The best books about the psychological challenges of being human

Why am I passionate about this?

I guess we all have a "calling." Mine has always been to explore the deeper, darker, less palatable aspects of being human. I’m a bit like a space explorer of the human psyche. I’m lucky in the sense that my day job permits me to research, teach, and better understand things like love, death, and loneliness. I’ve been researching and writing about them for many years now. I always treasure books that help me to shed light on these themes. They are like shiny pebbles or jewels that I pick up and keep in my pocket. I hope you enjoy and learn from some of the treasures in my personal collection!  


I wrote...

All the Lonely People: Conversations on Loneliness

By Sam Carr,

Book cover of All the Lonely People: Conversations on Loneliness

What is my book about?

My book is a collection of stories about real people’s loneliness. The stories come from an array of people I’ve interviewed over the course of my life. They are people from different walks of life, including migrants, the old, the young, the bereaved, the heartbroken, the neglected, the forgotten, and the traumatized. They help us appreciate that loneliness has many different faces.

The book argues that to be alive is to be lonely. We all carry stories of loneliness inside us, and by sharing them, we are better able to appreciate how loneliness is lived and what it looks like when it shows up, the value that our stories of loneliness hold, and the potential they have for fostering compassion and connection.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Middle Passage: From Misery to Meaning in Mid-Life

Sam Carr Why did I love this book?

I love the opening quote in this book. I’ve never, ever forgotten it since I turned the first page. It’s a quote from Dante’s Inferno: “Midway through life’s journey, I found myself lost in a dark wood, having lost the way.”

That’s exactly where I found myself when I started reading this book. Like millions of other people, I was lost when I found it. I was looking for someone or something–wiser than meto help me recognize that what I was going through in early midlife is actually a very normal, perhaps essential part of life’s journey.

By James Hollis,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Author James Hollis' eloquent reading provides the listener with an accessible and yet profound understanding of a universal condition - or what is commonly referred to as the mid-life crisis. The book shows how we may travel this Middle Passage consciously, thereby rendering our lives more meaningful and the second half of life immeasurably richer.


Book cover of Heartbreak: New Approaches to Healing - Recovering from Lost Love and Mourning

Sam Carr Why did I love this book?

I think I read this book when I was heartbroken. I imagine that’s why most people would initially gravitate to it.

Heartbreak is something we are all likely to experience at least once in a lifetime. I remember how sick I was of being told by other people that they "understood" how I felt and that they’d "been there too." Ginette Paris didn’t do that. In fact, I remember how she stated that nobody really knows what YOU feel like when you’re heartbroken because nobody has lost exactly what YOU’VE lost. There’s never been a loss exactly like your relationship before because what you lost is in some sense completely unique.

The book is full of revelations about heartbreak that brought me far more comfort than the usual well-meaning platitudes.

By Ginette Paris,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Look at your broken heart with the curiosity of a naturalist, as you would pay close attention to your pet, to understand what is going on.

The pain of mourning and heartbreak is neurologically similar to being submitted to torture. There seems to be only one way to end that agony and to limit somatic damage; neurobiology calls it an evolutionary jump and psychologists call it an increase in consciousness.

Past theories of grief therapy considered recovery from the point of view of stages: a one-year cycle of mourning was supposed to heal the heart. Not so! A true Liberation…


Book cover of Atomised

Sam Carr Why did I love this book?

I often feel like fiction "does" loneliness far better than nonfiction. This is because loneliness is so abstract and messy and the way that it is "lived" is often depicted more realistically in fiction.

I loved Michel Houllebecq’s novel because it’s a painfully beautiful portrayal of the ways that loneliness manifests in modern lives. The characters are achingly lonely in so many ways, and you can see yourself refracted in them as a contemporary human being.

By Michel Houellebecq, Frank Wynne (translator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Half-brothers Michel and Bruno have a mother in common but little else.

Michel is a molecular biologist, a thinker and idealist, a man with no erotic life to speak of and little in the way of human society.

Bruno, by contrast, is a libertine, though more in theory than in practice, his endless lust is all too rarely reciprocated.

