The Man Who Wasn’t There by Anil Ananthaswamy

The Man Who Wasn’t There by Anil AnanthaswamyThe Man Who Wasn't There: Tales from the Edge of the Self by Anil Ananthaswamy
Published by Dutton on August 2, 2016
Pages: 320
Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.
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In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, science journalist Anil Ananthaswamy skillfully inspects the bewildering connections among brain, body, mind, self, and society by examining a range of neuropsychological ailments from autism and Alzheimer’s to out-of-body experiences and body integrity identity disorder Award-winning science writer Anil Ananthaswamy smartly explores the concept of self by way of several mental conditions that eat away at patients’ identities, showing we learn a lot about being human from people with a fragmented or altered sense of self. Ananthaswamy travelled the world to meet those who suffer from “maladies of the self” interviewing patients, psychiatrists, philosophers and neuroscientists along the way. He charts how the self is affected by Asperger’s, autism, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, schizophrenia, among many other mental conditions, revealing how the brain constructs our sense of self. Each chapter is anchored with stories of people who experience themselves differently from the norm. Readers meet individuals in various stages of Alzheimer’s disease where the loss of memory and cognition results in the loss of some aspects of the self. We meet a woman who recalls the feeling of her first major encounter with schizophrenia which she describes as an outside force controlling her.  Ananthaswamy also looks at several less­ familiar conditions, such as Cotard’s syndrome, in which patients believe they are dead, and those with body integrity identity disorder, where the patient seeks to have a body part amputated because it “doesn’t belong to them.”
Moving nimbly back and forth from the individual stories to scientific analysis The Man Who Wasn’t There is a wholly original exploration of the human self which raises fascinating questions about the mind-body connection.  


Don’t you love nonfiction that is as exciting as it is fascinating? Anil Ananthaswamy’s engaging style makes readers of The Man Who Wasn’t There feel as if they are making cutting-edge discoveries along with the world’s top neuroscientists. I could not put this book down.

This book explores how we see ourselves; how we know (or don’t know) ourselves to be real, alive, present and part of the world around us. Each chapter delves into the science behind a variety of disorders that affect our sense of self, including Cotard’s syndrome, body integrity identity disorder, depersonalization, Alzheimer’s, autism, schizophrenia, ecstatic epilepsy—even out-of-body experiences.

Ananthaswamy starts off the book with the premise that “brain, body, mind, self, and society are inextricably linked.” He concludes with the hope that, by recognizing these links, “we can learn not only to co-opt the body for treatment, but we can start to destigmatize mental illnesses. They are illnesses like all else.” The science in The Man Who Wasn’t There is absolutely riveting, but Ananthaswamy combines facts, research, and clinical cases with human faces—their feelings, their real struggles—for every topic he explores.