Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks is subtitled ‘Tales of Music and the Brain’, which pretty much sums it up. Much like Sacks’ other books (such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat or An Anthropologist On Mars, to name the two that I’ve read) the book draws on case studies to look at various aspects of the subject, which in this book is music and neurology. So there are chapters on specific brain abnormalities that relate to music (such as musical hallucinations or the inability to process music), to aspects like perfect pitch and synaesthesia, to the effect of music on people with Alzheimer’s.
I find the whole topic really interesting, but unfortunately this book overall was not great. For one thing, as someone who has never had any musical training and is generally quite non-musical, it was a bit confusing at times, as the musical terms were never really explained. But mainly I also found that it was rather dull at times, reading as just description after description of Sacks’ patients without sufficient discussion. Sacks also comes across as a music snob at times - I can’t imagine that people who like rock or pop music are not affected by such conditions, but Sacks focuses mainly on classical music.
I have enjoyed Sacks’ books in the past (albeit quite a few years ago now) but this one was just a bit too dull and repetitive. It seemed to oscillate between being too technical and too anecdotal with no accessible middle ground. I do think the subject itself is fascinating though, and last year I read This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin, which has a similar focus, but which I thought was far superior to this one.

Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks is subtitled ‘Tales of Music and the Brain’, which pretty much sums it up. Much like Sacks’ other books (such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat or An Anthropologist On Mars, to name the two that I’ve read) the book draws on case studies to look at various aspects of the subject, which in this book is music and neurology. So there are chapters on specific brain abnormalities that relate to music (such as musical hallucinations or the inability to process music), to aspects like perfect pitch and synaesthesia, to the effect of music on people with Alzheimer’s.

I find the whole topic really interesting, but unfortunately this book overall was not great. For one thing, as someone who has never had any musical training and is generally quite non-musical, it was a bit confusing at times, as the musical terms were never really explained. But mainly I also found that it was rather dull at times, reading as just description after description of Sacks’ patients without sufficient discussion. Sacks also comes across as a music snob at times - I can’t imagine that people who like rock or pop music are not affected by such conditions, but Sacks focuses mainly on classical music.

I have enjoyed Sacks’ books in the past (albeit quite a few years ago now) but this one was just a bit too dull and repetitive. It seemed to oscillate between being too technical and too anecdotal with no accessible middle ground. I do think the subject itself is fascinating though, and last year I read This Is Your Brain On Music by Daniel Levitin, which has a similar focus, but which I thought was far superior to this one.