Reviews for Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain


Booklist Reviews 2007 September #1
Music seems to be meaningless, and our love of it inexplicable, but neurologist Sacks, one of the foremost physician-essayists of the day, charmingly argues that music is essential to being human in ways that have only begun to be understood. In many different circumstances, music may arise involuntarily within a person, as attested to by Sacks' initial presentation of cases of sudden intense affinity for music and development of musical skills, of so-called brain worms or tunes that automatically repeat within the mind, and of musical seizures and hallucinations. Despite the range of individual experience of music, from amusia, or incomprehension of melody and/or rhythm and/or harmony, to absolute ("perfect") pitch to synesthesia (e.g., "seeing" the colors of tones), it seems from the clinical literature that anyone could have a sudden loss or gain in musicality. Indeed, the seeming universality of musical mental imaging, even in the utterly deaf, has encouraged the therapeutic use of music to treat an ever-increasing number of illnesses, including the results of severe brain damage, congenital retardative conditions, and such degenerative neuropathies as parkinsonism and Alzheimer's. Sacks' reporting on all of this makes for quite an omnium-gatherum on the main contention that, in essence, musicality is humanity. His customary erudition and fellow-feeling ensure that, no matter how clinical the discussion becomes, it remains, like the music of Mozart, accessible and congenial. Copyright 2007 Booklist Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2007 December
The Chairman and the King

For those interested in why we enjoy listening to music, there's Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by neurologist Oliver Sacks, best known for books that recount some of his highly unusual cases (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, etc.). In Musicophilia, Sacks investigates the medical effects—positive and negative—of listening to music. He does so in a manner somewhere between scholarly and weird, using amazing stories to validate his theories and illustrate how important music appreciation can be. Whether talking about a disabled man who has memorized 2,000 operas or children whose ability to learn Mandarin Chinese has given them perfect pitch, Sacks offers tales that will fascinate any music lover. Copyright 2007 BookPage Reviews.

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BookPage Reviews 2008 October
Musicophilia

The neurologist and acclaimed author returns with an enthralling look at the relationship between music and the human brain. In his latest collection of essays, Sacks explores music's strange sway over man, a dynamic that manifests itself in profound and unexpected ways. Focusing on patients, composers and everyday people who have had extraordinary experiences with music, Sacks writes with wonderful insight about how rhythm and harmony affect both the intellect and the spirit. Now used to treat patients with Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, as well as those who are deaf or suffering from brain damage, music, Sacks demonstrates, has surprising restorative powers that science is only just beginning to understand. Anecdotes about people who display, unexpectedly, uncanny musical abilities, who experience musical episodes akin to epileptic seizures, give rise to larger questions about man's relationship to melody. Sacks looks at a group of children who are "hypermusical," as well as individuals suffering from what's known as amusia—the inability to hear and understand music. Examining the hows and whys of these music-related conditions, Sacks has produced a compelling group of essays. The best-selling author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and many other books, he is a winning storyteller, bringing clarity and a rare sense of poetry to science writing.

A reading group guide is available online at readinggroupcenter.com. Copyright 2008 BookPage Reviews.

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Choice Reviews 2008 April
Avid readers of Sacks's other work (e.g., The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, 1985; Awakenings, 1972) will delight in this treatment of the neurology of music. Those in the fields of psychology and physiology have written books about music's effect on the brain, but none of those works is as readable, and few are as insightful, as this one. Sacks (Columbia Univ. Medical Center) argues that human neurology is designed for music in the same way it is designed for language. Until quite recently, scientists learned about the normal human brain primarily by studying brains gone awry. Sacks acknowledges that technological innovations will reveal much about the brain, but he believes that case histories are equally legitimate sources of information. The case histories included here include a man who could remember nothing but music for more than seconds, a man struck by lightning who took up the piano, and a woman plagued by musical hallucinations. Sacks also includes general examinations of intriguing topics--absolute pitch, synaesthesia, amusia, music "stuck" in one's head. But the book's best quality is Sacks's clear, probing, yet compassionate writing. He demonstrates how understanding human engagement with music can help one understand the meaning of being human. Summing Up: Essential. All readers, all levels. Copyright 2008 American Library Association.

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Kirkus Reviews 2007 August #2
The gentle doctor turns his pen to another set of mental anomalies that can be viewed as either affliction or gift.If we could prescribe what our physicians would be like, a good number of us would probably choose somebody like Sacks (Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Boyhood, 2001, etc.). Learned, endlessly inquisitive and seemingly possessed of a bottomless store of human compassion, the neurologist's authorial personality both reassures and arouses curiosity. Here, Sacks tackles the whole spectrum of the human body's experience of music by studying it from the aesthetic as well as medical viewpoint. Fantastical case studies include a young boy assaulted by musical hallucinations who would shout "Take it out of my head! Take it away!" when music only he could hear became unbearably loud. Less frightening are stories about people like Martin, a severely disabled man who committed some 2,000 operas to memory, or ruminations on the linkage between perfect pitch and language: Young children learning music are vastly more likely to have perfect pitch if they speak Mandarin than almost any other language. A gadfly and storyteller as well as a scientist, the author can't resist a good yarn even when it's not likely to be true, such as the anecdote about Shostakovich claiming that he heard beautiful new melodies every time he tilted his head to one side, due to a piece of German shrapnel lodged in his brain. Sacks is as good a guide to this mysterious and barely understood world as one could ask for, mixing serious case studies with personal takes on music and what its ultimate uses could possibly be. As the book wears on, however, his loose approach makes some later chapters more work than they should be.Pleasantly rollicking, but with a definite hint that the grand old man is taking it easy.First printing of 100,000 Copyright Kirkus 2007 Kirkus/BPI Communications. All rights reserved.

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Library Journal Reviews 2007 June #1
Everyone's favorite neurologist considers how music affects us. With a six-city tour. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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Library Journal Reviews 2007 September #2

Neurologist Sacks (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat ) plays piano--e.g., Chopin mazurkas--and has treated musicians with brain and peripheral nerve problems. As always, he writes impeccably here but takes on such unusual, highly technical problems of music and medicine--e.g., musical hallucinations, cochlear amusia, Tourette's syndrome--that readers who don't know a lobe from a sulcus will be challenged. Writing about himself, however, Sacks is wonderful, as in "Lamentations: Music and Depression," wherein he talks about how music may lose its power to engage people who are suffering depression after loss; then, suddenly and unexpectedly, music makes contact, releases stifled grief, and restores enthusiasm for life. Better for a general audience are Daniel J. Levitin's This Is Your Brain on Music and Anthony Storr's Music and the Mind , both of which are highly regarded by Sacks. This book is best suited to large general collections and those focused on music and neuroscience. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/07.]--E. James Lieberman, George Washington Univ. Sch. of Medicine, Washington, DC

[Page 76]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2007 August #4

Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for observation to music and its relationship to the brain. The subtitle aptly frames the book as a series of medical case studies--some in-depth, some abruptly short. The tales themselves range from the relatively mundane (a song that gets stuck on a continuing loop in one's mind) through the uncommon (Tourette's or Parkinson's patients whose symptoms are calmed by particular kinds of music) to the outright startling (a man struck by lightning subsequently developed a newfound passion and talent for the concert piano). In this latest collection, Sacks introduces new and fascinating characters, while also touching on the role of music in some of his classic cases (the man who mistook his wife for a hat makes a brief appearance). Though at times the narrative meanders, drawing connections through juxtaposition while leaving broader theories to be inferred by the reader, the result is greater than the sum of its parts. This book leaves one a little more attuned to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious of the role of music in our lives. (Oct.)

[Page 76]. Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

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