Book review: Musicophilia

The book begins by telling the story of a man who discovered his love of music after lightning struck him.

Next thing you know, you’re sucked into the outlandish true stories of people thriving and people enduring torment from their experiences with music.

These people were the patients and acquaintances of the late Oliver Sacks, who was a physician, a Professor of Clinical Neurology and Psychiatry at Columbia University, and an author of many other books about the brain.

Musicophilia - Oliver Sacks
photo via musicophilia.com

In Musicophilia, he talks about synesthesia, or “colored music.” Many types of synesthesia exist, but Sacks focused on one man named Michael Torke who saw colors with tones. As a boy, Torke once said to his music teacher, “I love the blue piece.” This section made me jealous of synesthetes.

Sacks also wrote about how a man named Clive forgets nearly everything but remembers music and melody without hesitation. He remembers two things in life: his wife, Deborah, and music. Besides that, his memory was a complete mess.

Sacks writes in a layman-friendly style with a bit of doctor lingo here and there. Both the common man (like myself) and the educated, Harvard-graduate, award-winning physician can be proud to display this on his or her bookshelf.

Sacks divided his stories into four parts:

  1. Haunted by Music (stories of people hearing music in their heads)
  2. A Range of Musicality (stories of synesthesia and blindness)
  3. Memory, Movement, and Music (amnesia, music therapy, Tourette’s, and Parkinson’s)
  4. Emotion, Identity, and Music (depression and dementia)

If you’ve never heard about things like synesthesia, musical hallucinations, or music’s effect on coping (see also here, here, and here), this is the first book you should read.

It’s somewhat of a lengthy book, weighing in at about 350 pages, but you may not be able to put it down.

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