The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat


Oliver Sacks

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The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat Themes

Themes and Colors
Neurology Theme Icon
Conceptions of Mental Illness Theme Icon
The Neurological Community Theme Icon
Equalization and Adaptation Theme Icon
Illness as a Gift Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


Oliver Sacks’s book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is about neurology: the science that deals with disorders of the nervous system in general and the brain in particular. (Sacks also discusses neuropsychology, a field that, like neurology, deals with the nervous system, but which is more exclusively focused on observing patient behavior. Nevertheless, Sacks is, first and foremost, a neurologist.) Over the course of the book, Sacks discusses twenty-four different…

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Conceptions of Mental Illness

In addition to describing the practice of neurology, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat studies some of the different ways of conceiving of neurological disorders. In a sense, the question of how one should conceptualize mental illness is not itself a neurological question, and, as Sacks shows, scientists’ paradigms (frameworks of agreed-upon assumptions) for mental illnesses are often determined by prejudice, tradition, or convenience, rather than rigorous science. For example, in the…

read analysis of Conceptions of Mental Illness

The Neurological Community

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat does more than study neurology; it also critiques the state of the contemporary medical community. Throughout the book, Oliver Sacks contrasts his approach to studying patients with neurological disorders with the methods and assumptions of other neurologists. In doing so, he suggests that the neurological community—and, perhaps, the entire medical community—has become overly focused on quantifying its patient research and reducing complex phenomena to simplified, overly…

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Equalization and Adaptation

On of the most important insights in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is the idea that people with neurological disorders adapt to their conditions. Often, people have a tendency to think of mental illness as a static phenomenon—something that alters the “normal” human mind, leaving it permanently fragmented or impaired. However, many of the case studies in Sacks’s book suggest a subtly different perspective: although neurological disorders alter human beings’ minds…

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Illness as a Gift

Another important point that The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat makes about neurological disorders is that not all disorders are uniformly “bad.” To classify something as an illness—much like conceiving of a mental illness as a deficit (see “Conceptions of Mental Illness” theme)—is not itself a scientific procedure, but rather an arbitrary decision. Notions of what is and isn’t bad or normal are subject to cultural forces, and therefore change over time…

read analysis of Illness as a Gift