The best brain books

53 authors have picked their favorite books about the brain and why they recommend each book.

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The Human Brain Coloring Book

By Marian C. Diamond, Arnold B. Scheibel,

Book cover of The Human Brain Coloring Book

This title is designed to help student neuroscientists grasp the staggeringly complicated anatomy of the brain by -literally – coloring-in its parts in a way that shows up their connections. Colouring- will take you straight into the Zone, and using this book will allow you to do it in public without people looking around for your carer. If it leaves you with a better idea of how the bits join up, count it as a bonus.

Who am I?

I was hooked on brain science from the moment in the 1980s when I saw the first blurry images that revealed the physical markers of thought. I set out to find out all I could about this astonishing new area of discovery, but there was practically nothing to be found – neuroscience as we know it barely existed. I pounced on every new finding that emerged and eventually wrote what was one of the first books, Mapping the Mind, that made brain science accessible to non-scientists. There are hundreds of them now, and these are some of the best.

I wrote...


By Rita Carter,

Book cover of Consciousness

What is my book about?

Is consciousness merely an illusion, a by-product of our brain's workings, or is it, as the latest physics may suggest, the basis for all reality? Your perception of the world around you, your consciousness, should be the one thing you could talk about with absolute confidence. But nothing about consciousness is clear-cut and understanding it is perhaps the hardest problem facing modern science.

The Master and His Emissary

By Iain McGilchrist,

Book cover of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World

Philosopher and psychiatrist McGilchrist presented a bold thesis about the working of the human mind. It has profound implications for the way we understand human societies. We’ve long known that the two halves of the brain perform different functions but, using approachable case studies and clearly presenting the science, the first half of the book argues that the left, more rational, part of the brain is dangerously dominant. Controlling and grasping, it needs to remain subordinate to the more inclusive, humane, and intuitive functions of the right brain. McGilchrist goes on to trace the consequences for the development of human societies and their problems. The ideas linger, relevant to practically all aspects of our lives.

Who am I?

I'm an anthropologist on a mission to discover how people have used, and abused, law over the past 4,000 years. After a decade in a wig and gown at the London Bar, I headed back to university to pursue a long-standing interest in Tibetan culture. I spent two years living with remote villagers and nomads, freezing over dung fires, herding yaks, and learning about traditional legal practices. Now, based at the University of Oxford, I’ve turned to legal history, comparing ancient Tibetan texts with examples from all over the world. The Rule of Laws brings a long sweep of legal history and its fascinating diversity to a wide audience.

I wrote...

The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World

By Fernanda Pirie,

Book cover of The Rule of Laws: A 4,000-Year Quest to Order the World

What is my book about?

The epic story of the ways in which people have used laws to forge civilizations.

Rulers throughout history have made law. But laws were never simply instruments of power. They also offered diverse people a way to express their visions for a better world. I trace the rise and fall of the sophisticated legal systems that underpinned ancient empires and religious traditions. I describe tribal assemblies, farmers, and merchants who turned to law to define their communities, and I reveal the legal efforts that people repeatedly make to control their leaders. The rule of law has ancient origins, I conclude, but it Is not inevitable. Laws can only make the world better if we understand where they have come from and how they could have been different.

The User Illusion

By Tor Norretranders,

Book cover of The User Illusion: Cutting Consciousness Down to Size

Our brains take in around 10 million bits a second, but only about 30 of those are raised to conscious awareness. Which 30? How does our brain choose? And how do we make decisions? After a lifetime of thinking I was a conscious being making logical, rational choices, I realize that I’m like a rider on a horse. My conscious mind thinks that I’m controlling the horse, but – after reading this book – now I realize that most of the time the horse is in charge! Knowing that has helped me replace self-limiting practices with more effective ways to working with my instincts and senses.

Who am I?

In 1995 I was challenged to declare my purpose in life. In the absence of any evidence that it was possible, and without knowing HOW to do it, I declared the possibility that I would transform Planet Earth by creating community everywhere. As ridiculous as it sounded at the time, the amazing breakthroughs that I’ve encountered on my journey since then have been even more incredible. After decades of experience helping myself and others achieve what initially seemed “impossible” possible, I’m delighted to be able to help myself and support others in making progress on pretty much any “impossible” project aside from changing the gravitational constant of the Universe. (I’m a physicist, so I’m going to leave that to greater minds than mine!) Looking forward to hearing what seems impossible for you, but if it WERE possible, would transform your life for the better!

I wrote...

Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces

By Kimberly Wiefling,

Book cover of Scrappy Project Management: The 12 Predictable and Avoidable Pitfalls Every Project Faces

What is my book about?

Projects are MESSY! From the minute the project begins, all manner of changes, surprises, and disasters befall them. Unfortunately, most of these are PREDICTABLE and AVOIDABLE. Tact and diplomacy can only get you so far in the wild and wacky world of project work. A combination of outrageous creativity, sheer bravado, and nerves of steel will serve you far better than any fancy-schmancy Microsoft Project Gantt chart!

