Saturday, March 22, 2008

'Musicophilia' - not music and the mind

...is a rather more unputdownable book about music, this time by Oliver Sacks, who I always thought was a psychiatrist, but actually he seems to be a neurologist. He's famous for having written other books about neurological conditions, notably 'The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat'.

In my current interest about music and the mind I had bought the book, which people had been raving about. And indeed it is a great resource - for those who are interested in music and the brain. Like Alex Ross' book 'The rest is noise' it covers a huge amount of ground, but not too much in depth. Probably Sacks covers a larger percentage of the ground than Ross does - but I would not really know.

The subtitle 'tales of music and the brain' says it all. There are lots of stories about people who cannot speak, but sing; people who have apparently total dementia, but can still perform music, about musical hallucinations, earworms, perfect pitch, synaesthesia, people who lose their feeling for music, others who gain it in old age, music therapy and Parkinson's disease... you name it, it's described in the book. As long as you don't look too much for music and emotions; David Levitin's 'Your brain on music' is better on this. Sacks only touches on this a little.

So it covers lots of topics, and it would be a very useful resource for someone who might be looking for a starting point to do some research in relation to music and the brain, as in 'pick a topic'. Or for someone faced with a brain/music problem either in themselves or their relatives. In depth the stories are not, and given that he often talks about the brain and different parts of it, it would have been quite nice to have a map of the brain (though perhaps we could look that up on the internet).

It's very pleasantly written, giving a lot of personal (mostly patient) stories - which make it unputdownable, and it's easy to race through it, as I did in two days. I'm glad I did not pack this hardback book to take back to Georgia - not much reading value for weight....