The best books to help you find your place in the world

Michael E. Long Author Of The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race
By Michael E. Long

Who am I?

I’m interested in everything – which is a problem, because there’s not time for everything. So how do you find the best of the world and your own place in it? Understanding your motivations is a good place to start, hence The Molecule of More. The rest comes from exploring as much as you can, and that begins with understanding the scope of what’s out there: ideas, attitudes, and cultures. The greatest joy in my life comes from the jaw-dropping realization that the world is so full of potential and wonder. These books are a guide to some of the best of it, and some of the breadth of it.

I wrote...

The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

By Daniel Z. Lieberman, Michael E. Long,

Book cover of The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

What is my book about?

The brain chemical dopamine ensured the survival of early man by setting our focus on getting things we don’t have, which were most often the requirements for staying alive. The modern world is a different place, but dopamine still drives us toward “more.” It is now what makes an ambitious professional sacrifice everything in pursuit of success, or a satisfied spouse risk it all for the thrill of someone new. It is why we seek and succeed; it is also why we gamble and squander. Our book explains the process and points toward a solution.

The books I picked & why

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A History of Western Philosophy

By Bertrand Russell,

Book cover of A History of Western Philosophy

Why this book?

Whatever those deep questions are that you have, somebody’s already thought about them, and this masterwork of a book will show you that you’re not alone. In fact, you’re thinking and feeling the same way women and men did a couple thousand years ago – and some very wise individuals have thought through what you’re thinking through. This book will change your life and your mind. You have to be patient, but it’s worth it. Read three pages (no more) a day, every day. Plan on sticking with this for more than a year, then do so. Use a highlighter for a bookmark. It changed me. It’ll change you, too.

The World According to Garp

By John Irving,

Book cover of The World According to Garp

Why this book?

My book, The Molecule of More, explains how the brain divides everything into anticipation and appreciation – looking for things we don’t yet have, versus taking joy from what we possess right now. Irving’s bizarre, deep, profane, and life-changing novel is an eloquent and hilarious case for seeking joy less in what might happen tomorrow than in what we have in the here and now. I read it when I was 19 and it helped me understand nothing less than how I should live my life. (I re-read it a few years ago, in my 50s. Yup, I was right the first time.)

The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History

By Fred H. Previc,

Book cover of The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History

Why this book?

If you’re reading my book recommendations, it’s almost certainly because you read the book Dan Lieberman and I wrote about dopamine. In that case, you’ll want to read the book that inspired us to write our book, Fred Previc’s seminal explanation of the technical aspects of dopamine and psychology. If you were hoping for a deeper diver on certain points, Previc’s text is the only way to go – and we remain grateful to him for his groundbreaking work.

Thy Neighbor's Wife

By Gay Talese,

Book cover of Thy Neighbor's Wife

Why this book?

Every generation believes that they see further and think deeper – and weirder – than every one that came before. From this perspective, we imagine that we can do everything differently that those who preceded us. In this book, one of the creators of the so-called New Journalism shows just how wrong we are. In particular, Talese provides a tour of the history of sexual mores, how cultures reflect those mores, and how tradition turns out to be a more powerful cultural magnet than we expect. We can try to make our own new ways in a lot of areas, but the biological pull we all experience invariably pulls us back to a few tendencies and trends we will likely never shake as a species.

A Man in Full

By Tom Wolfe,

Book cover of A Man in Full

Why this book?

Read this – or anything by Wolfe, the writer who has had the most influence on me. Why? Because Tom Wolfe was what I aspire to be, a joyful explainer. He dropped himself into worlds he knew nothing about and let their most engaged players just talk. He came back with deep-inside tours of lives we would otherwise never know. In The Molecule of More, my co-author Dan Lieberman (one of the great psychiatric minds in America, I say) gave me a thrilling tour of neuroscience, leveraging my own interests as a playwright and a trained physicist so we could combine our knowledges into something that first passed the test of fascinating us as old friends. Wolfe does all that by himself, and magnificently in this tour of 1990s America.

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