Your Brain at Work

By David Rock,

Book cover of Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

This book is filled with great ideas about how to avoid distraction, how to avoid doing too much so our cognitive abilities are at a maximum, how to use mindfulness to more easily tap into your emotional states, and how to set goals that are more likely to be accomplished. There are so many useful tidbits in this book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to be more productive and efficient.

Who am I?

I use the knowledge I’ve gained as an executive coach for 14 years and with a master’s degree in organizational communication to help organizations and individuals more effectively communicate with and engage others in the workplace and in their personal lives. I actively practice what I preach and constantly look for new information to help myself and others become better leaders, managers, and people.

I wrote...

Shut Up and Manage: A Quiet Leader's Guide to Engaging Others

By M.J. Clark,

Book cover of Shut Up and Manage: A Quiet Leader's Guide to Engaging Others

What is my book about?

Are you unsure of how to give productive feedback that fully engages and motivates others? Does it make you uncomfortable to give up control, when you can do it faster yourself? Do you struggle to trust other people and hold them accountable? Managers often feel pressure to generate all the ideas and know all the answers, which leads to too much talking and not enough employee engagement.

 In Shut Up and Manage, you’ll find a straightforward, practical guide that provides you with researched principles along with specific examples from the author’s executive coaching work to become a more effective manager and leader. From hard skills such as organizing your work, onboarding, delegating, evaluating, creating goals, and keeping others accountable, to soft skills, such as navigating tough conversations, building trust, coaching, and motivating others, this book provides an operations guide for managers to fully engage others to achieve greater success.

Who Switched Off My Brain?

By Caroline Leaf,

Book cover of Who Switched Off My Brain?: Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions

Caroline Leaf is a brain scientist who has specialized in the science of thoughts for decades. She is also a Christian. In this book, she explains scientifically (though in layman's terms) how our thoughts affect our bodies, and even our genes (epigenetics). She shows how to utilize this knowledge to better our mental and physical health. I really believe this is an important book that should be read by almost everyone at some point in their lives. I see that she has a new book called 101 Ways to Be Less Stressed: Simple Self-Care Strategies to Boost Your Mind, Mood, and Mental Health which may be even more pertinent to the subject, though I haven’t yet read it.

Who am I?

I’ve experienced crippling anxiety personally, to the point of nervous breakdown. I’ve researched this topic extensively and have been panic-free for over a decade due to the knowledge and coping skills accrued.

I wrote...

How I Overcame Panic Disorder Without Drugs

By Roxane Lapa,

Book cover of How I Overcame Panic Disorder Without Drugs

What is my book about?

Constantly having panic attacks for no good reason is no way to live. Yet so many people are living this way. This very common anxiety disorder is most often treated with SSRI drugs. These pharmaceuticals do not address the cause of panic attacks though and are arguably not terribly effective at treating the symptoms either.

In this book, I will show you how I was able to overcome panic disorder in two periods of my life without pharmaceuticals. You will discover the different methods of overcoming the many faces of this mental disturbance, and ultimately you will learn how to eliminate unwarranted panic from your life.

My Stroke of Insight

By Jill Bolte Taylor,

Book cover of My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey

This is an enlightening memoir recounting the story and journey of experiencing and recovering from a stroke. I love this book because it uniquely combines perspectives of the author being a researcher (neuroscientist), patient (experiencing the stroke), and just a common person with a normal life - which was turned upside down by the stroke. The author walks you through the arduous physical and emotional roller coaster of recovery, a few neurons at a time. The human brain candidly expressing what happened to itself, is a marvelously fascinating concept that you get to learn by reading this book.

Who am I?

Life caught me by surprise when our youngest son was born with a birth defect that launched our family into the world of surgeries, and treatments. After experiencing the management of chronic care for our child firsthand, I realized how important it is to share personal stories and experiences. It enables empathy and a deeper understanding and appreciation of what patients and families go through. Autobiographical accounts of patients and families are still very limited. We need more people to come forward and share their own patient/family experiences in order to promote the betterment of healthcare and healing through relating with others and learning from others’ experiences.

I wrote...

The 5000th Baby: A Parent's Perspective and Journey through the First Year of Life

By Devesh Dahale,

Book cover of The 5000th Baby: A Parent's Perspective and Journey through the First Year of Life

What is my book about?

A story of the first year of life of a baby who was born with a rare birth defect which occurs with a frequency of one in approximately 5000 babies born. A vivid description of the journey of a family that was shocked and overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown, and the perils of the surgeries and treatments that would follow. The story is a detailed account of the medical aspects (surgeries, recoveries, complications, infections, and treatment regimens) while often encountering a “not so friendly” medical system at times as well as dealing with psycho-social aspects of life.

The book provides valuable tips and suggestions so that others may benefit from the author’s experience. Learn about the journey with its trials and tribulations as experienced through the patient / parent’s perspective and appreciate the blessing of a normally functioning healthy human body.

Phantoms in the Brain

By V.S. Ramachandran, Sandra Blakeslee,

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

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.

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.

