Tales of Music and the Brain

Knopf, 2008
First Edition: 2007 more...

Editorial Rating



  • Scientific
  • Engaging
  • Inspiring


Along with The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Musicophilia is one of Dr. Oliver Sacks’ most comprehensive and compelling inquiries into how the brain responds to music. He offers case histories of people suffering from musical hallucinations, brain worms, synesthesia, catchy tunes, “sticky music” and all manner of musicophilia. Sacks describes how he suffered bouts of “acquired amusia,” in which, as he listened, music broke apart into an unsettling noise. In Sacks’ world, and in that of his patients, music may be both tormentor and savior.

Musicophilia is a portmanteau for a panoply of maladies and therapies.

Dr. Sacks posits that aliens visiting Earth could not decipher the singular role of music in the human experience. Sacks notes that music suggests a language, but has no iconography with which to explain itself. And, to certain suffering patients, music’s neurological effects may seem mysterious and sometimes painful. 

Whether people hear music from inside the brain or out, Sacks explains that it can cause some people to suffer seizures; others, hallucinations. The latter come and go with no warning and sometimes defy therapy. For example, musicians with synesthesia, associate various senses to music – color, smell or taste.

About the Author

British neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was the “poet laureate of Medicine.” His bestellers include The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat; Everything in its Place; and Gratitude.

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