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By Oliver Sacks

British neurologist Oliver Sacks is also an award-winning author whose nonfiction generally focuses on explaining medical mysteries to nonscientists. Awakenings (1978) was made into an Oscar-nominated movie, starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, in 1990, and other books, including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985) and Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (**** Jan/Feb 2008), have become best sellers.


THE TOPIC: Drawing on the latest scientific discoveries, individual case studies, and personal experience, Sacks seeks to shed light on a widely misunderstood topic. Hallucinations--sights, sounds, smells, and tactile impressions without an external physical cause--have long been considered the product of acute mental illness or brain damage "even though the vast majority of hallucinations have no such dark implications," Sacks writes. Instead, most are triggered by blindness, epilepsy, sleep disorders, emotional trauma, drug use, and sensory deprivation, and they range from the "auras" associated with migraines to intricate dramatizations involving people, animals, and sometimes monsters. Throughout history, Sacks argues, hallucinations have been a cultural phenomenon as well as a medical one, inspiring literature, art, music, folklore, and religion. They are, ultimately, "an essential part of the human condition."

Knopf. 352 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9780307957245

Boston Globe ****

"Readers may find Hallucinations a bit lacking in [personal stories], since most of the clinical anecdotes here are quite brief. But a whole chapter of Hallucinations centering on his regular use of amphetamines, morphine, and LSD in the 1960s, is vintage Sacks." SUZANNE KOVEN

Cleveland Plain Dealer ****

"Sacks proves both empathetic and humane. ... Consistently, he manages to convey his fascination without converting his subjects into circus sideshows." BILL EICHENBERGER

Guardian (UK) ****

"For those unacquainted with Sacks's earlier work, Hallucinations is a perfectly respectable place to start, but for those already familiar with such classic works as The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, Awakenings and the more recent Musicophilia, there is pleasure to be gained from the way he cross-references, with one case history--say, in the case of the latter, of musical hallucination (some people have both auditory hallucinations of music they've never heard, and also 'see' equally bizarre musical notation plastered all over their visual field)--reappearing, and being re-examined from a different angle. ... I would say that Hallucinations is really the keystone of the amazing edifice that is this remarkable thinker's oeuvre; a body of work that sets out to do nothing more or less than examine the totality of human being from the perspective of neurology." WILL SELF

Miami Herald ****

"With his special mix of patient case studies, historical accounts, reader correspondence and personal experience, Oliver Sacks has again found a way to unlock one of the mysteries of our brains. ... Sacks' descriptions of the types of hallucinations people experience is fascinating and often funny." SUSANNAH NESMITH

Minneapolis Star Tribune ****

"Sacks keeps complicated medical terminology to a minimum, giving readers enough information to understand some causes of hallucinations without lapsing into medical lecture mode. ... [It's] the first-person vignettes that breathe life into this book." RACHAEL HANEL ****

"Instead of dishing out the usual half-dozen purportedly useful, possibly dubious and probably oversimplified speculations about the average mind [produced by other science writers], he gives us the exceptional and the idiosyncratic. He conveys, as ever, an expansive enthusiasm for the brain itself, for its complexity and resilience and for the myriad ways that the individual owners of remarkable brains have learn to understand, cope with and even relish their own neural eccentricities." LAURA MILLER

Entertainment Weekly ****

"Reading so many deeply bizarre personal accounts of seeing things that aren't there can get tiresome--it's like listening to people describe dreams. But at its best, Hallucinations is an absorbing plunge into a mystery of the mind." STEPHAN LEE


In his latest foray into the human brain, Sacks provides a broad panorama of the views and role of hallucinations through history, and he convincingly argues that they have been instrumental in shaping human culture. However, it is the personal stories and anecdotes he relates--by turns "delightful, entertaining, bizarre and sometimes downright terrifying" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)--that truly bring this book to life. Sacks's evident respect for his patients, his accessible and straightforward prose (for those of us who aren't neurologists), and his unflinching frankness in describing his own drug-induced hallucinations charmed and captivated reviewers. Anyone with an interest in the inner workings of the mind will enjoy this "wide-ranging, compassionate and ultimately revelatory survey of [its] strange terrain" (Guardian).
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Author:Sacks, Oliver
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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