Oliver Sacks is possibly best known for ‘The man who mistook his wife for a hat’, but this was the first book of his that I've read.
Sacks starts from the idea that the vast majority of us are inherently musical and he discusses various disorders which have influenced an individual's musical abilities or how they perceive music. He outlines case studies and anecdotes without trivialising each individual's experience. The stories frequently moved me greatly and I developed a great sympathy for the people involved, as well as a better understanding of the patience and care that is needed to cope in many cases. I was also grateful that the patients, relatives, carers and doctors had decided to share their experiences as a lot of them are deeply personal. I hadn't heard of most of the disorders, and had no idea that people's musical ability would be affected at all by these, let alone how. Sacks' prose reads like an accessible textbook. He does not dumb down the scientific language, but he does take the trouble to explain the concepts in more detail to enable a layperson to grasp his meaning.
The most moving chapter for me was the final one on dementia. It eloquently describes how music is often the only way that people who are frozen can become animated, agitated people can become calm, and silent people can find their voice. Music seems inherent to us as a species, and allows people to be united and set free, even if it is only for a short time. This is its greatest power, and we mustn't take it for granted.
If you like the sound of this (excuse the pun!), you might also like:
Written by Ann Brook (Library and Information Assistant)