A woman gradually begins to lose the ability to identify common household objects, though she continues to play perfect classical piano. A man finds himself unable to read, but his writing faculties are unharmed. A doctor – the author himself, who is known for identifying neurological disorders in others – fails to recognise his close friends when passing on the street.
The Mind’s Eye cobbles together those examples and more in an examination of the human brain and its ability to adapt to various visual impairments. As in most of Sacks’s 11 books, the author works with a range of case studies, recording his deductions about a patient’s often rare or barely understood disease.
If not for Sacks’s keen empathy, the House-meets-Sherlock Holmes caseload could feel contrived – but redemption comes when the doctor turns the book on himself, describing his own treatment for a cancerous tumour in his right eye. Sacks’s experience as a subject is the most illuminating anecdote in the book; as a patient, he is pessimistic, depressed and nervous around doctors, offering an inside glimpse into the terror of vision loss he shares with his subjects.
In grappling openly with his post-cancer loss of stereoscopy (the visual phenomenon that enables us to perceive depth), Sacks slowly comes to terms with his own permanent shift in perspective. Just as he is forced to see the world in a new way, readers are invited to do the same.