The Skimmer

Book review: The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks

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The Mind's Eye

By Oliver Sacks

Knopf; 263 pages

It's not exactly a knock on Dr. Oliver Sacks to say his writing recalls that of Sigmund Freud, who wrote with alacrity and (rather naive) fascination about the idiosyncratic psychiatric problems of Viennese society people. Similarly, Sacks has developed a modern brand as a physician-writer, one who can chronicle the weird neurological ephemera of his high-class patients in a way that sounds partly like a new episode of House and partly like a Victorian novel. Lilian, a musician who lives in a luxe part of Manhattan, can play the piano but can't see a sofa that's right in front of her; Patricia, who runs an art gallery, has severe aphasia (inability to speak), though her brain seems otherwise healthy. As always, Sacks' writing manages to be at once lively and crystalline, but much of it feels like well-trod territory. And notably, he fails (or perhaps refuses) to engage with any larger concerns about mental-health care. We get nothing, for instance, about how poor patients with odd neurological problems are dealt with when they lack health insurance. Sacks has a great feel for the peculiar, but that is all you're left with in the end.