I’m not sure precisely where I first heard of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: probably from Amazon’s recommendation algorithm. I clicked it entirely on the power of its quirky title, exactly the sort of thing I dig (like Consider the Lobster, which will soon find its way into this meme, though which admittedly I chose based on the strength of the author and not the novelty of the title).
Neither was I sure what to expect from the book. I had illusions of a Bill Bryson-esque romp through a collection of neuropsychological oddities, followed up by some sound science regarding their creation, treatment, and wry wit. Is that what I got? Eh, not so much. Which isn’t to say that the book wasn’t good: it was of a considerably meatier nature than I had invisioned. Sacks, a doctor of neuropsychology, describes some of his most curious cases, such as a woman who completely lost her sense of proprioception (the “sixth sense” of sorts that allows you to close your eyes but still easily touch your nose with your finger), meaning unless she was looking at her hands, she had no idea where they were or what they were doing. It’s gruesome. And fascinating. Of course, Sacks spends far less time describing the pathologies themselves than waxing philosophical about their effect on one’s humanity or sense of self. The book was written in 1985, so the last two decades’ insights about such matters certainly aren’t present; reading The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat isn’t not like reading a recent periodical about neurological maladies. Rather, it’s a philosophical or spiritual dissertation using brain-based problems as examples for further rumination.