x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

An alternative vision: Oliver Sack's latest casenotes

A look inside the human mind with the British neurologist turned best-selling author.

The Mind's Eye
Oliver Sacks
Picador
Dh77

The case books of Dr Oliver Sacks have provided years' worth of fertile ground for the British neurologist turned best-selling author. Unsurprisingly, The Mind's Eye, his latest collection of patients and maladies, delivers more rich pickings.

If Sacks is a medical man first, he is a master storyteller second, able to dramatise and, more importantly, humanise his subjects. He begins with Lilian Kallir, an accomplished concert pianist who finds herself unable (mid-performance) to read sheet music anymore. Her misfortune is to have been blighted by posterior cortical atrophy, a degenerative brain disease that presents similar symptoms to Alzheimer's. Later, he encounters Howard Engel, a Canadian writer, who picks up his daily newspaper, only to find he can no longer make sense of the words it contains.

Sacks is, however, at his most engaging when he admits he has trouble recognising friends if he encounters them out of context. "My problems," he reveals, "extend to myself" and even his own reflection. It is a remarkable confession - one that helps explain the compassion that is evident throughout this intriguing volume.