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Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  58,956 ratings  ·  2,414 reviews
Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does–humans are a musical species.

Oliver Sacks’s co
Hardcover, 381 pages
Published October 16th 2007 by Knopf (first published 2007)
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Suzuki It is just so absorbing. Not many books hold enough ideas in one place to keep my attention. But this one does. I can't get to the next chapter withou…moreIt is just so absorbing. Not many books hold enough ideas in one place to keep my attention. But this one does. I can't get to the next chapter without wanting to find someone to discuss it with.(less)
Kristine try searching online or in your local bookstore.

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Average rating 3.92  · 
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Glenn Sumi
Mar 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Have you ever experienced an “ear worm” – i.e., a melody “stuck” in your head? Have you ever found yourself humming or whistling a tune for no reason, then thought back to the lyrics or theme of that song and realized it had something to do with what’s on your mind? Have you ever tried to remember what letter comes after another in the alphabet and found yourself singing that “ABC” song from childhood?

Check, check and check.

All of these are explored in Musicophilia, a fascinating series of essay
Jan 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sacks is, for me, a perfect meeting of a science writer and a writer of creative non-fiction. He has an equal interest in telling an affecting, human story and with exploring how (and why) the brain works. While lots of science writing is dry and objective (as it should be) and while mainstream feature writing often ignores the more complicated science stuff, Sacks is a rare talent who has a penchant for story telling and for explaining the newest research on the brain. He doesn’t condescend, an ...more
India M. Clamp
Nov 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sacks relives the pathologies of musical response in his patients while working at Beth Abraham Hospital. He describes music as a panacea and says, “they were liberated by music.” This applies to patients with dementia and those suffering from Williams Syndrome. Despite low IQ, he honors them in kind descriptive terms: having wide mouths, upturned noses and a true adoration of music.

“We humans are a musical species no less than a linguistic one...we perceive tones, timbre, pitch intervals, melo
Jun 08, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book was interesting, I guess. Lots of anecdotes about the effect of music on behavior and personality, but not enough analysis. Sacks usually is more of a story teller than a hardcore neuroscientist in his popular book – at least in the other two that I’ve read by him – but in this book he fails to be a good story teller too. Too many tidbits and little stories. I definitely recommend This Is Your Brain on Music over this book if you’re interested in a real scientific analysis of music and ...more
Music response
Music that triggers some kind of response
I have what you want, I have what you need

So sang the Chemical Brothers with what was the entire vocal and lyric content of their song Music: Response. With those three lines sang over and over again to a heavy dance laden beat they make a good soundtrack for the content of this good read on music and the brain. Author Oliver Sacks, I suspect, would not have known who The Chemical Brothers were but I think he would have understood the meanin
Dec 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
It’s not a common characteristic, but I recommend this book for all environments where you read. Coffee shop, living room, park bench, subway, or to ignore your spouse--it receives my seal of 4+ stars. Musicophilia is a lurid, but respectable, look into the brains and lives of people that appear normal on the outside, but have strong, strange and intractable relationships to music. The relationship is sometimes harmful, often incomprehensible, sometimes therapeutic, even charming, but always unf ...more
Keith Putnam
Feb 27, 2009 rated it it was ok
I am a huge sucker for pop science about human consciousness. Sacks, unfortunately, has the habit of boring me with far too many anecdotes which he fails to link in any progression of Greater Understanding.
Lynne King
Feb 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20th-century
I was flying forwards. Bewildered. I looked around. I saw my own body on the ground. I said to myself, ‘Oh shit, I’m dead.’ I saw people converging on the body. I saw a woman – she had been standing waiting to use the phone right behind me - position herself over my body, give it CPR … I floated up the stairs – my consciousness came with me. I saw my kids, had the realization that they would be okay. Then I was surrounded by a bluish-white light … an enormous feeling of well-being and peace. ...more
This was unexpectedly touching. I'm glad I finally read it. Review to come. ...more
Joshua Nomen-Mutatio
The neurologist Oliver Sacks has a great book called Musicophilia (and a series of talks available on YouTube) which goes into some really interesting descriptions of the brain's relationship to music. One story involves a man getting hit by lightning and afterward having a newly acquired and deeply profound love of music (almost any music, too), profound to the point that he would feel a euphoria akin to religio-mystical rapture or an extremely pleasurable drug experience in all situations if m ...more
Don Gagnon
Discovering Music’s Depth and Power . . .

