The best books on the human brain

Richard Passingham Author Of Cognitive Neuroscience: A Very Short Introduction
By Richard Passingham

Who am I?

I have worked on the brain in Oxford since 1970, and my job also required me to teach students, not just in lectures but also in tutorials. This taught me how to communicate clearly. In my own scientific work, I was amongst the first to use functional brain imaging to visualize the human brain at work. I have written seven books and edited an eighth. My particular specialisation is decision making and the brain areas (such as the prefrontal cortex) that support it. I have just published a monograph of nearly 500 pages on the prefrontal cortex, aimed at other scientists in the field. I am a Fellow of the Royal Society. 

I wrote...

Cognitive Neuroscience: A Very Short Introduction

By Richard Passingham,

Book cover of Cognitive Neuroscience: A Very Short Introduction

What is my book about?

This is one of a series of books on topics in the sciences and humanities for laypeople. These books have proved to be extremely popular. Each chapter starts with questions that people might ask and ends with the answers that the brain sciences provide. Cognitive neuroscience is the neuroscience of perception, thought, and decision making.

The book is written in an easy style. There are technical terms for the brain areas that are mentioned, but these areas are also shown on diagrams.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Brain: The Story of You

Why did I love this book?

David Eagleman is a Professor of Neuroscience at Stanford University. He writes in an accessible way and speculates about questions within neuroscience. The book is a best-seller and deservedly so, because you feel what it is like to be a scientist studying the most complicated thing in the world, our own brain.

By David Eagleman,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'This is the story of how your life shapes your brain, and how your brain shapes your life.'

Join renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman on a whistle-stop tour of the inner cosmos. It's a journey that will take you into the world of extreme sports, criminal justice, genocide, brain surgery, robotics and the search for immortality. On the way, amidst the infinitely dense tangle of brain cells and their trillions of connections, something emerges that you might not have expected to see: you.

Book cover of The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Why did I love this book?

We used to think that you were saddled with the brain we inherited. But what the brain sciences have now shown is that the brain can change as the result of our experiences. For example, London taxi drivers have to learn ‘The Knowledge’ (the streets of London), and as a result, there are changes in the size of the hippocampus, a structure that is critical for finding your way. And merely learning to juggle for a few hours changes the speed with which the fibres from your motor cortex conduct.

By Norman Doidge,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An astonishing new science called neuroplasticity is overthrowing the centuries-old notion that the human brain is immutable. Psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Norman Doidge, M.D., traveled the country to meet both the brilliant scientists championing neuroplasticity and the people whose lives they've transformed-people whose mental limitations or brain damage were seen as unalterable. We see a woman born with half a brain that rewired itself to work as a whole, blind people who learn to see, learning disorders cured, IQs raised, aging brains rejuvenated, stroke patients learning to speak, children with cerebral palsy learning to move with more grace, depression and anxiety…

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman,

Book cover of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Why did I love this book?

The point of the brain is to decide on action. Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his work on decision-making. This book is his popular book sharing his insights. He suggests that we make some decisions rapidly on the basis of intuition, but we take longer over other decisions, deliberating concerning the various alternatives.

By Daniel Kahneman,

Why should I read it?

36 authors picked Thinking, Fast and Slow as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The phenomenal international bestseller - 2 million copies sold - that will change the way you make decisions

'A lifetime's worth of wisdom' Steven D. Levitt, co-author of Freakonomics
'There have been many good books on human rationality and irrationality, but only one masterpiece. That masterpiece is Thinking, Fast and Slow' Financial Times

Why is there more chance we'll believe something if it's in a bold type face? Why are judges more likely to deny parole before lunch? Why do we assume a good-looking person will be more competent? The answer lies in the two ways we make choices: fast,…

Book cover of The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales

Why did I love this book?

Sadly, our brain doesn’t always function correctly. This leads to neurological and psychiatric diseases. Oliver Sachs was a neurologist, and in this fascinating book, he describes some of the bizarre consequences. One is ‘agnosia’, a failure to recognize things; hence the title comes from a chapter in which Sachs describes a patient who mistook his wife for a hat. This book is compulsive reading.

By Oliver Sacks,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat And Other Clinical Tales as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Celebrating Fifty Years of Picador Books

If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self - himself - he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.

In this extraordinary book, Dr. Oliver Sacks recounts the stories of patients struggling to adapt to often bizarre worlds of neurological disorder. Here are people who can no longer recognize everyday objects or those they love; who are stricken with violent tics or shout involuntary obscenities, and yet are gifted with…

Book cover of Phantoms in the Brain: Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind

Why did I love this book?

Ramachandran is famous for studying some of the disorders that can be produced for the brain. One such is phantom limb pain. Some people who have had an arm amputated continue to feel that arm, and even to have pain in it. Ramachandran devised an ingenious experiment to try to abolish that feeling. This and other clever ideas are described in this book. Readers will quickly appreciate that science is like the humanities in requiring creativity.

By V.S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Phantoms in the Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran is internationally renowned for uncovering answers to the deep and quirky questions of human nature that few scientists have dared to address. His bold insights about the brain are matched only by the stunning simplicity of his experiments -- using such low-tech tools as cotton swabs, glasses of water and dime-store mirrors. In Phantoms in the Brain, Dr. Ramachandran recounts how his work with patients who have bizarre neurological disorders has shed new light on the deep architecture of the brain, and what these findings tell us about who we are, how we construct our body image,…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the brain, neuroscience, and decision making?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the brain, neuroscience, and decision making.

The Brain Explore 132 books about the brain
Neuroscience Explore 121 books about neuroscience
Decision Making Explore 71 books about decision making

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