The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales is a 1985 book by neurologist Oliver Sacks describing the case histories of some of his patients. The title of the book comes from the case study of a man with visual agnosia. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat became the basis of an opera of the same name by Michael Nyman, which premiered in 1986.
The book comprises 24 essays split into 4 sections which each deal with a particular aspect of brain function such as deficits and excesses in the first two sections (with particular emphasis on the right hemisphere of the brain) while the third and fourth describe phenomenological manifestations with reference to spontaneous reminiscences, altered perceptions, and extraordinary qualities of mind found in "retardates".
The individual essays in this book include:
- "The Lost Mariner", about Jimmie G., who has lost the ability to form new memories due to Korsakoff's syndrome. He can remember nothing of his life since his demobilization at the end of WWII, including events that happened only a few minutes ago. He believes it is still 1945 (in the late 70s and early 80s), and seems to behave as a normal, intelligent young man aside from his inability to remember most of his past and the events of his day-to-day life. He struggles to find meaning, satisfaction, and happiness in the midst of constantly forgetting what he is doing from one moment to the next.
- "The President's Speech, about a ward of aphasiacs and agnosiacs listening to a speech given by an unnamed actor-president, "the old Charmer". Many in the first group were laughing at the speech, and Sacks claims their laughter to be at the president's facial expressions and tone, which he claims they find "not genuine." One woman in the latter group criticizes the structure of the president's sentences, stating that he "does not speak good prose."
- "The Disembodied Lady", a unique case of a woman losing her entire sense of proprioception (the sense of the position of parts of the body, relative to other neighbouring parts of the body).
- "On The Level", another case involving damaged proprioception. Dr. Sacks interviews a patient who has trouble walking upright and discovers that he has lost his innate sense of balance due to Parkinson's-like symptoms that have damaged his inner ears; the patient, comparing his sense of balance to a carpenter's spirit level, suggests the construction of a similar level inside a pair of glasses, which enables him to judge his balance by sight.
- "The Twins", about autistic savants. Dr. Sacks tries to connect with twin brothers by joining their game of finding very large prime numbers. He cheats and uses a book; neither of them can read or even do multiplication. They instantly count 111 dropped matches simultaneously noticing that 111 is three 37s. This event, with toothpicks in place of matches, and other of Dr. Sacks's observations on autistic savants, were used in the film Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman. Although influential, this story was recently questioned in an article .
- "The Dog Beneath the Skin", concerning a 22-year-old medical student, "Stephen D.", who, after a night under the influence of amphetamines, cocaine, and PCP, wakes to find he has a tremendously heightened sense of smell. Many years later, Sacks would reveal that he was, in fact, Stephen D.