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If you’ve never read anything by Oliver Sacks, the late professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine, this book, for its title alone, is a good place to start. In “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” Sacks tells the tales of some of his more memorable patients.

The book begins with the story of the man in the title. He could not recognize whole objects, but only parts of them —an eye, an ear, the scent of a flower. If asked, the man would try to put the parts together to guess at what the object was, but he mostly went about his life not really recognizing his own condition. Sacks presents these otherwise sad patient stories with dry, British wit and we laugh even as we feel pity and disbelief over their conditions. At the end of his first exam, Sacks tells us his patient “started to look around for his hat. He reached out his hand and took hold of his wife’s head, tried to lift it off, to put it on. His wife looked as if she was used to such things.”

“The Man Who Fell Out of Bed” tells the story of a patient who found a severed human leg in his bed and wanted to be rid of it. Sacks tells us the patient “seized (the leg) with both hands, and tried to tear it off his body, and…punched it in an access of rage.” When the patient asks why he should take Sacks’ advice to stop punching, Sacks simply responds, “Because it’s your leg.”

Interestingly, Sacks doesn’t disclose that he suffered from the same disorder, called prosopagnosia, which prevented him from recognizing his own reflection in the mirror. It’s easy to see how he is able to personalize and humanize his stories to such a great extent since he intimately understands some of what his patients were going through themselves.

“The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” is a quick, engaging and memorable read which provides an intimate peek inside the brains, lives and struggles of the neurologically impaired. It also manages to open our eyes and minds to the behaviors in some of the people we come across in everyday life.