In “Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain,” neurologist Oliver Sacks demonstrated the healing power of music. Through a series of fascinating narratives, the author--dubbed “poet laureate of medicine” by The New York Times--explored a variety of unique musical phenomena. Sharing observations and insights, Sachs revealed the nature of music and the roles music plays in the lives of individuals struggling with medical, psychological, and social issues.
Mar 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Oliver Sacks has been one of my favorite authors ever since I first read The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat. I still completely amazed, and a little bit disturbed, when I think back to his account of the woman who lost her sense of proprioception - the internal body sense that lets you know your body is there, even when you have your eyes closed. No other author (since Proust) has explored the nuances of consciousness so carefully, nor pointed out how tenuous the our grip on reality can be.

A.G. Stranger
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
" All arts aspire to the condition of Music". Now, it's scientifically proven.( Not that it needed to.) ...more
Nov 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: did-not-finish
I really tried to perservere with this book, but after 100 pages I had to put it down. First, although marketed to a popular audience (even making it to the best sellers list), there are massive amounts of musical jargon and a background of musical knowledge would be extrememly helpful. Second, the books seemed to lack cohesive threads or narritive. I found it extremely disjointed with every few paragraphs changing to a different patient with very few being fully developed or resolved. Third, I ...more
Andrew Howdle
Jan 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Sacks writes (as ever) from the margins in an attempt to shed light on the centre of human existence. He infuses his case studies with empathy and humour. Starting from the scientific claim that music plays no part in human evolution, he raises the question of exaptation and a possibility that human health covers more than a forward looking sense of fitness . Music is not an aspect of survival, yet it plays a vital role in our mental survival. Sacks investigates the value of rhythm to humans wi ...more
Oct 23, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
part i: holy crap, this book so far is so fucking boring. let's give 500 examples that describe the exact same thing. zzzzZZZzzzZzZzZZ...i really hope it gets better. so far, the author is just introducing us to several different patients who exhibit the same or similar symptoms, doesn't discuss further and then just leaves us hanging. there's no in-depth explanation as to why these things are happening, we don't get to know the patients. it's interesting for a minute, and then after the 10th, 2 ...more
2.5 stars

I am a music geek.

I play piano and I'm also taking a Music Theory Class right now. So I was really pumped to read a book about how music affects you.

But the thing is, all these concept aren't explored. I feel like too many topics were squeezed into one book. Even more, some of them are very repetitive. In this book, I've read in so many chapters about how people with certain disorders and illnesses have a special reaction to music. Yes, there are many diseases, but it just got really r
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sacks is a well-known neuroscientist, and I had previously read Seeing Voices by him, which was fascinating. As a musician and music teacher, I was interesting in this topic.

The book covers a variety of cases involving music’s effects on the brain. There’s the man who was struck by lightning and suddenly became obsessed with music. There are people with perfect pitch while others are tone deaf. But mostly music can be used as therapy for a variety of disorders. People with Tourette’s and Parkins
brian tanabe
Feb 26, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my first oliver sacks -- I always meant to read the Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat but alas never got around to it.

I love mr. sacks' delightful anecdotal storytelling and his intellect that makes fresh and accessible the study of the brain. It *almost* makes the issues dealt with in the book pleasant.

