My favorite books on what your emotions are and where they come from

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a historian of emotions, science, and medicine, with more than a decade of experience in meddling in other scientific affairs, especially in the worlds of psychology and neuroscience. I’m fascinated by human emotions in part, at least, because I feel we’re living in a crude emotional age. I’ve worked in five different countries since gaining my PhD in 2005. In that time I’ve written or edited 14 books of historical non-fiction, as well as dozens of articles and reviews. You can freely read my work in Aeon or History Today. I live between Canada (my adopted country) and Finland, where I frequently lament the loss of my European citizenship.


I wrote...

The History of Emotions

By Rob Boddice,

Book cover of The History of Emotions

What is my book about?

The history of emotions is the most up-to-date and comprehensive guide to the theories, methods, achievements, and problems in this field of historical inquiry and its intersections with other disciplines. It introduces students and professional historians to the main areas of concern in the history of emotions, discussing how the emotions intersect with other lines of historical research relating to power, practice, society, and morality.

Providing a narrative of historical emotions concepts, this book is the go-to handbook for understanding the problems of interpreting historical experience. It also lays out a historiographical map of emotions history research in the past and present and sets the agenda for the future of the history of emotions.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions

Rob Boddice Why did I love this book?

This was my entry point to emotion research, as it is for many others. Reddy’s work is of seismic importance to me and for most of the people I know. It is largely responsible for making the field in which I now work, or at least for making other people take it seriously.

Up until this book came out, there was nothing that could compare in terms of its theoretical sophistication and its careful application. I go back to this book again and again, for support, clarity, and direction. It is, probably, the most thumbed thing I own.

By William M. Reddy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions, William M. Reddy offers a theory of emotions which both critiques and expands upon recent research in the fields of anthropology and psychology. Exploring the links between emotion and cognition, between culture and emotional expression, Reddy applies this theory of emotions to the processes of history. He demonstrates how emotions change over time, how emotions have a very important impact on the course of events, and how different social orders either facilitate or constrain emotional life. In an investigation of Revolutionary France, where sentimentalism in literature and philosophy…


Book cover of How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain

Rob Boddice Why did I love this book?

There is a schism in psychology (actually, probably more than one) that I and others like me are trying to take advantage of. In general, the disagreements are hidden from public view in impenetrable academic papers. I love this book because it’s so visible and available to a general audience.

Feldman Barrett basically undermines all the prevailing core assumptions of basic emotions psychology, which are so pervasive that they tend to underwrite the Disneyfication of human emotional life (see, for example, Inside Out).

I don’t agree with everything Feldman Barrett says, but I greatly admire her for saying them in this format, for such a large audience. It has done wonders for shaking things up.

By Lisa Feldman Barrett,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked How Emotions Are Made as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Preeminent psychologist Lisa Barrett lays out how the brain constructs emotions in a way that could revolutionize psychology, health care, the legal system, and our understanding of the human mind.
“Fascinating . . . A thought-provoking journey into emotion science.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A singular book, remarkable for the freshness of its ideas and the boldness and clarity with which they are presented.”—Scientific American
“A brilliant and original book on the science of emotion, by the deepest thinker about this topic since Darwin.”—Daniel Gilbert, best-selling author of Stumbling on Happiness
The science of emotion is in the midst of a…


Book cover of The Ascent of Affect: Genealogy and Critique

Rob Boddice Why did I love this book?

I like a scholarly bin fire as much as the next person. Leys’ book assembles all the dross of twentieth-century psychological essentialism, douses it in gallons of scholarly scorn, and lights a match.

I think it is massively important that the personalities and authorities that give scientific ideas their power and traction are exposed and critiqued, as a means of moving the needle on emotion knowledge production. This is a scholarly book, no question, but I love it for its unrelenting demolition job.

By Ruth Leys,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In recent years, the emotions have become a major, vibrant topic of research not merely in the biological and psychological sciences but throughout a wide swath of the humanities and social sciences as well. Yet, surprisingly, there is still no consensus on their basic nature or workings. Ruth Leys's brilliant, much anticipated history, therefore, is a story of controversy and disagreement. The Ascent of Affect focuses on the post-World War II period, when interest in the emotions as an object of study began to revive. Leys analyzes the ongoing debate over how to understand the emotions, paying particular attention to…


Book cover of Empathy: A History

Rob Boddice Why did I love this book?

