Reviews for Hallucinations

Booklist Reviews 2012 September #1
Sacks' best-selling nonfiction stories based on his practice of clinical neurology constitute one shining reason for thinking that we're living in a golden age of medical writing. His twelfth book, though neither as scrappy as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) nor as focused as Musicophilia (2007), yields nothing to them in fascination. It's about the varieties of seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling things that aren't there, from Charles Bonnet syndrome, in which sufferers of vision losses see people, animals, and cartoonlike figures more vividly than their impairments should allow, to the kinds of seeing oneself, which include out-of-body experiences as well as doppelganger encounters. The final chapter (of 15) considers the related phenomena of phantom body parts, which differ from other hallucinations in that they occur immediately and almost invariably after loss of their physical "originals." Sacks never talks down to readers nor weighs them down with too much neurological patois. When he does use an unfamiliar term, his genial, informative style makes one want to look it up. High-Demand Backstory: Sacks defines the best of medical writing, and his latest book will be promoted as such. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2012 November
The psychology of seeing the unseen

What seems to be there, but isn’t?

As Dr. Oliver Sacks explains in Hallucinations, his latest collection of absorbing essays, “Hallucinations, beyond any other waking experience, can excite, bewilder, terrify, or inspire, leading to folklore and the myths (sublime, horrible, creative, and playful) which perhaps no individual and no culture can wholly dispense with.”

Hallucinations, which differ starkly from dreams and imagination, are often associated with wild visions induced by fever, madness or drugs. They come in much greater variety, however, and include hearing voices, music or noises, feeling things or smelling odors—none of which exist. This multitude of illusions has a grand litany of causes, including injury, illness, migraines, trauma, epilepsy and more.

As always, Sacks, the best-selling author of Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, describes a fascinating cast of patients, starting with a blind, elderly woman named Rosalie, who suddenly began seeing a parade of people in colorful “Eastern” dress and animals, and later a group of somber men in dark suits, and finally, crowds of tiny people and children climbing up the sides of her wheelchair. These crowded, complex visions rolled before Rosalie’s unseeing eyes like a movie, sometimes amusing, and at other times boring or frightening. Sacks diagnosed Rosalie with a fairly rare condition called Charles Bonnet syndrome, which causes visually impaired people to hallucinate.

In addition to Rosalie, he shares stories about a patient who keeps hearing Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” play repeatedly, a Parkinson’s patient who watches a group of women trying on fur coats in her doctor’s waiting room, a man who feels peach-like fuzz covering everything he touches and a narcolepsy patient who sees the road rise and hit her in the face as she drives. Hallucinations, we learn, can range from terrifying to inspirational, from annoying to entertaining. One of Sacks’ elderly patients greatly looked forward to her visit each evening from “a gentleman visitor from out of town.”

In these 15 essays, Sacks clearly explains and categorizes an amazing assortment of hallucinations, trying to make sense of phenomena that seem to defy logic. He shares his own tale of a voice he heard when alone on a mountain and suffering from a dislocated knee. Just when he was tempted to lie down and sleep, a voice commanded, “You can’t rest here—you can’t rest anywhere. You’ve got to go on. Find a pace you can keep up and go on steadily.”

No doubt his many avid readers are deeply grateful that the good doctor followed the orders of this life-saving hallucination.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2013 April
This latest book by prolific author Sacks (Columbia Univ.) is fascinating and illuminating. He brings a clear neurologist's view to a topic discussed over the years in philosophy, psychology, and medicine, and always links what is going on in the mind to what might be happening in the brain--neural discharge, chemical influences, and even the absence of sensory input. At the same time, his narrative accounts provide a vivid and sometimes disturbing picture of what it might be like to have internally constructed sensations interpretable as external ones. The wide range of illusions and hallucinations goes from the visual images of Charles Bonnet syndrome through the ecstatic seizures of temporal lobe epilepsy to the touch/pain images of phantom limbs. Sacks even discusses (while emphasizing these drugs were legal at the time) the illuminating effect of "recreational" drugs on himself. The range and scope of hallucinations give his audience a chance to see how normal these abnormalities are and how people have interpreted and made sense of them. It can even leave "normal" readers a bit wistful that they do not experience any of them, while still better understanding reality and its departures. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through professionals; general readers. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates; Graduate Students; Researchers/Faculty; Professionals/Practitioners. J. A. Mather University of Lethbridge Copyright 2013 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 September #2
Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind's Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind. The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations--seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren't there--and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who "saw" strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, "put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room--and found it completely empty." He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson's disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it's a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it's still effective--largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose. A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 June #1

Hallucinations don't belong wholly to the insane. Illness or injury, intoxication or sensory deprivation, or simply falling sleeping can cause anyone to see (or hear, or smell, or sense) swirly, twirly things that aren't there. Everyone's favorite neurologist is back to explain types of hallucinations, what they tell us about the brain's workings, and how they have influenced art and culture. Who knew medicine could be so much fun.

[Page 80]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 September #1
Physician and prolific author Sacks (The Mind's Eye) gives readers another gem of a book, this time about hallucinations. He discusses his own experiences stemming from migraines or drug use: "My first pot experience was marked by a mix of the neurological and the divine." Hallucinations can involve any of the five senses or memory, or be caused by brain injury. They manifest as sleep paralysis and nightmares, ecstasy and panic, music, haunting images, revenants, and doubles. Sacks's more famous subjects here include Joan of Arc, Dostoyevsky, Freud, and William James. His commentary ranges widely, from hypnosis to post-traumatic stress disorder, imaginary companions to out-of-body experience. VERDICT With a fine sense of narrative, Sacks deftly integrates literature, art, and medical history around his very human, often riveting, case histories. This book is recommended for all readers, not just those with symptoms! This is a model of humane science made compellingly readable. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/12.]--E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Library Journal Reviews Newsletter
Sacks shows readers how senses can deceive, using clinical examples from his patients as well as literary and historical descriptions. A fascinating book. (LJ 9/1/12) (c) Copyright 2011. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 August #2

We think of seeing--or hearing, smelling, touching or inchoately sensing--things that aren't there as a classic sign of madness, but it's really a human commonplace, according to Sacks's latest fascinating exploration of neuropsychiatric weirdness. Acclaimed neurologist Sacks (The Mind's Eye) investigates a wide range of hallucinations, from the geometric zigzags of some migraines and the painful cramps of phantom limbs to florid multicharacter melodramas, grotesque phantasms, and mystic trances induced by brain disorders and drugs. He also studies how people live with their hallucinations; some recognize them as just diverting figments while for others they constitute an inescapable unreality as malevolent and terrifying as a horror movie. (Sacks amply recounts his own entertaining hallucinations, including a drug-induced encounter with a spider who talked to him about Bertrand Russell.) As always, Sacks approaches the topic as both a brain scientist and a humanist; he shows how hallucinations elucidate intricate neurological mechanisms--often they are the brain's bizarre attempt to fill in for missing sensory input--and examines their imprint on folklore and culture. (Dostoyevski's fiction, he theorizes, is marked by the ecstatic religious trances induced by his epilepsy.) Writing with his trademark mix of evocative description, probing curiosity, and warm empathy, Sacks once again draws back the curtain on the mind's improbable workings. Agent: The Wylie Agency. (Nov. 6)

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