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2014-2015 Common Book Selection

Musicophilia : Tales of Music and the Brain

by Oliver Sacks (Knopf 2007)

Drawing on the individual experiences of patients, musicians, composers, and everyday people, the author explores the complex human response to music, detailing the full range of human reactions to music, what goes on and can go wrong when we listen to music, and how music can affect those suffering from a variety of ailments.

Adobe PDF Musicophilia Reading Notes


The Open Books – Open Minds Committee is planning another year of exciting events for faculty and students, inspired by the themes of the 2014-2015 common book selection, Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks .

Summer Reading Group

Discussion of Musicophilia, in the Fortes Room, Adams Library, from 12:00-1:00 p.m. on Wednesdays June 18, June 25, and July 2.

Roundtable Discussion: strategies for teaching Musicophilia

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014, 12:30-2:00 p.m., Craig-Lee 255 (English Department Seminar Room)
Presentation by RIC professors representing a variety of academic disciplines.
Instructors, student mentors, and all other interested parties are welcome!

The Musicophilia Musicathon

Thursday, September 18, 2014, from 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. on the Quad outside the Student Union Café. Students, faculty, and staff will perform throughout the day. All are welcome to join in! It’s a musical “open mic.” Sign up here for a time to perform.
Outside Link

April 10: The Fourth Annual Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference, inspired by Oliver Sack’s Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
Friday, April 10, 2015, Alger 110, 8 am to 4 pm
Featuring Keynote performative lecture on Movement and Music:
William Evans, Artistic Director of the Bill Evans Dance Company and Summer Institutes; Professor of Dance and Artist in Residence, Palladino School of Dance at Dean College; Winner of the 2010 Dance Teacher Lifetime Achievement Award.

Call for papers, panels, poster sessions: Adobe PDF /obom/documents/OBOM_call_for_papers_2015.pdf

About Musicophilia

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks


Musicophilia explores the uniquely human phenomenon of music, from its various roles in human lives to its therapeutic power. Neurologist Oliver Sacks, famed for his entertaining books about the brain and its disorders, shares stories about the unusual symptoms and recoveries of his patients and correspondents. His characteristic compassion and curiosity engage the reader's interest in an exploration of music's power, the place it occupies in the brain, and how it affects human lives.

Sacks not only examines perfect pitch and synesthesia, but some extremely unusual developments in musical skill, as well as musical hallucinations, dreams, and disorders. Brain activity related to music provides some hints, but its complexity leaves us with more mysteries than certainties.  The individual experiences of patients, musicians, and ordinary people provide insights and Sacks's tales prove music's power to lift depression, move our bodies, stimulate memories, or torment us with repetition and dysharmonia.

Music therapy offers more certainty through practice than theory, offering tremendous comfort to patients with brain damage and degenerative neuropathies. Expressive aphasia (a loss of spoken language), when not accompanied by amusia (the inability to produce or comprehend music), is generally treatable with music therapy. Similarly, for young children, music lessons correlate with early development of reading skills. Sacks illustrates the role of music therapy in treating Tourette's Syndrome, Parkinson's Disease, and various forms of dementia with engaging stories of real people and their experiences, while his extensive bibliography expands on the science that supports his observations.

More about the book at Outside Link

Discussion questions are on the Outside Link publisher’s site here.

Visit RIC's Outside Link Libguide on Musicophilia including tips on Outside Link Finding Library Resources and web resources about the author Oliver Sacks, Music and the Brain, and Music Education.

About the Author

Oliver Sacks, M.D. is a physician, a best-selling author, and a professor of neurology at the NYU School of Medicine.
He is best known for his collections of neurological case histories, including The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985), Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (2007) and The Mind’s Eye (2010). Awakenings (1973), his book about a group of patients who had survived the great encephalitis lethargica epidemic of the early-twentieth century, inspired the 1990 Academy Award-nominated feature film directed by Penny Marshall, and starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. The New York Times has referred to him as “the poet laureate of medicine.”

