Stories of mental excesses, losses, and transforms.

Book: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Author: Oliver Sacks


Dr P lost his ability to visually tell the difference between objects unless they had rather remarkable characteristics even though nothing was wrong with his eyes. However, his skill and talent with music was unaffected and possibly grew stronger as his condition worsened

Jimmie was a 49 year old who lost all memories prior to roughly his 20th birthday.  His short term memory was also totally lost and unless his brain was challenged to stay on a single thread of thought he would lose it within minutes.

Christina lost the ability to feel or sense her own body. Walking became impossible and her hands would often touch or grab things without her knowing it. She only could control her body if looking at it.

A man stopped recognizing his leg as his own and found it repulsive – as one would if waking up next to a dead disembodied leg.

Madeleine, an elderly blind woman had been misdiagnosed early in life as being unable to use her hands and had gone through her entire life having everything done for her and never using her hands. As such she had no concept of them or how to use them. Through rehabilitation she was able to learn how to use them and even became a sculptor.

After a stroke, Mrs S lost the meaning of the concept of left. She couldn’t turn left, observe things on the left side of her body.

Aphasiacs are people who have lost the ability to understand words but can still understand expressions and tone. There also exist people at the opposite pole who can only understand the words and their exact meaning.

Natasha, a 90 year old woman was diagnosed with a form of neurosyphilis that made her more energetic and impulsive.

Mr Thompson, a Korsakov patient, developed memories and created stories in real time to replace the memories he lost and was unaware of doing so.

Mrs. O’C, an elderly woman, woke up one morning hearing Irish songs from her childhood that would never stop. It was difficult to hear conversation with others through the songs.

An elderly woman suffering from Parkinson’s was given L-Dopa and began having extremely detailed memories surface from 40 years earlier that she hadn’t remembered or recalled during the intervening period. After her treatment was stopped, the memories ceased.

An Indian girl of 19 with a malignant brain tumor began entering peaceful dreamlike states where she had visions of her home in India growing up.  The worse the tumor became the longer the states would last until right before she died it was practically impossible to remove her from them.

Stephen D, a 20 something PCP user woke up one morning to having extremely heightened senses, especially his sense of smell. This lasted for several weeks.

Donald murdered his girl while under the influence of PCP and had absolutely no memory of the event until years later he suffered significant brain trauma during a bicycle crash and then all memories of the event came back to him.

Rebecca was clumsy, withdrawn, and stressed when in structured settings but had remarkable skill in acting and theater and was able to find success when focusing on that aspect of her personality.

Martin was able to memorize thousands of operas and had refined musical talent. He was happy when singing or helping orchestras.

A pair of twins were able to name the day of any date in history or list prime numbers despite not being able to calculate in typical methods.

Jose suffered from frequent seizures and was unable to talk but was able to express himself through his drawings in remarkable ways.


I never would have picked up this book myself, it was a gift from my father in law because he enjoyed it so much. And it was supremely fascinating and a very quick read.

We really don’t understand the workings of the brain very well yet, especially when things go wrong. It’s an amazing organ and it seems like it’s capable of way more than people living with a fully functioning brain are able to take advantage of.

We don’t have adequate care of those who don’t have normally functioning brains.

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