Views & Reviews Review

Strange cases of twisted vision

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 04 January 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:c7110
  1. Fred Charatan, retired psychiatrist, Boynton Beach, Florida
  1. charatanf{at}

Oliver Sacks’s latest book gives us further anecdotes about the peculiar world of the brain, and this time one is about him. Fred Charatan is awed by patients’ tenacity in these cases of visual disturbance

The concert pianist Lilian Kallir used to be an accomplished sight reader and could easily play a Mozart concerto by sight, but she first lost that ability during a concert in 1991. “Alexia sine agraphia is not that uncommon . . . but Lilian was the first person I had encountered whose alexia manifested first with musical notation, a musical alexia,” writes Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, in his latest book.

Sacks has seen thousands of patients in the past decades, working as a general neurologist mostly in homes for elderly people. “All of them have taught me something, and I enjoy seeing them—in some cases, we have been seeing each other for twenty years or more.” In The Mind’s Eye Sacks describes the cases of patients who have lost an ability related to visual communication, such as aphasia (loss of the ability to write or recognise words), agnosia (to recognise objects or people), alexia (to read), agraphia (to write), prosopagnosia (to recognise faces), and astereoscopy (to see stereoscopically).

It is difficult to do justice …

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