The best books on how neuroscience will change our lives

Who am I?

I’m a law professor who has been teaching and writing in the area of intellectual property for 20 years. As my career went along, I came to realize how important it is to not just mechanically apply the legal rules but to think about why they are there. Intellectual property law—a 7 trillion-dollar legal regime governing one-third of the U.S. economy—continually guesses as to how the minds of artists and audiences work. The more I read about neuroscientific advances, the more I realized that these guesses are often wrong and need to be updated for a new technological age.


I wrote...

Intellectual Property and the Brain: How Neuroscience Will Reshape Legal Protection for Creations of the Mind

By Mark Bartholomew,

Book cover of Intellectual Property and the Brain: How Neuroscience Will Reshape Legal Protection for Creations of the Mind

What is my book about?

Intellectual Property and the Brain reveals how tools meant to improve our understanding of human behavior inevitably shape the balance of power between artists and copyists, businesses and consumers. Neuroscience can offer much to improve our flawed system for regulating creative conduct and commercial communications, but it needs to be applied with careful attention to the reasons our system of intellectual property law exists in the first place. Through a host of real-life examples of art, design, and advertising, the book offers a blueprint for unlocking artistic innovation and promoting consumer welfare.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Idea of the Brain: The Past and Future of Neuroscience

Mark Bartholomew Why did I love this book?

You might think history has little to tell us about a cutting edge technology like neuroscience, but you would be wrong. Cobb takes the reader through a fascinating historical excavation, illustrating how the way in which people have thought about the gray matter between their ears changed from era to era. The brain has always been conceptualized according to the cultural and technological currents of the time, shifting from a vessel for housing animal spirits to a machine to an electric battery. Today, we are accustomed to thinking of the brain as a computer; tomorrow, in the era of neuroscience, a new metaphor will likely take hold, shaping our ideas about human behavior in ways that may not always be helpful.  

By Matthew Cobb,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Idea of the Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Shortlisted for the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize

A New Statesman Book of the Year

This is the story of our quest to understand the most mysterious object in the universe: the human brain.

Today we tend to picture it as a computer. Earlier scientists thought about it in their own technological terms: as a telephone switchboard, or a clock, or all manner of fantastic mechanical or hydraulic devices. Could the right metaphor unlock the its deepest secrets once and for all?

Galloping through centuries of wild speculation and ingenious, sometimes macabre anatomical investigations, scientist and historian Matthew Cobb reveals how…


Book cover of The New Mind Readers: What Neuroimaging Can and Cannot Reveal about Our Thoughts

Mark Bartholomew Why did I love this book?

This book does a great job of describing what is possible and what is not when it comes to neuroscience. Poldrack, a professor of psychology at Stanford, makes sure we don’t lose the forest for the trees, boiling down the basics of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a way that anyone can understand. He is particularly strong on describing about how this technology might be used outside of university laboratories, discussing potential applications in law, advertising, and treatment of mental illness.

By Russell A. Poldrack,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The New Mind Readers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A revealing insider's account of the power-and limitations-of functional MRI

The ability to read minds has long been a fascination of science fiction, but revolutionary new brain-imaging methods are bringing it closer to scientific reality. The New Mind Readers provides a compelling look at the origins, development, and future of these extraordinary tools, revealing how they are increasingly being used to decode our thoughts and experiences-and how this raises sometimes troubling questions about their application in domains such as marketing, politics, and the law.

Russell Poldrack takes readers on a journey of scientific discovery, telling the stories of the visionaries…


Book cover of Minority Report

Mark Bartholomew Why did I love this book?

Sure, this book was written way back in 1956, but its dark tale of “mind reading” police is still just as captivating and relevant today. In Dick’s imagined future, three mutants are able to foresee crime before it occurs, allowing the cops to stop crime before it gets started. Like the mutants, today’s neural imaging machines are heralded as ways to see what people are thinking, revealing what they can’t or won’t voluntarily describe. The novel explores questions about expectations of privacy, the dangers of authoritarian regimes controlling invasive technologies, and the nature of free will—all issues that society will need to wrestle with as our understanding of the brain advances. 

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Minority Report as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Imagine a future where crimes can be detected before they are committed, and criminals are convicted and sentenced for crimes before committing them. This is the scenario of Philip K. Dick's classic story, now filmed by Steven Spielberg, starring Tom Cruise.

