x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Oliver Sacks' Hallucinations doesn't live up to expectations

Oliver Sacks book amounts to little more than a taxonomy of varieties of hallucination

Hallucinations
Oliver Sacks
Picador

It might sound like damning with faint praise, but Oliver Sacks is easily the world’s most famous neurologist. If his name is unfamiliar, two of his previous books – The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat and Awakenings – were international best-sellers, in which he turned a humane eye on the frailties of the human mind and the resilience of the afflicted.

So one could be forgiven for having perhaps overinflated hopes for Hallucinations, which concerns the many ways the mind and brain can fall out of synch, creating the perception of things that simply aren't there. Although the subject is inherently fascinating, the book doesn't really amount to more than a taxonomy of varieties of hallucination, peppered with anecdotes and studies from history. This is good as far as it goes - and Sacks occasionally, as in the chapters Altered States and The Haunted Mind, shows some of the flair his readers might expect - but for a writer of his insight and perceptiveness, this is a rather disappointing book of lists.