The best books on the brain and mind

David J. Nutt Author Of Nutt Uncut
By David J. Nutt

Who am I?

I have been a doctor, psychiatrist, and brain researcher for nearly 50 years. I have treated thousands of patients, written over a thousand scientific articles, and given a similar number of lectures to medical and neuroscience students and to the general public. I have held many leadership positions in this field for academic groups both in UK and Europe and in 2009 I set up the charity Drug Science, to tell the truth about drugs and addiction.

I wrote...

Nutt Uncut

By David J. Nutt,

Book cover of Nutt Uncut

What is my book about?

Most people know David Nutt as the sacked drug czar. But my real life I am an academic psychiatrist and researcher who uses neuroimaging to study the brain so I can help understand how it goes wrong in mental and neurological illnesses, and so helps the search for new treatments. This book takes the reader on my journey from enquiring schoolboy, through my medical training into research and then becoming the government chief advisor on drugs.

This path has often taken me into controversial areas such as the safety of treatments for mental illness and the role of animals in medical research. I have been the subject of bomb attacks from anti-vivs and reputational assaults from anti-psychiatry groups. But my belief in science as the foundation of decision making has allowed me to overcome these and continue to do innovative brain research and pioneer new clinical treatments especially those using “illegal” drugs such as psychedelics and MDMA.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness

Why did I love this book?

A true personal account of depression by a Nobel prize winning author of remarkable books such as Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. In this autobiography, Styron digs deep into the darkness of this illness and how it temporarily derailed his writing ability. So as a description of the negative thought content and the destructive impact of depression is second to none. But worse it reveals the stigma that pervades public opinions on depression from those who haven’t suffered from it or who believe that their occasional dips in mood are the real thing. This culminated in vile and shameful abuse from other literary figures when he admitted to accepting medical treatment for his illness.

By William Styron,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Darkness Visible as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a story of depression a condition that reduced William Styron from a person enjoying life and success as an acclaimed writer, to a man engulfed and menaced by mental anguish. With profound insight and remarkable candor, Styron tracks the progress of his madness, from the smothering misery and exhaustion, to the agony of composing his own suicide note and his eventual, hard-won recovery. Illuminating an illness that affects millions but which remains widely misunderstood, this book is about the darkness of depression, but it is also ultimately about survival and redemption.


By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of Awakenings

Why did I love this book?

The remarkable story of the discovery of the role of the neurotransmitter dopamine in causing the sleeping sickness that occurred in some people after they had been infected in the 1918 Great Influenza epidemic. An exciting tale of a young neurologist joining the scientific team working on the development of L-DOPA as a therapy for this disorder and how it woke them up from decades of near-coma. The idea of using L-DOPA came from the scientific discovery that revealed dopamine was deficient in the brains of people with this sickness so giving a precursor to it might replace what the brain itself couldn’t make enough of. This discovery was the first to prove the role of a brain chemical in causing a neurological disorder, and the first to show replacing it was a scientific remedy. This concept of neurotransmitter impairments has since been replicated in many brain disorders but none has captured the public imagination with the power and excitement of Awakenings.

By Oliver Sacks,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Awakenings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'The story of a disease that plunged its victims into a prison of viscous time, and the drug that catapulted them out of it' - Guardian

Hailed as a medical classic, and the subject of a major feature film as well as radio and stage plays and various TV documentaries, Awakenings by Oliver Sacks is the extraordinary account of a group of twenty patients.

Rendered catatonic by the sleeping-sickness epidemic that swept the world just after the First World War, all twenty had spent forty years in hospital: motionless and speechless; aware of the world around them, but exhibiting no…

The Doors of Perception

By Aldous Huxley,

Book cover of The Doors of Perception

Why did I love this book?

The first popular book on the impact of psychedelic drugs to open the human mind. Huxley was a famous novelist from the top scientific family in the UK. In his most famous earlier fiction book, Brave New World, Huxley focused on the use of the drug Soma to control the behaviour of an underclass of humans. This book shows the opposite - how a psychedelic drug [in this case mescaline] transformed his understanding of himself and the mind.  Beautifully written and hugely influential. Moreover, his theory, derived from his mescaline experience, of how the brain focuses the mind has now been proven correct by modern neuroscience, proving it to be a truly remarkable insight

By Aldous Huxley,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Doors of Perception as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Discover this profound account of Huxley's famous experimentation with mescalin that has influenced writers and artists for decades.

'Concise, evocative, wise and, above all, humane, The Doors of Perception is a masterpiece' Sunday Times

In 1953, in the presence of an investigator, Aldous Huxley took four-tenths of a gram of mescalin, sat down and waited to see what would happen. When he opened his eyes everything, from the flowers in a vase to the creases in his trousers, was transformed. Huxley described his experience with breathtaking immediacy in The Doors of Perception.

In its sequel Heaven and Hell, he goes…

Book cover of We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, from the Womb to Alzheimer's

Why did I love this book?

A book written after decades of research by a leading neuroscientist to share his love of the brain with the general public. An ideal starter book for those of you who want to get a sense of all the different parts of the complex organ that comprise the human brain. In a series of chapters on the many different parts, regions structures, and brain processes this book provides a succinct yet comprehensive overview of the brain. It explains what the different parts do to make your brain work and how they work together they make us do what we do and makes sense of what we are.

By D.F. Swaab, Jane Hedley-Prole (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Are Our Brains as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Everything we think, do and refrain from doing is determined by our brain. From religion to sexuality, it shapes our potential, our desires and our characters. Taking us through every stage in our lives, from the womb to falling in love to old age, Dick Swaab shows that we don't just have brains: we are our brains.

'A blockbuster about the brain ... provocative, fascinating, remarkable' Clive Cookson, Financial Times

'A giant in the field' Zoe Williams, Guardian

'Engrossing, intriguing and enlightening' Robin Ince

'Enchantingly written' The Times Higher Education

'Wide-ranging, fun and informative ... as an ice-breaker at parties,…

Book cover of The Rag and Bone Shop: How We Make Memories and Memories Make Us

Why did I love this book?

Veronica is a professor of psychiatry with a special interest in psychosis such as schizophrenia and especially those that are seen in women after childbirth. These states of altered consciousness and the memories they produce give us insights into the nature of mental illness and the making of memories. The book develops as a series of case studies that are gently described in relation to the different brain regions that are involved in the experiences with a simple-to-understand diagram. Bringing together her clinical insights with beautiful perspectives from prose and poetry as well as from philosophers especially Henri Bergson, she makes a compelling case for memories being the core of what we as humans are.

By Veronica O'Keane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rag and Bone Shop as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


'Vivid, unforgettable . . . a fascinating, instructive, wise and compassionate book' John Banville

A leading psychiatrist shows how the mysteries of the brain are illuminated at the extremes of human experience

A twinge of sadness, a rush of love, a knot of loss, a whiff of regret. Memories have the power to move us, often when we least expect it, a sign of the complex neural process that continues in the background of our everyday lives. A process that shapes us: filtering the world around us, informing our behaviour and feeding our…

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