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Musicophilia
Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition
Oliver Sacks
read on February 1, 2014

Musicophilia reads almost exactly like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. Sacks has decades of experience dealing with people that have particular neurological deficiencies, and he put together a collection of stories about those particularly related to music. (Several, in fact, are repeated from the Hat book). I have the same positive and negative thoughts on this book as I had on the other. It's very interesting, but not terribly accessible, and not super exciting. I often had to talk myself into getting back into it, just because I knew it was good for me, and to allow myself to get on to another book. The thing I remember most a month later is:

  • Some people have perfect pitch. This means that they can perfectly identify the pitch of any noise/frequency. For instance, they can tell you that a car door that just closed made a D flat. Everyone's heard of "perfect pitch" (and the corollary tone deaf), but Sacks described it very well. Particularly, he had descriptions of the sensation from people that had perfect pitch, and to them it's pretty much impossible to understand not having it. It would be like trying to describe color to someone who only saw black and white. Or if you showed me a red flash card, then took it away, and asked me what color the flash card was. And why not? I mean, it makes perfect sense that someone be able to identify a noise, right? Anyway, I liked this. Not surprisingly, people that are blind, as well as people that grow up speaking tonal languages natively (a language where the meaning of the word changes depending on the pitch/tone of it) are much more likely to have perfect pitch.

Author Bio:

liver Wolf Sacks, CBE, FRCP (9 July 1933 – 30 August 2015) was a British neurologist, naturalist and author. Born and educated mostly in Great Britain, he spent his career in the United States. He believed that the brain is the "most incredible thing in the universe." He became widely known for writing best-selling case histories about his patients' disorders, with some of his books adapted for stage and film. After Sacks received his medical degree from the Queen's College, Oxford in 1960, he interned at Middlesex Hospital (part of University College, London) before moving to the U.S. He then interned at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco and completed his residency in neurology and neuropathology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He relocated to New York in 1965, where he first worked under a paid fellowship in neurochemistry and neuropathology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Upon realising that the neuro-research career he envisioned for himself would be a poor fit, in 1966 he began serving as neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital's chronic-care facility in the Bronx. While there, he worked with a group of survivors of the 1920s sleeping sickness encephalitis lethargica, who had been unable to move on their own for decades. His treatment of those patients became the basis of his book Awakenings. In the period from 1966 to 1991 he was a neurological consultant to various New York City-area nursing homes (especially those operated by Little Sisters of the Poor), hospitals, and at the Bronx Psychiatric Center. Sacks was the author of numerous best-selling books, mostly collections of case studies of people with neurological disorders. His writings have been featured in a wide range of media; the New York Times called him a "poet laureate of contemporary medicine", and "one of the great clinical writers of the 20th century". His books include a wealth of narrative detail about his experiences with patients, and how they coped with their conditions, often illuminating how the normal brain deals with perception, memory and individuality. Awakenings (1973) was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated film in 1990, starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro. He and his book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain were the subject of "Musical Minds", an episode of the PBS series Nova. Sacks was awarded a CBE for services to medicine in the 2008 Birthday Honours.