Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, by Oliver Sacks

by Derwood Hunsdale-Talbot on September 28, 2009

musicophilia-by-oliver-sacksThose who have enjoyed any of Doctor Sacks’ other popular books, such as Awakenings (which was made into a major motion picture starring Robert De Niro) and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat will be familiar with the structure used in Musicophilia, finely told case studies of Sacks’ patients, in this case each revolving about that mysterious thing we call music.

Here we enter the worlds of, for example, world-renowned pianist Leon Fleisher, who for decades suffered from musician’s dystonia, which prevented playing with his right hand. (He continued to play pieces specifically written for one hand, and also took up conducting. Treatment in the Nineties allowed him to eventually regain use of the hand.) We learn about the different degrees of tone-deafness, from the off-key renderings most of us belt out in the shower, to those for whom even Chopin ballads are indistinguishable from atonal noise, lacking any sense of rhythm. We hear of the suffering and ecstasy of those who experience musical hallucinations and those whose symptoms of Tourette’s Syndrome or Parkinson’s are triggered and vary in response to different forms of music. There is an examination of “ear worms,” those sometimes maddening episodes where our minds keep playing the same melody (often one we find abhorrent) over and over, sometimes for hours–sometimes for years.

This book is like a really good record album. Lots of tracks, each one entertaining and enlightening.

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