In a nutshell, this book is about the power of music, backed by many accounts from the medical perspective of the interaction between music and the brain. It's hard to tell without a lot
Jan 06, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I wasn't hugely impressed with this. Sacks's writing sometimes gets extremely dry as he goes into the technicalities of how the brain functions. I found his other books, with chapters each covering a variety of conditions ("Anthropologist on Mars," "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat"), to be much stronger, even though they were less consistent thematically. It seemed that at times Sacks had to stretch to find patients with some of the musical conditions he described -- not a good sign, sinc ...more
Aug 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
I get the feeling Oliver Sacks likes to reuse material. He retells the stories of his clients throughout his books, always with references to his other work. This isn't entirely bad, but I had to speed through some parts that were a tad bit repetitive. The subject matter is fascinating, and perfectly delivered for the layman(Which I happen to be). I have a newfound respect for the power of music therapy and music itself. ...more
Woooooooa!!! Heeeeeeey!!!! Look at me I'm Oliver Sacks and I'm tellin you some more wacky stuff about brains.

oh-la-la. I'm so fancy.

(interesting topic but I prefer the podcast interview to the book - which I was able to stick with through apx. chapter 6 before throwing in the towell.
Dec 20, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Musicophelia is an enchanting read, though one is struck more by the phenomena depicted—amusias, musical hallucinations, comatose patients suddenly "awakened" by nothing more than a familiar melody—than the manner of their depiction. Sacks has always been lauded for his fluid, personable style, and for good reason, but in the wake of classics such as The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Uncle Tungsten, his writing seems excessively florid and repetitive—neither tight enough nor substantial ...more
Nov 21, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
Starts off with a fairly unsatisfying collection of anecdotes around loss or gain of musical ability. The real heft arrives halfway as Sacks starts pulling together the real research and making implications.

The message here is that music is not some frivolous side effect of our neurology. Rather, music is processed by dedicated machinery in our brains and can affect us in profound and surprising ways.

There are tantalising implications that humans have the capacity for much greater musical abilit
I revisited this book before returning it to the library--and made a different assessment of the book.

This book was first published in 2007, a time when much was not yet known about music and the brain. First come the antedotal, a good amount Sacks has recorded here. Then comes the first assessments, a good many Sacks has written about here. Among other topics Sacks describes the connection between various medical conditions and music, including

Cochlear damage
Sep 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: music, psychology
Summary: Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks chronicles the neuroscience of music–the various ways music affects the brain, and the unusual effects of various neurological conditions on our perception, performance, and experience of music.

Oliver Sacks died on August 30 of this year. A few months earlier, my son gave me this book, and it seemed especially appropriate to pull it off the “to be read” pile and acquaint myself with the work of this neuroscientist and physician. Before opening the book,
Syed Ashrafulla
May 25, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuroscience
I know this book is cute to its readers because it makes them feel intelligent. "Hey look at me now I understand music from a brain perspective." This book is far far too narrow to pull that off. It's actually a terrible message to send to readers that music is inherently related to brain damage. The obvious question to ask is whether every good musician is mentally damaged, a question to which Sacks would answer yes apparently. He continually insinuates that great musicians probably had small m ...more
Jul 05, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I had been meaning to read this book for years, mostly to know what a well regarded trade book about music and brain pathology looked like. You see, I'm interested in discourses of madness and disability and Sacks seemed like a good place to start. But wow... "The man who mistook his patients for a literary career" is right! Many people admire Oliver Sacks, and I don't begrudge them that sentiment, but as someone both heavily invested in music and disability politics, this book is disturbing. Wh ...more
It was a great book. Though it does not seem to follow a very hierarchical structure which I like, it is a great read. I loved how Dr. Sacks covered many different items relating to clinical aspects of music on different kinds of people. Indeed this book is for those who love brains and neuroscience, yet I think it stresses on the importance of music for everybody.
Oct 13, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is nonfiction neuroscience.....about the brain and music and how each of them can effect the other. Some of the science was fascinating. I also enjoyed the plethora of (case studies) stories the author cited. All the examples were different. I really felt for some of these patients because some of this sounded like awful afflictions, not a gift.
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Oliver Wolf Sacks, CBE, was a British neurologist residing in the United States, who has written popular books about his patients, the most famous of which is Awakenings, which was adapted into a film of the same name starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro.

Sacks was the youngest of four children born to a prosperous North London Jewish couple: Sam, a physician, and Elsie, a surgeon. When he wa

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