The best books to explore dementia and the rich mystery of the human mind

Nicci Gerrard Author Of The Last Ocean: What Dementia Teaches Us about Love
By Nicci Gerrard

Who am I?

I am a novelist, a journalist, a humanist celebrant, and coauthor with my husband of the best-selling Nicci French thrillers. Witnessing my father’s dementia and his slow-motion dying radically transformed the way I think about what it is to be human. In 2014, I founded John’s Campaign which seeks to make the care of those who are vulnerable and powerless more compassionate, and which is now a national movement in the UK. In 2016, I won the Orwell Prize for Journalism for ‘exposing Britain’s social evils' in the pieces I wrote exploring the nature of dementia.

I wrote...

The Last Ocean: What Dementia Teaches Us about Love

By Nicci Gerrard,

Book cover of The Last Ocean: What Dementia Teaches Us about Love

What is my book about?

I wrote this book because of my own need to understand a disease that so profoundly affected my father and all who loved him, and because I believe there are better, kinder, and more hopeful ways of dealing with an illness that can dismantle a self. It’s a psychological, philosophical, intellectual, and emotional investigation into this loss, a collection of stories -  some of which are desolating while others are redemptive and show how brave and resilient people can be. It is also a farewell to a man who I loved and who is the book’s guide and its sweet-natured ghost.

The books I picked & why

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Out of Mind

By J. Bernlef, Adrienne Dixon (translator),

Book cover of Out of Mind

Why this book?

There cannot be a more brilliant or more shattering evocation of what it feels like to gradually realise you are forgetting yourself and vanishing from your own life: the mind observes the mind’s deterioration. Bernleff’s pioneering novel, published in 1984, follows the journey of its narrator Maarten from the first days of confusion into a darkness of self-loss. A beautiful, poignant masterpiece about memory and forgetting. 

Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours

By Erwin Mortier, Paul Vincent (translator),

Book cover of Stammered Songbook: A Mother's Book of Hours

Why this book?

Erwin Mortier is a poet, and this slim, intense volume is a haunting memorial to his mother in her final months. She died of early-onset dementia, and Mortier struggles to find adequate words for a condition that is profoundly connected to the failure of language and the connection of the self to the world.

The Nostalgia Factory: Memory, Time and Ageing

By Douwe Draaisma,

Book cover of The Nostalgia Factory: Memory, Time and Ageing

Why this book?

Drowse Draaisma is a memory specialist, and this lucid, eloquent and humorous book celebrates the rich and fruitful pleasures of memory in later life (and takes the sting out of the natural forgetfulness that comes as we grow older). It combines science, psychology, anecdotes, advice, and it is above all a work of spirit and optimism.  

The Iceberg: A Memoir

By Marion Coutts,

Book cover of The Iceberg: A Memoir

Why this book?

This stunning memoir is the author’s recollection of the time between her husband’s diagnosis of a brain tumour that robbed him of language, and his death aged fifty-three. Time runs out for them very quickly. Sometimes the experience of tending to him is stupendously painful and hard (she is a mother of a small child as well as a wife to a dying man). Sometimes it is oddly peaceful. Every so often there are moments of euphoria. Always there is thought, imagination, empathy, care, and love. Above all, love.

Somebody I Used to Know: A Memoir

By Wendy Mitchell,

Book cover of Somebody I Used to Know: A Memoir

Why this book?

Getting a diagnosis of dementia can be terrifying, and it was for Wendy Mitchell, who was given it when only 58. But as this lovely account of her journey towards forgetting shows, dementia can be the start of a whole new adventure. She writes with engaging wit and courage about her daily battle with the illness. Funny, loveable, undaunted, she teaches us that dementia can bring gifts as well as sorrow.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and the brain?

5,810 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about dementia, Alzheimer's disease, and the brain.

Dementia Explore 57 books about dementia
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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Slow Puncture, From the Corner Office to Alzheimer's, and Dementia from the Inside if you like this list.