Tucked away in the cabinets of Oliver Sacks’s Greenwich Village office are hundreds of small black notebooks, each filled with jottings and sketches, newspaper clippings, and photos. These are the accumulated reflections from a lifetime spent observing the extraordinary ways the human brain can misfire and misbehave: a man who believes his own leg does not belong to him, an autistic woman with a gift for understanding animals, and the man who mistook his wife for a hat—the case that inspired one of Sacks’s most famous books.
What people may not know about Sacks, however, is that the 74-year-old neurologist has spent much of his career regularly treating patients in mental-health facilities around New York City. Those patients have more commonplace problems such as dementia, sciatica, gait disorders, and seizures. In his latest book, Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Sacks focuses on unusual cases having to do with music’s effects on the mind, such as a man who found relief from Tourette’s syndrome by playing the drums, and another who was driven to the edge by an unwelcome and unending tune that cycled uncontrollably through his head.