interest following a lightening strike, the ways music might evoke seizures or suppress the tics of Tourettes or the shaking of Parkinson’s. He wonders whether the advent of iPods will result in more brainworms–those tunes we can’t get out of our heads.He describes musical hallucinations, where one hears music in one’s head even when none is playing. He explores musicality from tone deafness to perfect pitch (which occurs more in musical families and where musical training begins early) and synesthesia, where music is associated with color. He explores the connections between music, memory and movement. He describes Clive, who because of brain infection that affected his temporal lobes lives in a perpetual present with no memory of past moments. Yet somehow he remembers music he knew in the past. Perhaps a highlight of the book was his description of a camp for people with Williams syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects the development of the brain resulting in low IQs and yet incredible verbal and musical skills. He describes the delight these people had in talking and making music with one another. In one of the concluding chapters he describes the work done with Alzheimer’s patients and how, for them as well, music is a connection to memories of the past, and an anchor to their no-longer remembered lives that is profound. He talks about “the loss of self” and how music helps Alzheimer’s patients connect to some sense of “self” when the other memories are gone. The book left me in wonder at the intricacies of the human brain and how the neural circuitry related to our perception, memory of, and making of music interact with speech, thought, emotion, and other memories. And it reminded me of the power of music–a power to evoke emotions, memories, and even to address troubling neurological conditions. It reminds me of how when I am learning, singing and performing a piece of music, I find myself tapping into a different aspect of who I am from when I am simply speaking or writing or reading. And I found myself thankful for the life of Oliver Sacks, who cared for people with troubling conditions and brought together his love for his patients, his skills in research, and his own musicality and life history into this fascinating narrative of music and the human brain.

  24. 5 out of 5

    rachel

    In his characteristic compassion and curiosity Oliver Sacks looks at what seems to be the infinite ways that music interacts with our brains- from the worms that play maddeningly in our heads to the power of music as an aid in communication with people who either from birth or from stroke or other life altering situation have lost the ability to vocalize. And okay, this blows my mind, that people who otherwise cannot remember the sequence of basic routines in life, like getting up, shaving, mak In his characteristic compassion and curiosity Oliver Sacks looks at what seems to be the infinite ways that music interacts with our brains- from the worms that play maddeningly in our heads to the power of music as an aid in communication with people who either from birth or from stroke or other life altering situation have lost the ability to vocalize. And okay, this blows my mind, that people who otherwise cannot remember the sequence of basic routines in life, like getting up, shaving, making coffee etc. can do so once they're aided in creating a little song about it. At one point Oliver Sacks writes that when he first encounters someone who has been struck nonverbal by stroke or epilepsy or whatever he often starts singing "happy birthday" to them and invariably evokes a response. There's a story of a woman who had lost the power of one of her legs, but would notice an involuntary tapping response when she was listening to jigs and other boisterous fiddle music who was able to walk again. And it goes on. It almost seems like this is a best of Oliver Sacks, where he goes back to a life's work, from Awakenings to the Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat and onwards to explore the ways the music played a role in working with each individual or groups of individuals he encountered. It's a beautiful book for anyone to read. It also reminded me that once upon a time I was interested in becoming a music therapist, and so may have set me on a hopefully very good course for the next chunk of years.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    This book caught my attention mostly because it explores the relation between music and neurological disorders. The premise seemed interesting and I’ve never read anything by this author, so I thought it would be an excellent opportunity. This is essentially a compilation of stories that Sacks explains with very little scientific basis. The author reports several cases that he had observed or read in articles. It becomes quite repetitive and boring at times. Also, you never truly understand what This book caught my attention mostly because it explores the relation between music and neurological disorders. The premise seemed interesting and I’ve never read anything by this author, so I thought it would be an excellent opportunity. This is essentially a compilation of stories that Sacks explains with very little scientific basis. The author reports several cases that he had observed or read in articles. It becomes quite repetitive and boring at times. Also, you never truly understand what actually exists has scientific evidence between music and the described diseases. It is interesting, but not brilliant. For me, the ratting was 2.5.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Amirography

    It was a great book. Though it does not seem to follow a very hierarchical structure which I like, it is a great read. I loved how Dr. Sacks covered many different items relating to clinical aspects of music on different kinds of people. Indeed this book is for those who love brains and neuroscience, yet I think it stresses on the importance of music for everybody.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brandon

    Books by Oliver Sacks usually contain gems of insight drawn from his encyclopedic knowledge and keen powers of synthesis, but this volume is a just a collection of anecdotes of neurological and neuro-biological conditions in relation to music and the mind. Not much to learn here -just another book contract fulfilled for the publishing gristmill. Disappointment, in b-flat minor.

