The Man Who Wasn't There

Anil Ananthaswamy
Star Rating
Reviewer's Rating
Mar 4, 2016

You had me at "In the tradition of Oliver Sacks..."

I love listening to scientific books, but not being a scientist myself, need a particular type of science writing. I want to go in depth into whatever subject is being explored, but I need the author to perform that particularly impressive feat of giving me some basic background without boring me or making me feel talked down to. Sacks, in his psychological case studies, mastered this talent, covering many of the fascinating, horrifying, sad and beautiful cases he had encountered over his long career as a doctor and writer. Sacks sadly passed away in 2015 and I had resigned myself to no new books from my favorite psychology writer. But then I stumbled across the above mentioned opening line of the synopsis for The Man Who Wasn't There. And this book did not disappoint! 

I listened to this as a downloadable eAudiobook, and the narrator's voice was pleasant and it is a quality recording. The book itself is separated into sections on various disorders that help us discuss the idea of "self." Since there are many theories and many mysteries surrounding the topic of "self," our author posits that it can be illuminating to explore this idea by looking at what happens when various things go wrong in the brain. Alzheimer disease, depersonalization disorder, epilepsy, body integrity identity disorder, schizophrenia and more are all explored with a thoughtful and gracious hand, all with a focus on how the self is perceived, and sometimes mis-perceived. Many questions are posed, and few are answered along this journey. Is the self a collection of episodic memories? Is it a biological process interpreted by our neurons in a certain way? What about the dichotomy of self-as-subject and self-as-observer? If you need any more convincing about whether or not you should read this fascinating book, check out this list of awards it has won.

  • Nominated for the 2016 PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award
  • An NBC News Notable Science Book of 2015
  • Named one of Publishers Weekly 's Best Books of 2015
  • A Book of the Month for Brain HQ/Posit Science 
  • Selected by Forbes as a Must Read Brain Book of 2015
  • On Life Changes Network 's list of the Top 10 Books That Could Change Your Life of 2015

So fascinating and well written, I'm excited to try Ananthaswamy's other book in the Library catalog: The Edge of Physics. Oliver Sack's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is another must-read for fans of this type of book.


Reviewed by Jo F.
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