The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat — by Oliver Sacks

Title: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat
Oliver Sacks

“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.” -Oliver Sacks

Dr. Sacks is a neurologist who has been writing about his patients, not just from a medical perspective, but from a human one in a poetic way. He not only sees the “sickness” in people, but he also sees who they truly are; he tries to focus on what they can do, instead of on what they cannot.

His book is divided into four chapters:

  • Losses: Focuses on deficits (neurology’s favourite word).

  • Excesses: An excess or superabundance of function (opposite of losses).

  • Transports: A dream state made by the power of imagery and memory where the individual is taken to “another world.”

  • The World of the Simple: The science of the concrete, the perception of kids (for example) when everything is innocent and the small details, such as sitting on a bench and enjoying the sun, bring happiness which is usually lost through the years because of our fast-paced lives.

In this book review, I will share my thoughts on this book and what I’ve learned from Dr Sacks. Let’s begin…

Focus More on What You CAN Do

“But who was more tragic, or who was more damned—the man who knew it, or the man who did not?” -Oliver Sacks

Sacks reflects on his patients and how every single test they do is to highlight what they cannot do, something which they already know, not just because of how difficult a task can be, but because of how people treat them every day.

So, he decides to change this perspective, to start focusing on what they can do, on what makes them unique and feel alive.

A perspective which we all should adopt, we all know what we do not like, and what we cannot do, so why do we always focus on the negative? We should ask ourselves what makes us feel alive. What do I like? What do I want?

The Medical System

“Empirical science, empiricism, takes no account of the soul, no account of what constitutes and determines personal being.” -Oliver Sacks

Throughout the book, we can see how the medical system separates the soul from the body (same old story) and how professionals, like Sacks, are trying to change this.

We need to look for a balance, sometimes our diagnoses are just a symptom; perhaps, what we call depression, is just the lack of close relationships, the lack of affection, and if this is the case, this depression cannot be treated with pills.

Help the Kids

“Very young children love and demand stories, and can understand complex matters presented as stories, when their powers of comprehending general concepts, paradigms, are almost nonexistent.” -Oliver Sacks

What struck me is how we treat kids, how we separate and isolate them.

In “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” we can see patients who are just little kids who are being told they are useless their whole life, and how this can affect their healing and cognitive development.

When Sacks took these kids and gave them just a little bit of hope, the changes were huge.


This book is a must, not just for the “normal reader” but for professionals who need to understand that their patients are human and that a pill might bring some limited benefit but won’t bring peace or their family’s affection.

We must stop seeing people as “problems” and stop treating symptoms instead of the root of the issue. Seething subject? Don’t be shy, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Agustin Cardone

Agustin Cardone, from Argentina, currently lives in Ireland, and studies psychology in Mexico. He fell in love with sports when he started playing rugby at 14, soon becoming team captain. He now lifts weights and practices boxing as a way to release stress. He is highly interested in the relationship between body and mind, and is curious about how the brain works and why people do what they do. He would like to help people with addiction, depression, and personality disorders. He believes we all have a story to tell and that we should express it.

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