  28. 5 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    I wrote to Sacks just after starting this, suddenly thinking he was the man to answer a question I'd been asking musicians for years. When I was little I played violin and piano to a high standard, but although I was technically supposed to be equal in both, the fact is I was a fine violinist and a crap pianist. I never really liked the piano. Being lefthanded, it never surprised me that I was good at the violin, since, after all, the left hand does more or less everything whilst the right hand s I wrote to Sacks just after starting this, suddenly thinking he was the man to answer a question I'd been asking musicians for years. When I was little I played violin and piano to a high standard, but although I was technically supposed to be equal in both, the fact is I was a fine violinist and a crap pianist. I never really liked the piano. Being lefthanded, it never surprised me that I was good at the violin, since, after all, the left hand does more or less everything whilst the right hand saws away with the box. Righthanded violinists hate it when you say this. They all think sawing away is the important bit, but obviously it isn't. When I was first learning the violin, my parents wondered if I should learn on a left-handed violin, so that I was playing as a righthander would. Luckily they did not choose that path for me. However. I have subsequently had an idea that this is exactly what they should have done for me as a pianist. In general the left hand, the bass, goes boom, boom, and the right hand does all the work. So quite clearly, it suddenly seemed to me some years ago, if I'd been able to play piano in reverse, maybe I would have felt it was part of me, the way I did the violin. Maybe I wouldn't have sucked at piano. Nobody has ever answered this question for me, much as everybody thinks it is interesting. However, just yesterday at lunch, Luke, a man with an IPhone and a net connection looked it up and now there is a pianist, lefthanded, who felt exactly as I did. Christopher Seed, an accomplished professional pianist decided he'd play even better if his left hand could do all the work. Question answered, though more data would be ince. Sacks never responded. I'm still going to read the book, but.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sandi Biltoo

    This book was not the lightest of reading material; There is a lot of technical jargon and medical terminologies that will go completely over the head of the layman reader, but as an avid lover of music, I consumed this book with a deep desire to have a better technical understanding of how music affects me, other than just how it makes me feel. As a neurologist and naturalist, Dr. Sacks writes first and foremost as doctor and a scientist, but with the underlying tones of a philosopher and anthro This book was not the lightest of reading material; There is a lot of technical jargon and medical terminologies that will go completely over the head of the layman reader, but as an avid lover of music, I consumed this book with a deep desire to have a better technical understanding of how music affects me, other than just how it makes me feel. As a neurologist and naturalist, Dr. Sacks writes first and foremost as doctor and a scientist, but with the underlying tones of a philosopher and anthropologist. This allows him to use case studies of people with musical afflications and neurological disorders to tell stories of the amazing complexities and mysteries of the human brain and the profound mysteries of music from a scientific perspective, but mostly the more mysterious, and absolutely inexplicable, ways in which music affects the brain. In Musicophilia, Dr. Sacks has provided a thoroughly fascinating journey into music and the mind. If you are a lover of music and are the least bit curious to know just a little bit more about how music affects and can affect our human brains, this book is a delightful must read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Richard

    I'm reading this slowly and between other books. I have it on my electronic reader and so usually focus on it when I'm traveling. I always feel I learn something from Sacks, and this book is no different in that respect. Now finished. I love Sacks. I always learn something. His 'stories' or examples are terrific. And there is an underlying humanity to him that always seems to understand what is good about someone, no matter how serious the neurologic, etc. defect. In this book, he explores the p I'm reading this slowly and between other books. I have it on my electronic reader and so usually focus on it when I'm traveling. I always feel I learn something from Sacks, and this book is no different in that respect. Now finished. I love Sacks. I always learn something. His 'stories' or examples are terrific. And there is an underlying humanity to him that always seems to understand what is good about someone, no matter how serious the neurologic, etc. defect. In this book, he explores the power of music and how it can make life almost acceptable for folks with Alzheimers or some other neurological problem. But this book is more than that, and if you have interest in music and or liked "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," then this book is worth the time.

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