Observations on the book: Musicophelia

Musicophelia, copyright 2007, in audiobook form consists of 9 compact discs which encompass 11 hours of listening.  The author, Oliver Sacks, is a medical doctor schooled in Oxford University, but starting in 1965 practiced medicine in the United States.  He is not only an exceptional neurologist, but also a prolific writer, and taught neurology at New York University until his death in 2015.

Rather than produce a book review that opinions on the value of this book, I am instead giving some personal observations.  This book came to my attention after I attended a recent presentation on the effects of music on dementia.  The speaker told us that music is the very last thing that our memory loses.    Upon mentioning that fact in a Facebook post, an old college friend who is now a therapist, recommended the book to me.
I borrowed my copy in audiobook format so I could listen and cook, bake, or clean at the same time.  There were times when I found myself finding a chair, however, and soaking in the information. The book covers fascination subjects in its 29 chapters.  The most fascinating chapters were on musical hallucinations.

Observation 1:  Oliver Sacks, the author has no inclination to speak of music and our spiritual connection.  He apparently is Jewish, and speaks often of the musicality of synagogue worship.  However, he does not connect the dots to our inner connection with music and God.

Observation 2:  Sacks brings out detail after detail of how music plays a role in cases of amnesia.  Dementia is a form of amnesia, thus, music plays a vital part in our aging process and the book gives many stories on that plane from his personal caseloads.

Observation 3:  Sacks made me aware that for some music is torture.  Although it is a small percentage of people there are those who hear only clashing sounds rather than music.  That knowledge made me very thankful I am not in that percentage. As Sacks described cases of Tourett’s syndrome, autism, and other maladies, I felt very normal and happy to be healthy in those respects.
Observation 4:  There are those who are mentally unable to count properly or verbalize yet can play difficult musical instruments!  That was new to me.  In my opinion, it shows that God has created us all uniquely wired and everyone has value.

Observation 5: Sacks is a wonderful story teller and used case examples of his own and of others as to how music therapy has helped in the past and continually makes strides into future use.

I rate this books as well-written and recommend it for those who already have some music training.  If you know nothing about music construction there are places the reader will be woefully lost in the weeds.  The charm of that is that one can skip to a chapter you find more interesting and still benefit from the book.

I know now more than ever, that I did the right thing when I spent the last hours of my mother’s life singing to her. I also know that I hope that if my children find me singing happy songs whether they be of Heaven or a “Bicycle Built for Two,” that they will allow me to sing, or hum to my heart’s content.  It has been my goal in life to bring good music into my life whether it is Handel’s Messiah, or show tunes from “The Sound of Music” so I doubt that I’ll sing anything that will embarrass them!  I sure hope not!

In conclusion I would be remiss not to quote from Scripture.  David wrote a majority of the Bible’s songbook and I quote Psalm 40:2-3: “He brought me up also out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock and established my goings and He hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God:  many shall see it and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”





  1. Good review, Karyl. I need to dust off my copy and read it again 🙂

  2. I love this book. As a trainee music therapist, it was a great starting point.

    I believe Sacks was atheist. This book and some of his other writings seem to demonstrate to me that his interest & expertise in neuroscience, along with his passion for music, were in part his attempt to locate that in chartered part of our brains. The part between personality, hard wired instinct & memory – what a non-believer would think of as the soul (or rather what we have taken to think of as the soul).

    In that regard, I can’t comment either way. But I believe Sacks was on the right path in examining music’s effect on the brain, and in doing so, trying to locate that which should be explainable, but so far isn’t. Tim x

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