Both are symptomatic members of our atomised society, where religion has given way to shallow 'new age' philosophies and love to meaningless sexual connections.

Atomised tells the stories of the two brothers, but the real subject of the novel is the…


Book cover of Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Sam Carr Why did I love this book?

This book invited me to think about how we age and meet death in contemporary Western societies.

I have seen people close to me die. I watched as my grandma, then my grandpa, and then my father passed away. They each, in different ways, faced the brutal realities of growing old and they encountered a healthcare system that ultimately medicalized their death and the aging process–striving to ‘eek out’ more time, as though that was the only honorable thing to do.

Atul Gawande’s book really taught me to reflect critically on that.

By Atul Gawande,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked Being Mortal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLER

'GAWANDE'S MOST POWERFUL, AND MOVING, BOOK' MALCOLM GLADWELL

'BEING MORTAL IS NOT ONLY WISE AND DEEPLY MOVING; IT IS AN ESSENTIAL AND INSIGHTFUL BOOK FOR OUR TIMES' OLIVER SACKS

For most of human history, death was a common, ever-present possibility. It didn't matter whether you were five or fifty - every day was a roll of the dice. But now, as medical advances push the boundaries of survival further each year, we have become increasingly detached from the reality of being mortal. So here is a book about the modern experience of mortality - about what it's…


Book cover of Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays

Sam Carr Why did I love this book?

I cried on behalf of all lobsters when I’d finished listening to the main essay, "Consider the Lobster," in this collection.

For me, it was a profound educational and emotional experience that jolted me into a deep sense of empathy for a creature I’d never really considered all that much up to now. 

By David Foster Wallace,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This celebrated collection of essays from the author of Infinite Jest is "brilliantly entertaining...Consider the Lobster proves once more why Wallace should be regarded as this generation's best comic writer" (Cleveland Plain Dealer). 

Do lobsters feel pain? Did Franz Kafka have a funny bone? What is John Updike's deal, anyway? And what happens when adult video starlets meet their fans in person?

David Foster Wallace answers these questions and more in essays that are also enthralling narrative adventures. Whether covering the three-ring circus of John McCain's 2000 presidential race, plunging into the wars between dictionary writers, or confronting the World's…


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Medical Hostages

By Shawn Jennings,

Book cover of Medical Hostages

Shawn Jennings Author Of Locked In Locked Out: Surviving a Brainstem Stroke

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

The five recommended nonfiction books on my list profoundly affected my life in my time of need. I struggled when a minor accident led to a brainstem stroke and being locked in at 45. How would I find happiness now? How can I go on? These five books gave me the strength to work hard, accept what couldn’t be improved, and be grateful for each day of good health. I hope the recommended books will help you prepare for the day your life will change...and it will.

Shawn's book list on accepting and moving on from a tragedy

What is my book about?

Duke, the leader of a bike gang, is in custody for murder. He plans an escape by feigning illness and hospitalization. But an unexpected turn of events results in two gang members and Duke holding a medical floor of patients hostage. Patients will die if the police don't meet their demands within hours.
The drama follows Duke and Drs. Mindy Fletch, director of the Intensive Care Unit, and Craig Russell, a family medicine resident, in this tense hostage stand-off.

Will the bikers find freedom? Will hostages die? Can Mindy and Craig survive and prevent deaths? In times of stress, people often discover new directions and strengths.

Medical Hostages

By Shawn Jennings,

What is this book about?

Duke, the leader of a bike gang, is in custody for murder. He plans an escape by feigning illness and hospitalization. But an unexpected turn of events results in two gang members and Duke holding a medical floor of patients hostage.


Patients will die if the police don't meet their demands within hours.


The drama follows Duke and Drs. Mindy Fletch, director of the Intensive Care Unit; and Craig Russell, a family medicine resident; in this tense hostage stand-off.


Will the bikers find freedom? Will hostages die? Can Mindy and Craig survive and prevent deaths?


In times of stress, people…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in brothers, quality of life, and healing?

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