Oliver Sacks, he ain't. Despite the back cover blurb from Oliver Sacks, this is definitely a lesser book. There are some interesting things in here, and may be worth a read, even though there was one chapter that I thought was just terrible. But don't go looking here for Sacks' deep humanism and warmth. This is much more the distant case history, although the science he's talking about is fascinating.
have a huge soft spot for Oliver Sacks, as he gave the commencement
address at my undergrad graduation, and it was a wonderful speech about
not being too attached to your plans, about making room for
synchronicity and the unexpected.)
The Brain That Changes Itself
is an examination of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to
change, and I found a lot of the ideas well worth engaging with. The
scientists he profiled, and the work they were doing, were all very
The chapter on sexuality, though, is atrocious.
Here, Doidge displays his hardcore Freudianism (this comes out in
another chapter as well), and changes from reporting on actual studies
to heavily anecdotal evidence, including the characterization of all
kinds of sex except the most vanilla as "perversions." He makes strange
claims about people who engage in s/m play with very little to back it
up, and generalizes far too much. He tries to psychoanalyze a masochist
about whom a documentary was made, based solely on the footage that made
it into the final cut of the movie.
Doidge's attitude towards
porn bears striking similarities to the temperance advocates I study,
with the fatal first peek replacing the fatal first drop. He goes to
great length to show that porn addiction is a real addiction, a
compulsion, out of the control of the sufferers, but ends off the
section by saying that once the sufferers in his practice were made
aware of their addiction, they were all able to just stop watching porn.
And most problematic at all, in the entire chapter on sex, he
treats sexuality as a male attribute. The people he relates anecdotes
about are all male, although some of those people refer to women in
their lives. If you just read this section at face value, it would seem
like women don't have sexual desire, or sexual issues.
felt like a publisher said "you know what we need? A chapter on sex!"
and made him whip one off. If it isn't that, it's simply sloppy writing
that has far too little evidence for its actual claims (the citations
for this chapter are mostly on incidental things.)
The book also
ends abruptly, without a conclusion. I finished the last chapter and
went looking for the conclusion, and nope, that was it. There's some
good stuff in here, but avoid that chapter on sex like the plague.