• The Man Who Wasn't There

  • Investigations into the Strange New Science of the Self
  • By: Anil Ananthaswamy
  • Narrated by: Rene Ruiz
  • Length: 9 hrs and 28 mins
  • 4.4 out of 5 stars (245 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of Oliver Sacks, a tour of the latest neuroscience of schizophrenia, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, ecstatic epilepsy, Cotard’s syndrome, out-of-body experiences, and other disorders - revealing the awesome power of the human sense of self from a master of science journalism. Anil Ananthaswamy’s extensive in-depth interviews venture into the lives of individuals who offer perspectives that will change how you think about who you are. These individuals all lost some part of what we think of as our self, but they then offer remarkable, sometimes heart-wrenching insights into what remains. One man cut off his own leg. Another became one with the universe. We are learning about the self at a level of detail that Descartes (“I think therefore I am”) could never have imagined.

Recent research into Alzheimer’s illuminates how memory creates your narrative self by using the same part of your brain for your past as for your future. But wait, those afflicted with Cotard’s syndrome think they are already dead; in a way, they believe that “I think therefore I am not”. Who - or what - can say that? Neuroscience has identified specific regions of the brain that, when they misfire, can cause the self to move back and forth between the body and a doppelgänger, or to leave the body entirely. So where in the brain, or mind, or body, is the self actually located? As Ananthaswamy elegantly reports, neuroscientists themselves now see that the elusive sense of self is both everywhere and nowhere in the human brain.

©2015 Anil Ananthaswamy (P)2015 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

Nominated for the 2016 PEN/E.O.

Wilson Literary Science Writing Award

An NBC News Notable Science Book of 2015

Named one of Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2015

A Book of the Month for Brain HQ/Posit Science

Selected by Forbes as a Must Read Brain Book of 2015

On Life Changes Network’s list of the Top 10 Books That Could Change Your Life of 2015

"An agreeably written travelogue through this mysterious landscape at the frontiers of knowledge." (The Wall Street Journal)

"You’ll never see yourself - or others - the same way again." (People)

What listeners say about The Man Who Wasn't There

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Excellent collection of material on the self

I read popular neuroscience and philosophy books by the dozen and regularly come across the same anecdotes to illustrate syndromes and phenomena. This book is excellent, introducing people and stories I have not heard before. I'm very impressed with the author's ability to track down the people involved and weave together first hand narrative describing fascinating cases. Well done.

9 people found this helpful

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Self as malady

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes - a bit heady at times, but cool research and presentation

What did you like best about this story?

I found the topics of the narrative self especially in the context of Alzheimers and schizophrenia the most interesting. My running fascination with the similarities of word choice and characterization of those describing a mystical experience in the religious sense and those describing certain events from a scientific viewpoint was again stoked.

Have you listened to any of Rene Ruiz’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I have not listened to other Rene performances.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Self: My Malady

6 people found this helpful

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One of the best books I've ever listened to about how the mind may work

I've listened twice to this book and it's changed my whole way of looking at the way my mind works. Very good narration as well.



11 people found this helpful

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Makes a Complex Subject Entertaining!

This book covers neurological issues such as psychosis, autism, and a disorder that makes the subject not recognize a part of their body as their own. I knew a lot on these issues, but this book taught me many things, for instance that most psychotics can tickle themselves, lol! Who knew?

6 people found this helpful

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Wow! I Wasn’t Expecting This!

I was attracted to this title because my father has Alzheimers and I always want to know more; however, The Man Who Wasn’t There is so much more! It is a rather scientific book but written and fabulously narrated in a way that is accessible to the layman.
There are a couple of concepts that really surprised and moved me in a different way, as I learned about some conditions that people suffer from, and I didn’t even know existed.
The spiritual parts are well up my alley in every way and I enjoyed the scientific perspective of them.

This is one of those books that I will purchase in print to re-read, highlight, underline, and make notes onto.

Highly recommended!!

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agree with other reviewers

I was unaware of these edge cases in sense of self.

Tapping into Buddhist philosophy and experimental psychological research he makes no concrete argument for what sense of self is... but instead provides an overview of schools of thought.

Ending on questions of... does knowing what it is help us be content, productive, human beings.

Good look at autism and schizophrenia with plenty of places to read more in depth.

1 person found this helpful

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deep exploration of self

wonderfully narrated, up-to-date content including predictive brain neuroscience (Karl Friston) rooted in the centuries

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  • AJ
  • 03-25-17

loved it!!

what is there too say...? This book was amazing and very inspiring and eye opening!!

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Great book

New information, good prospective, a bit poetic at the end. A must read for the people who want to learn more about the self

3 people found this helpful

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very well presented

I generally like these types of non fiction books where the author takes a researched deep dive into a subject. I've also been a fan of philosophy and psychology for more than a few decades. This was a fun and thoughtful exploration of Self, and some of they ways our brain can betray us, and more extreme cases too.

the narrator did a great job of not making a dry subject feel boring. there was a liveliness to his voice that really kept me coming back for more.

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  • David
  • 12-27-17

Better than medication

I listen to a lot of audiobooks. Have done for years. This one stands out as being the one that makes me fall asleep every time. Rather than resenting this, I’ve learned to embrace it. At least once a month, when I’m struggling to get to sleep, I put a chapter of this on, and I’m away in no time. Works like a charm, and available without prescription.