music and the brain


Urban legend has it that when a patron fell ill in Carnegie Hall and the call went out for a doctor in the house, half the audience stood up to help. Perhaps the concert was a medical benefit; more likely, it never happened. But there does seem to be no shortage of doctors who are musical, at least in New York, and one of them is Oliver Sacks, a neurologist and author, who has now combined two of his passions in one book.

In his earlier collections of clinical tales — most famously in “Awakenings” (1973) and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” (1985) — Sacks presented with compassion, sensitivity and learning what, in coarser hands, might have been freak shows of the mind. The genre could have been an exploitative sideshow: a parade of misfits whose brains have been weirdly affected by disease, trauma, congenital defect or medical treatment. But Sacks is adept at turning neurological narratives into humanly affecting stories, by showing how precariously our worlds are poised on a little biochemistry. The result is a sort of reverse-engineering of the soul.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.