Dr. Sacks is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters as well as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Read Oliver Sacks’s Outside Link full biography here.

Visit Oliver Sacks's website Outside Link



“Dr. Sacks writes not just as a doctor and a scientist but also as a humanist with a philosophical and literary bent. . . [his] book not only contributes to our understanding of the elusive magic of music but also illuminates the strange workings, and misfirings, of the human mind . . .” 

Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times, November 20, 2007

“His work is luminous, original, and indispensable . . . Musicophilia is a Chopin mazurka recital of a book, fast, inventive and weirdly beautiful . . . Yet what is most awe-inspiring is his observational empathy . . .”

— Jennifer Michael Hecht, The American Scholar, Autumn 2007

“[Sacks] weaves neuroscience through a fascinating personal story, allowing us to think about brain functions and music in a bracing new light . . . Human context is what makes good journalism, medical and otherwise. That’s the art of Sacks’ best essays . . .” 

— Kevin Berger, Salon, October 12, 2007

“Sacks' reporting on all of this makes for quite an omnium-gatherum on the main contention that, in essence, musicality is humanity. His customary erudition and fellow-feeling ensure that, no matter how clinical the discussion becomes, it remains, like the music of Mozart, accessible and congenial.”

— Ray Olson, Booklist, September 1, 2007

“Sacks is an unparalleled chronicler of modern medicine, and fans of his work will find much to enjoy when he turns his prodigious talent for observation to music and its relationship to the brain. The subtitle aptly frames the book as a series of medical case studies — some in-depth, some abruptly short. The tales themselves range from the relatively mundane (a song that gets stuck on a continuing loop in one's mind) through the uncommon (Tourette's or Parkinson's patients whose symptoms are calmed by particular kinds of music) to the outright startling (a man struck by lightning subsequently developed a newfound passion and talent for the concert piano) . . . This book leaves one a little more attuned to the remarkable complexity of human beings, and a bit more conscious of the role of music in our lives."

Publishers Weekly, October 1, 2007


Please make sure to visit the RIC LibGuides for this year's book to view additional information about Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain.

Student Conference

The Fourth Annual Open Books – Open Minds Conference

April 10, 2015, Call for Papers

Theme: Music and the Brain
Inspired by the 2014-2015 common book, Musicophilia (Adobe PDFCall For Papers)

2014 Open Books – Open Minds Writing Awards

First Place: Jessica Mandeville, Poe, Melville, and Whiteness

Second Place: Cameron Osteen,Paintings and the Biodome: Simulacra and Simulation in PYM

Third Place: Patrick Pride, Tsalal: the 19th-Century American Nightmare

2014 Poster and Multimedia Exhibit Awards

Individual Poster Award: Gabriel Morrison, The Empty Gallery

Group Poster Award: Identity in America, project created in FYS: Talkies and More

Images from Previous Conferences

Student Conference 2014
Student Conference 2012
Student Conference 2011

Previous Calls for Papers and Conference Programs:

The Third Annual Open Books – Open Minds Conference

April 11, 2014, Call for Papers

Theme: Imagination and Exploration
Inspired by the 2013-2014 common book: PYM
(Adobe PDFCall For Papers)

Adobe PDF Conference Program

Adobe PDF Poster and Multimedia Exhibits Program

The Second Annual Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference

2012-2013 common book: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks April 12, 2013
(Adobe PDFCall for Papers)

Adobe PDF Conference Program

The 2013 Open Books – Open Minds Writing Awards

First Place: Dawn Danella, Night Doctors: Exhuming the Truth

Second Place: Philip Goldman, Trusting the Reliable Narrator: Narratological and Lacanian and Perspectives on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Third Place: Matthew Leo, Henrietta Lacks: Copyright 2010

The Inaugural Open Books – Open Minds Student Conference

2011-2012 common book: When the Emperor Was Divine March 30, 2012
(Adobe PDFCall for papers)

Adobe PDF Conference Program​​​​​​​​​​​​

Page last updated: May 05, 2016