Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time.  Cheers, Fred.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (Revised and Expanded)

Book Number: 
Date Fred Read: 
March 2018
Fred's Rating: 
Oliver Sacks
Total Pages: 

A practicing physician in New York City, Oliver Sacks is a professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and Columbia’s University Artist. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)

The Amazon website for the Kindle edition is

[None of the ISBN-10, ISBN-13, or ASIN numbers on Amazon’s websites for the three editions (Kindle, hardcover, or paperback) are recognized by Amazon, thus the ‘no image Circle' appears. I think this new change by Amazon is not good. However, you can see the images of this books' covers at the website above.]

The Kindle preview gives more than the paperback edition I bought. The home page has a brief review (click on ‘Read more'). Two better reviews are that From Publishers Weekly and the second review by K. Josic in the Top Customers Reviews – click on ‘Read more’ to get the full review.

I recommend you use Amazon’s ‘Look inside’ option and scroll down to the 2-pp Contents. The 29 chapters (usually short) discuss the topic of the chapter’s title. Most of the time he tells about more than one patient, and only rarely refers to anything beyond the topic of the chapter. He explains the topic by telling a story, like he has done in his other books I’ve read. He is a very good storyteller.

The 7-pp Preface is well worth reading. (There are no missing pages in the Kindle edition.) He begins the Preface by referring to the alien Overlords in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End (a science fiction book I read in the late 1950s and enjoyed thoroughly). The Overlords, although highly cerebral, discover music, which “they cannot think what goes on in human beings when they make or listen to music, because nothing goes on with them. They themselves, as a species, lack music.” Oliver Sacks discusses this lack further in his Preface. I can remember from back in the 1950s discussing a lack of music appreciation with my friends in our junior-high and high school’s band. None of us could fathom life without music. Oliver Sacks discusses people who have, due to a stroke or other serious brain injury, either lost their ability or first gained the wonderful ability to feel the power, joy and beauty of music (from rock to folk to blues to jazz to hymns and on up to classical music).

In this book Oliver Sacks describes such people, including some who had amnesia but somehow retained memories of music – they could either sing or dance or play a song that had not been erased when all other memories from their past had vanished. Sometimes recovery of lost memories can be overcome and restored. Most exciting to me were those patients who had never liked music, but after their brain injury, greatly enjoyed music so much that they learned how to create new music with a musical instrument they had to learn from scratch.

Another aspect Oliver Sacks covers in much detail in the perception of color with musical notes (or numbers, letters, or words). This is a feature that many more people have from birth and often assume that everybody saw colors when they perceived music, numbers, letters, or words. I’ve known a few that saw color in numbers but not in music, letters, or words. The author sought out people who had or had lost such perceptions of colors. His color stories I especially enjoyed reading.

Actually, I enjoyed all of the unusual mental conditions Oliver Sacks tells in this hard-to-put-down book. However, I don’t know what is meant by the book-title addition (Revised and Expanded). Since I don’t have access to the prior edition, I can only guess that it refers to the somewhat lengthy footnote additions for the ‘Revised’ part. Perhaps this also includes the ‘Expanded’ part, which could mean new chapters. Anyhow, these footnotes are in so small a font that I couldn’t read them while in bed. Instead I had to read only on my desk with its stronger lighting, and even then with some difficulty. This cost this book a star, so I rate it at four stars.