Consciousness and the Brain

By Stanislas Dehaene,

Book cover of Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts

What is it for a thought to be conscious? Dehaene reviews evidence (much of it from his own lab) supporting the global workspace theory of consciousness. Entry into that workspace enables a wide range of cognitive systems (for affective responding, for reasoning, and for decision making) to consume and respond to signals generated elsewhere within specialized subsystems of the mind. And the “gatekeeper” of entry into the workspace is directed attention.

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by the question of what is innate and what is learned, and how the two things interact to issue in ourselves. It turns out that the innate human capacity for controlled uses of working memory, combined with a suite of other cognitive enhancements, then interact with culture and cultural learning to enable distinctively human forms of life; and that those cognitive enhancements are themselves a product of gene-culture co-evolution.

I wrote...

The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us about the Nature of Human Thought

By Peter Carruthers,

Book cover of The Centered Mind: What the Science of Working Memory Shows Us about the Nature of Human Thought

What is my book about?

This book builds on my previous work on the nature of self-knowledge and the architecture of human and animal minds. Drawing on my knowledge of the scientific literature on working memory and related topics, here I develop an argument that challenges central assumptions about the mind made by many philosophers, scientists, and ordinary people. I argue that our non-sensory goals, judgments, decisions, and intentions can only ever operate unconsciously behind the scenes, selecting and manipulating the sensory-based images that figure consciously in working memory (most notably visual imagery and inner speech). I also show that so-called “propositional attitudes” like judgments and decisions are never under direct intentional control, whereas our capacity to control the sensory attentional system lies at the heart of human intelligence.

Patient H.M.

By Luke Dittrich,

Book cover of Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

Henry Molaison is surely the most famous patient in the history of neurology, widely known in the scientific literature and to psychology and medical students throughout the world as H.M. In 1953, he underwent brain surgery for the relief of epilepsy, which left him mentally stuck in the present, unable to remember past events or imagine future ones. Although the case is a tragic one, it led to significant advances in the scientific understanding of how the brain works. But the book is more than that; it is as fascinating for the backstory as for the case of Henry himself. Luke Dittrich is the grandson of H.M.’s surgeon, a maverick figure in the history of psychosurgery. It is an often uncomfortable but always fascinating tale of intrigue, ambition, secrecy, and surgical recklessness.

Who am I?

Michael Corballis is a psychologist and brain scientist. His interests lie in how the mind works, how it maps onto the brain, and how it evolved. Much of his work is published in books and scientific articles, but he has also written books aimed at a general readership. These include Pieces of Mind, The Lopsided Ape, The Recursive Mind, The Wandering Mind, and The Truth about Language.

I wrote...

Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

By Michael C. Corballis,

Book cover of Adventures of a Psychologist: Reflections on What Made Up the Mind

What is my book about?

The book is an autobiography of my life, from growing up on a sheep farm in New Zealand, to several attempts to find a career, to eventual employment in Canada and New Zealand as an academic psychologist and researcher. Over the past 60 years, I saw scientific psychology transform, from behaviourism, to the cognitive revolution, then to the discovery of the brain. I worked with pigeons, long-suffering undergraduate volunteers, and split-brained patients. I pondered the various aspects that make up the mind: memory, imagination, the two sides of the brain, language, and its evolution. Four of the books recommended below feature in this book; One of them (the fourth) appeared too recently for inclusion.

A Child's Book of Art

By Lucy Micklethwait,

Book cover of A Child's Book of Art: Great Pictures - First Words

This book hits a kind of non-narrative sweet spot: It doesn’t tell a specific story, but every page-spread is a feast of beauty and interest and there are just enough words sprinkled here and there to encourage parents to supply their own commentary. This particular book happened to be a huge favorite in my family, but any collection that introduces great paintings and different styles of art will do the trick. I love making art part of a baby’s world from the get-go: It awakens the aesthetic senses and gives a child a sense of cultural ownership. Later, seeing a Vermeer or a Picasso, we can hope that child will feel a sparkle of recognition.

Who am I?

As a journalist, WSJ book critic, and mother of five, I‘ve been perfectly placed to witness the astounding effects of reading aloud. For decades I've been reading to my children (and to my husband, too) every night, often for a solid hour or more. Storytime has been the central civilizing joy of our family life: We’ve bonded emotionally, gone on shared imaginative adventures, and filled our heads with pictures and words. Long ago I knew something big was happening to us, and I felt sure my children were benefitting, but it wasn’t until I began digging around into the behavioral and brain science that I learned just how consequential reading aloud can be. In my book, I lay it all out.

I wrote...

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction

By Meghan Cox Gurdon,

Book cover of The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction

What is my book about?

A conversation-changing look at the social, familial, neurological, and psychological benefits of reading aloud, especially for parents and children.

A miraculous alchemy occurs when one person reads to another, transforming the simple stuff of a book, a voice, and a bit of time into complex and powerful fuel for the heart, brain, and imagination. Grounded in the latest neuroscience and behavioural research, and drawing widely from literature, The Enchanted Hour explains the dazzling cognitive and social-emotional benefits that await children who are read to, whatever their class, nationality or family background.

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