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

In Musicophiliahe talks about synesthesia. 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, this is the first book you should read.

RELATED: Sad music warms the musician’s heart

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

Music Overcomes Amnesia

Clive and Deborah are a married couple featured in Oliver Sacks’ book Musicophilia.

Clive has a form of amnesia that causes him to have serious trouble holding onto memories. While in the hospital, he believed that he woke up for the first time about every 30 seconds despite already being awake.

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Excerpt from Clive’s journal (via BBC)

But, as a trained musician, songs have stuck with him and evade the destruction of his amnesia.

The other miracle was the discovery made early on, while Clive was still in the hospital, desperately confused and disoriented: that his musical powers were totally intact.

“I picked up some music,” Deborah wrote, “and held it open for Clive to see. I started to sing one of the lines. He picked up the tenor lines and sang with me. A bar or so in, I suddenly realized what was happening. He could still read music. He was singing.

His talk might be a jumble no one could understand but his brain was capable of music.”

p. 204 from Musicophilia

Music seems to bypass the frequent roadblocks of the brain and the loss of memory. Music’s power is baffling.

RELATED: 3 Ways Music Can Help Your Brain Function Better