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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oliver Sacks

I just started Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks.  I ordered this book a while back, then lost it in the stacks, and had pretty much forgotten about it.  Yesterday, I was packing up library books, sorting books that I need to review, and looking for something I really wanted to read...and there it was.

Seizing it up, I took it outside to read when taking breaks from working on the little Alzheimer's quilts (and, for brief periods, doing a bit of housework).  The preface held me fast.  All of a sudden, I wanted to write down everything in the preface to share with you!  How silly and time-consuming that would be, but there will be a few hints.

My interest in "brain books" has taken me through some fascinating reading over the last couple of years and there are certain names (Stephen Pinker, Stephen Jay Gould, William James, Simon Baron-Cohen, Darwin, Gerald Edelman, Daniel Levitin, William Penfield, V.S. Ramachandran, and more) that crop up again and again (which is how I came to Oliver Sacks in the first place).

My "brain books" are for the lay reader; they are case studies of interesting phenomena and never fail to engage me.  Now, I've found a new favorite.

Some excerpts from the preface:

"...for virtually all of us, music has great power, whether or not we seek it out or think of ourselves as particularly "musical."  This propensity to music--this "musicophilia"--shows itself in infancy, is manifest and central in every culture, and probably goes back to the very beginnings of our species.  it may be developed or shaped by the cultures we live in, by the circumstances of life, or by the particular gifts or weaknesses we have as individuals--but it lies so deep in human nature that one is tempted to think of it as innate...."

"Listening to music is not just auditory and emotional, it is motoric as well:  'We listen to music with our muscles,' as Nietzsche wrote."

" [music] may be especially powerful and have great therapeutic potential for patients with a variety of neurological conditions."

"Some of these patients have widespread cortical problems, whether from strokes or Alzheimer's or other causes of dementia; others have specific cortical syndromes--loss of language or movement functions, amnesias, or frontal-lobe syndromes.  Some are retarded, some autistic; others have subcortical syndromes such as parkinsonism or other movement disorders.  All of these conditions and many others can potentially respond to music and music therapy."

I'm already engrossed.
Don't forget to comment on this post, if you'd like a copy of another great "brain book" by Dr. Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself:  Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science.


  1. I find this topic fascinating as well!

  2. The idea of music therapy is something I'd like to know more about from the perspective of neuroscience and what actually happens in the brain!

  3. Funnily enough. I really wanted to read this book - bought it, started it, and then left it on a plane. Must try and find it again!

  4. I am very curious about this book, but I haven't had a chance to get to it yet. It's on the list, though!

  5. Katherine - I'm finding it both entertaining and informative. We all know how powerful music can be, but reading the personal stories and case histories concerning music and, say, epilepsy, is fascinating.

    Kailana - So far, so good, Kelly! I read nonfiction slower than fiction and so it may take me a while to finish, but it is already being well highlighted!