Neurologist Oliver Sacks’s 1985 book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat challenges the impersonal approach doctors took to patient care and paved the way for a new literary genre: popular science.
At the time of its publication, neurologists and physicians relied mainly on clinical studies and their own expertise to set the course of treatment. Sacks found this inhumane and developed a very different approach, clearly demonstrated in The Man Who Mistook His Wife. He provides rich, narrative case studies of his patients, believing that neurology had lost sight of the high personal costs paid by those with neurological disorders. To this end Sacks focuses on how patients cope with these disorders and their altered sense of self. Sacks talks of “romantic science,” casting the patients in his 24 case studies almost as literary heroes and heroines, and borrowing from the realms of art, literature, and psychology to do so.
This new approach proved very popular. As Sacks himself said, “To my intense surprise this book hit some nerve in the reading public, and became an instant best seller.”