The latest book by best-selling author Oliver Sacks, M.D.,
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, was named one of the Best
Books of 2007 by the Washington Post and the editors of
Credit: Adam Scourfield
Athesis offered at APA's 2007 annual meeting by the brilliant mathematician
who has suffered for decades from schizophrenia, John Nash, is echoed in the
works of another man who has long challenged the one-dimensional assumption
that mental or neurological disorders are abnormalities that must be"
fixed" through treatment or lived with as a disability.
It's not that simple, according to best-selling author and neurologist
Oliver Sacks, M.D.
"Defects, disorders, diseases," writes Sacks in An
Anthropologist on Mars, "can play a paradoxical role, by bringing
out latent powers, developments, evolutions, forms of life, that might never
be seen, or even be imaginable, in their absence."
Sacks will discuss his work and insights at the Convocation of Fellows at
APA's 2008 annual meeting on Monday, May 5, at 5: 30 p.m. in Hall D, Level 1,
at the Washington Convention Center. He is presenting the William C. Menninger
Sacks's most recent book, published last fall, is Musicophilia: Tales
of Music and the Brain. A music lover himself, Sacks writes about the
relationship of music and uncommon brain disorders and how that relationship
is marked by power and mystery. He goes beyond the science of the brain as he
unfolds the compelling tales of people with different neurological conditions
for whom music is or has become a central part of their
existence—sometimes to their detriment but most often in paradoxical,
healing, or life-changing ways.
Sacks, who is probably best known for his books Awakenings, The Man Who
Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and An Anthropologist on Mars, was
born in 1933 in London into a family of physicians and
scientists—including his mother, a surgeon, and his father, a general
practitioner. He earned his medical degree at Oxford University and did
residencies and fellowship work in the United States. Since 1965 he has lived
in New York and practiced neurology. He is now a professor of clinical
neurology and clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center and
was named the university's first Columbia Artist.
A pivotal event in Sacks's career occurred in 1966. While consulting for a
chronic-care hospital in the Bronx, Sacks encountered a group of patients who
had spent decades frozen in a statue-like state. He recognized that these
patients were survivors of a pandemic of "sleepy sickness" from
1916 to 1927. After treating them with a then-experimental drug, L-dopa, they
came back to life. (They later developed tics and seizures as a result of the
drug.) He wrote about this experience in his 1973 book Awakenings,
later made into a play and movie.
Many of the books that Sacks wrote after Awakenings described his
experiences with people who had a variety of neurologically based conditions,
including Tourette's syndrome, autism, parkinsonism, musical hallucinations,
epilepsy, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer's disease. He
has been a subject of three of his books: as a doctor in Migraine, as
a patient in A Leg to Stand On, and as a youth growing up in a family
of gifted scientists in Uncle Tungsten: Memoriesof a Chemical
The best-selling author has won numerous awards, including a Guggenheim
Fellowship for his writings on the neuroanthropology of Tourette's syndrome
and the Lewis Thomas Prize by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the
scientist as poet. The Institute for Music and Neurologic Function of Beth
Abraham Family of Health Services has honored him twice: in 2000, with its
Music Has Power Award, and in 2006, in commemoration of his 40th year at Beth
Abraham and for his dedication to his patients. ▪