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The Mind's Eye    by Oliver Sacks order for
Mind's Eye
by Oliver Sacks
Order:  USA  Can
Vintage, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

In The Mind's Eye, Dr. Oliver Sacks turns his attention to various vision problems with a neurological cause. Each chapter deals with a different situation, with a particular patient being profiled. These client's stories are what makes Sacks' books so interesting, since the reader becomes as caught up in the difficulties of each person as the doctor is, and Sacks is so concerned about his patients that he visits them at home. Also, the particular patients he writes about have problems that would be especially devastating to them, since the vision problem makes it difficult, if not almost impossible, for them to continue longstanding careers.

There is the professional pianist who finds herself unable to read books or musical notes, even though she can read individual letters on an eye chart. She can, however, still write, but having written can't make out what she just wrote. She can also still play the piano because she knows so many works by heart, but cannot learn new music by reading the notes on the score. Another patient is a popular and well-known writer of mystery novels, but he can't even read his own books any more after having had a stroke. Little by little this writer learns new ways to read - painstakingly working his way through each word letter by letter. He tells Dr. Sacks, 'Familiar words, including my own name, are unfamiliar blocks of type and have to be sounded out slowly. Each time a name recurs in an article or review, it hits me as unfamiliar on its last appearance as it does on the first.'

There are people who lack the ability to recognize faces, even of people they know well. Amazingly enough, Dr. Sacks counts himself among these people and can speak from his own experience as to the difficulty this causes him, but he also tells us about various other people who have sought him out for help. Sometimes this problem extends to a difficulty in recognizing places, which means that it becomes easy to get lost. Jane Goodall writes to Dr. Sacks of her difficulty 'distinguishing individual chimps by their faces.' She adds, 'I just don't know where I am until I am very familiar with the route. I have to turn and look at landmarks so I can find my way back. This was a problem in the forest, and I often got lost.'

The most interesting part of this book for me, though, was the chapter on stereo vision or stereoscopy. I didn't know that if you close one eye, you aren't seeing depth any more. I remember loving the View-Master that we had when I was a child, and I enjoy 3-D movies now, but I didn't know that if you only have vision in one eye, you can't see these images as anything but flat. Dr. Sacks introduces the subject by telling us about various patients with this problem and goes on to tell us about his own stereoscopy, how important it has always been to him, and what happens to him when he develops a tumor in one eye.

In his final chapter he talks about blindness, both congenital and occurring after many years of being able to see. It's really interesting to hear about how different people manage to arrange or rearrange their lives without being able to see. Indeed, these are all inspiring stories about people who have had strange symptoms thrust upon them which cause devastating changes in their lives, but they manage to learn to live in their new realities as well as they managed before. Sometimes it seems as though their other senses become more intense, but frequently they are able to adjust and carry on with their lives. I really enjoyed this interesting and informative book.

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