Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks

Shelf Indulgence review

This Shelf Indulgence review of Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks, came out of my research for one of the Ashley Dyer novels. Sacks, a professor of neurology, turns his exceptional eye on the phenomenon in this fascinating book. Covering aspects as diverse as epileptic seizures, Out of Body experiences, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), migraine auras and the weirdness of coming to face-to-face with your doppelganger, Sacks explains that hallucinations are far from being the exclusive province of the disordered mind. He even describes them as ‘an essential part of human experience’. Most of us hallucinate at some time or other: the voice we hear calling our name in an empty house; the feeling of being watched, but turning, find that we are entirely alone. Sacks even describes his own experiences of drug- and fever-induced hallucinations.

His intense curiosity about all neurological phenomena, from the mundane to the frighteningly bizarre, is always moderated by compassion and respect. He is a pitch-perfect communicator, making science accessible to the lay reader, while including new research into important areas such as the treatment of ‘phantom limb’ disorder.

Hallucinations is studded with gorgeous gems, such as the ‘autoscopic double’, experienced by such historical figures as Linnaeus and Guy de Maupassant – who saw mirror images of themselves, doing everyday things: sitting in a chair, picking a flower. It is common knowledge that Charles Darwin was pushed into publishing On the Origin of Species after receiving a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, outlining his theory of natural selection. But how many would know that Wallace’s version of the theory was conceived during the delirium of malarial fever?

Sacks once said the brain ‘is the most incredible thing in the universe’. This highly recommended book is all the proof you need.

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