Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does—humans are a musical species.
Oliver Sacks’s compassionate, compelling tales of people struggling to adapt to different neurological conditions have fundamentally changed the way we think of our own brains, and of the human experience. In Musicophilia, he examines the powers of music through the individual experiences of patients, musicians, and everyday people—from a man who is struck by lightning and suddenly inspired to become a pianist at the age of forty-two, to an entire group of children with Williams syndrome, who are hypermusical from birth; from people with “amusia,” to whom a symphony sounds like the clattering of pots and pans, to a man whose memory spans only seven seconds—for everything but music.
Our exquisite sensitivity to music can sometimes go wrong: Sacks explores how catchy tunes can subject us to hours of mental replay, and how a surprising number of people acquire nonstop musical hallucinations that assault them night and day. Yet far more frequently, music goes right: Sacks describes how music can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia.
“Dr. Sacks writes not just as a doctor and a scientist but also as a humanist with a philosophical and literary bent. . . [his] book not only contributes to our understanding of the elusive magic of music but also illuminates the strange workings, and misfirings, of the human mind.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“[Sacks] weaves neuroscience through a fascinating personal story, allowing us to think about brain functions and music in a bracing new light . . . Human context is what makes good journalism, medical and otherwise. That's the art of Sacks' best essays.”—Kevin Berger, Salon
“Oliver Sacks turns his formidable attention to music and the brain . . . He doesn’t stint on the science . . . but the underlying authority of Musicophilia lies in the warmth and easy command of the author’s voice.”—Mark Coleman, Los Angeles Times
“His work is luminous, original, and indispensable . . . Musicophilia is a Chopin mazurka recital of a book, fast, inventive and weirdly beautiful . . . Yet what is most awe-inspiring is his observational empathy.”—American Scholar
“Curious, cultured, caring, in his person Sacks justifies the medical profession and, one is tempted to say, the human race . . . Sacks is, in short, the ideal exponent of the view that responsiveness to music is intrinsic to our makeup. He is also the ideal guide to the territory he covers. Musicophilia allows readers to join Sacks where he is most alive, amid melodies and with his patients.” —Peter D. Kramer, The Washington Post
“Readers will be grateful that Sacks . . . is happy to revel in phenomena that he cannot yet explain.”—The New York Times Book Review
“The persuasive essays about composers, patients, savants, and ordinary people . . . offer captivating variations on the central premise that human beings are ‘exquisitely tuned’ to the illuminating yet ultimately mysterious powers of music.”—Elle
“With the exception of Lewis Thomas, no physician has ever written better about his trade.”—Salon
“A gifted writer and a neurologist, Sacks spins one fascinating tale after another to show what happens when music and the brain mix it up.”—Newsweek
Visit Oliver Sacks's website
Oliver Sacks is a physician and the author of nine previous books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Awakenings (which inspired the Oscar-nominated film). He lives in New York City, where he is Professor of Clinical Neurology at Columbia University.