In addition to MINORITY REPORT this exclusive collection includes nine other outstanding short stories by the twentieth century's outstanding SF master, three of which have been made into feature films.


Book cover of The Moral Conflict of Law and Neuroscience

Mark Bartholomew Why did I love this book?

The lion’s share of commentary about the influence of neuroscience on our system of laws has focused on criminal law. What does it mean to punish people for actions that are really the product of biology rather than conscious choice? Alces grapples with what this means for criminal law and its concepts of moral responsibility and builds a thoughtful and compelling argument. But what I really liked was his equally sharp analysis of what this different conception of human agency means when it comes to tort and contract law—legal regimes that we are much more likely to confront in our daily lives.

By Peter A. Alces,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moral Conflict of Law and Neuroscience as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Law relies on a conception of human agency, the idea that humans are capable of making their own choices and are morally responsible for the consequences. But what if that is not the case? Over the past half century, the story of the law has been one of increased acuity concerning the human condition, especially the workings of the brain. The law already considers select cognitive realities in evaluating questions of agency and responsibility, such as age, sanity, and emotional distress. As new neuroscientific research comprehensively calls into question the very idea of free will, how should the law respond…


Book cover of The Neuroscience of You: How Every Brain Is Different and How to Understand Yours

Mark Bartholomew Why did I love this book?

The other books on this list are mostly about generalized understandings of how our brains work. But there is also important research being done about how our brain chemistry is highly individualized, differing from one person to another. Ever wonder why your ability to focus, to manage stress, to engage in “big picture” thinking is different from someone else? Prat lays out the science of individual brain differences in lively, easy-to-understand prose. The book offers glimpses of a future where bespoke psychological treatments and participation in collaborative efforts can be calibrated to our own unique neurochemistries.

By Chantel Prat,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Neuroscience of You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From University of Washington professor Chantel Prat comes The Neuroscience of You, a rollicking adventure into the human brain that reveals the surprising truth about neuroscience, shifting our focus from what’s average to an understanding of how every brain is different, exactly why our quirks are important, and what this means for each of us.

With style and wit, Chantel Prat takes us on a tour of the meaningful ways that our brains are dissimilar from one another. Using real-world examples, along with take-them-yourself tests and quizzes, she shows you how to identify the strengths and weakness of your own…


You might also like...

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

Book cover of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

Ashley Rubin Author Of The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

New book alert!

Who am I?

I have been captivated by the study of prisons since my early college years. The fact that prisons are so new in human history still feels mind-blowing to me. I used to think that prisons have just always been around, but when you realize they are actually new, that has major implications. This is nowhere more clear than at the beginning: how hard it was to get to the point where prisons made sense to people, to agree on how prisons should be designed and managed, and to keep on the same path when prisons very quickly started to fail. It’s still puzzling to me.

Ashley's book list on the origins of American prisons

What is my book about?

What were America's first prisons like? How did penal reformers, prison administrators, and politicians deal with the challenges of confining human beings in long-term captivity as punishment--what they saw as a humane intervention?

The Deviant Prison centers on one early prison: Eastern State Penitentiary. Built in Philadelphia, one of the leading cities for penal reform, Eastern ultimately defied national norms and was the subject of intense international criticism.

The Deviant Prison traces the rise and fall of Eastern's unique "Pennsylvania System" of solitary confinement and explores how and why Eastern's administrators kept the system going, despite great personal cost to themselves. Anyone interested in history, prisons, and criminal justice will find something to enjoy in this book.

The Deviant Prison: Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary and the Origins of America's Modern Penal System, 1829-1913

By Ashley Rubin,

What is this book about?

Early nineteenth-century American prisons followed one of two dominant models: the Auburn system, in which prisoners performed factory-style labor by day and were placed in solitary confinement at night, and the Pennsylvania system, where prisoners faced 24-hour solitary confinement for the duration of their sentences. By the close of the Civil War, the majority of prisons in the United States had adopted the Auburn system - the only exception was Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, making it the subject of much criticism and a fascinating outlier. Using the Eastern State Penitentiary as a case study, The Deviant Prison brings to light…


5 book lists we think you will like!

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