The best books that will change how you think about the mind, memory, and medical science

Who am I?

I am an author, science journalist, and storyteller. I worked for the PBS science series NOVA for many years, producing documentaries, podcasts, digital video series, and interactive games on everything from asteroids to human origins to art restoration. But I am particularly fascinated by strange brains, which is why I wrote my first book, The Memory Thief. I am currently at work on a second book about a different neurological disorder. 

I wrote...

The Memory Thief: And the Secrets Behind How We Remember

By Lauren Aguirre,

Book cover of The Memory Thief: And the Secrets Behind How We Remember

What is my book about?

My book is a non-fiction medical mystery that follows a team of doctors as they investigate a severe form of memory loss in fentanyl overdose survivors. I also portray the experience of a patient who helps these doctors, a young man who succumbs to this devastating amnesia. The newly identified amnestic syndrome reveals that opioids have a unique ability to damage the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. This discovery is cause for concern. But at the same time, it suggests new ways that we may be able to protect memory. I also explore the obstacles researchers confront when new ideas collide with conventional wisdom, the elegant tricks scientists use to tease out how memory works, and why researchers now believe a treatment for Alzheimer’s is within reach.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting

Why did I love this book?

Lisa Genova’s book is an efficient, crystal-clear description of memory—what it’s for, how it’s made, and why forgetting is such an essential aspect of memory. She manages to explain tricky neuroscience in an accessible way without being overly simplistic. I only wish the book had come out before I started researching mine. It would have saved me a lot of time!

By Lisa Genova,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A fascinating exploration of the intricacies of how we remember, why we forget, and what we can do to protect our memories, from the Harvard-trained neuroscientist and bestselling author of Still Alice.

“Using her expertise as a neuroscientist and her gifts as a storyteller, Lisa Genova explains the nuances of human memory”—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, author of How the Mind Works

Have you ever felt a crushing wave of panic when you can't for the life of you remember the name of that actor in the movie you saw last week,…

The Brain from Inside Out

By Gyorgy Buzsaki,

Book cover of The Brain from Inside Out

Why did I love this book?

Neuroscientist György Buzsáki believes that focusing on human mental constructs (imagination, attention, instinct) gets in the way of seeing things from the brain’s perspective. Rather than being a blank slate waiting for experiences to etch new pictures onto it, the brain comes equipped with a huge reserve of built-in patterns, each one created by connected groups of neurons. In his view, memory formation is a game of matching those patterns with meaningful experiences so that your brain can better predict the future and the consequences of your actions. I walked away from this book with my brain very much changed. 

By Gyorgy Buzsaki,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Gyoergy Buzsaki's The Brain from Inside Out examines why the outside-in framework for understanding brain function have become stagnate and points to new directions for understanding neural function. Building upon the success of Rhythms of the Brain, Professor Buzsaki presents the brain as a foretelling device that interacts with its environment through action and the examination of action's consequence. Instead of a brain that
represents the world, consider that it is initially filled with nonsense patterns, all of which are gibberish until grounded by action-based interactions. By matching these nonsense "words" to the outcomes of action, they acquire meaning.


Book cover of The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not a Disease

Why did I love this book?

What if addiction isn’t a chronic relapsing disease, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse? What if a better way to think about it is as a type of learning disorder? Neuroscientist and author Marc Lewis, himself a recovering addict, makes his compelling argument through the stories of five people suffering from substance use disorders. This insightful book left me believing that the attempt to fit addiction into rigid categories does a disservice to the complexity of this condition.

By Marc Lewis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Through the vivid, true stories of five people who journeyed into and out of addiction, a renowned neuroscientist explains why the "disease model" of addiction is wrong and illuminates the path to recovery.The psychiatric establishment and rehab industry in the Western world have branded addiction a brain disease, based on evidence that brains change with drug use. But in The Biology of Desire , cognitive neuroscientist and former addict Marc Lewis makes a convincing case that addiction is not a disease, and shows why the disease model has become an obstacle to healing.Lewis reveals addiction as an unintended consequence of…

Book cover of Mentored by a Madman: The William Burroughs Experiment

Why did I love this book?

I loaned this pocket-sized gem to a neurologist friend who never gave it back, so I bought myself another copy. Author A.J. Lees is a leading Parkinson’s disease expert who has a bone to pick with the establishment and how medical science is practiced today. This soulful, lyrical, novella-length book explores the inspiration Lees took from the prolific writer William Burroughs, whose book The Naked Lunch is one of the best-known works of the beatnik generation. Lees follows Burroughs’ path into the Amazon, where Lees tries the medicinal plant yage, a drug he hopes could help Parkinson’s sufferers. 

By A. J. Lees,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Mentored by a Madman as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fascinating account by one of the world's leading neurologists of the profound influence of William Burroughs on his medical career. Lees relates how Burroughs, author of Naked Lunch and troubled drug addict, inspired him to discover a ground-breaking treatment for Parkinson's Disease. Lees journeys to the Amazonian rainforest in search of cures for Parkinson's Disease, and through self-experimentation seeks to find the answers his patients crave. He enters a powerful plea for the return of imagination to medical research.

Book cover of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

Why did I love this book?

After a young girl from a Hmong refugee family is diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy, the resulting clash between Western medicine and Eastern spirituality ends in tragedy when she suffers a prolonged seizure that leaves her in a coma. The outcome might have been different if the well-meaning doctors who were desperate to help had approached the family with more understanding of and respect for the Hmong culture. But author Anne Fadiman leaves it to the reader to realize that there are no villains or easy answers in this thought-provoking exploration of the perils of cultural incompetence.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in medicine, the brain, and addiction?

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

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