I was desperately waiting for Lanzoni’s book to come out, being certain that it would be the key to displacing an all-too-easy tendency, among scientists, scholars and the general public alike, to make empathy the hardwired mechanism that defines humanity.

It frankly amazes me how quickly the fortunes of empathy rose in the second of half of the twentieth century when, fundamentally, nobody has been able to say precisely what it is, where it is, how it works or what its limits might be.

I loved Lanzoni’s book for laying it all out. Down with empathy!

By Susan Lanzoni,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A surprising, sweeping, and deeply researched history of empathy-from late-nineteenth-century German aesthetics to mirror neurons

Empathy: A History tells the fascinating and largely unknown story of the first appearance of empathy in 1908 and tracks its shifting meanings over the following century. Despite the word's ubiquity today, few realize that it began as a translation of Einfuhlung ("in-feeling"), a term in German psychological aesthetics that described how spectators projected their own feelings and movements into objects of art and nature.

Remarkably, this early conception of empathy transformed into its opposite over the ensuing decades. Social scientists and clinical psychologists refashioned…


Book cover of Pity Transformed

Rob Boddice Why did I love this book?

This book unlocked secrets for me. I was searching for a way of making sense of my own historical work on sympathy in the nineteenth century when I turned to Konstan’s masterpiece on pity in the ancient world, in all its varieties and political forms.

The book could not have been further in time from my own focus, but Konstan’s methods, combined with his narrative sharpness, showed me the way. I read this book, and suddenly, I knew what to do.

By David Konstan,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Pity Transformed" is an examination of how pity was imagined and expressed in classical antiquity. It pays particular attention to the ways in which the pity of the Greeks and Romans differed from modern ideas. Among the topics investigated in this study are the appeal to pity in courts of law and the connection between pity and desert; the relation between pity and love or intimacy; self-pity; the role of pity in war and its relation to human rights and human dignity; divine pity from paganism to Christianity; and why pity was considered an emotion. This book will lead readers…


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Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

By Edward Benzel,

Book cover of Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

Edward Benzel Author Of Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Coming from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, I have witnessed many successes and failures over more than four decades. I recognized decades ago that communication with patients at a level that involves emotions is a necessary part of being a complete physician. This involves being empathetic and, henceforth, digging deep to find the strength to be transparent, vulnerable, compassionate, understanding, and, when needed, forceful (some would call this paternalism). Although the five books I have chosen to highlight vary widely in content, they have one common theme – finding within us the will and wherewithal to succeed.

Edward's book list on awakening of the strengths that are hidden deep inside each of us

What is my book about?

My book is a collection of monthly Editor-in-Chief letters to the readership of World Neurosurgery, a journal that I edit. Each essay is short and sweet. The letters were written for neurosurgeons but have been re-edited so that they apply to all human beings. They cover topics such as leadership, empathy, vulnerability, stress, burnout, and on and on…. These essays are relevant for all who strive to craft a better version of themselves.

Life lessons learned by the author during his 40+ year neurosurgery career are shared and translated into real-life scenarios. Between the covers are many lessons that are derived from the experiences of the author and then applied to all humans. The mastering of these lessons should translate into a sense of pride and satisfaction. In keeping with the theme of the book, this process should culminate in the feeling at the end of the day that ‘Today was, indeed, a good day.’

Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon

By Edward Benzel,

What is this book about?

About the Book
Today Was A Good Day: A Collection of Essays From The Heart Of A Neurosurgeon features many topics that pertain to how neurosurgeons interact with others and how each of us can use introspection to modify how we are using tools and strategies such as empathy, respect, stress management, and much more.
This book provides some insights into leadership, effective communication, and fulfillment from the perspective of a neurosurgeon, and it causes the reader to think about and consider many, many attributes of a leader.
We all want to have a good day. This book provides strategies…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in emotions, the brain, and empathy?

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