The most recommended books on cognition

Who picked these books? Meet our 58 experts.

58 authors created a book list connected to cognition, and here are their favorite cognition books.
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Book cover of The Border Between Seeing and Thinking

William Hirstein Author Of Responsible Brains: Neuroscience, Law, and Human Culpability

From my list on bridging the gap between mind and brain.

Why am I passionate about this?

I like trying to solve problems about the mind: Is the mind just the brain? What is consciousness, and where is it in the brain? What happens in the brain during aesthetic experience? Why are we prone to self-deception? In approaching these questions, I don’t limit myself to one discipline or set of techniques. These mental phenomena, and the problems that surround them, do not hew to our disciplinary boundaries. In spite of this, someone needs to collect, analyze, and assess information relevant to the problems—which is in many different formats—and build theories designed to make sense of it. During that time, more data will become available, so back you go.

William's book list on bridging the gap between mind and brain

William Hirstein Why did William love this book?

Are philosophers like detectives, in that they chase their culprit over any terrain, and follow any clue? What can count as a clue?

Given the right context, pretty much anything, a pencil placed here rather than there, a picture of a car, something someone said, a fingerprint. Or are we more like technicians, like the fingerprint expert who only lifts and analyzes prints? The problem with being the fingerprint expert is that it can completely remove philosophers from their originating problems and turn them into mere technicians.

Ned Block is a detective, who has followed clues about the nature of consciousness deep into psychology and neuroscience. Here Block argues that there is a genuine distinction between seeing and thinking, and draws out the consequences of that for our theories of consciousness.

By Ned Block,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Border Between Seeing and Thinking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Philosopher Ned Block argues in this book that there is a "joint in nature" between perception and cognition and that by exploring the nature of that joint, one can solve mysteries of the mind. The first half of the book introduces a methodology for discovering what the fundamental differences are between cognition and perception and then applies that methodology to isolate how perception and cognition differ in format and content. The second half draws consequences
for theories of consciousness, using results of the first half to argue against cognitive theories of consciousness that focus on prefrontal cortex. Along the way,…


Book cover of Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel (Before You Waste Three Years Writing 327 Pages That Go Nowhere)

Jennifer Louden Author Of Why Bother: Discover the Desire for What’s Next

From my list on when you’re creatively stuck.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been obsessed with the creative process since I was 8 and read Harriet the Spy and realized her writing saved her and after I spied on one of my parent’s cocktail parties and wondered why everybody was so dull (I was so cheeky). Still, it’s the quest that drives me: how do we be fully ourselves in this world and how does creativity help? I explore this question on my podcast Create Out Loud and in my weekly newsletter, and these books have helped me formulate, if not answers, creative and mindful practices that sustain me daily. I hope they inspire you too.

Jennifer's book list on when you’re creatively stuck

Jennifer Louden Why did Jennifer love this book?

I’m a writing mentor and coach, and this book has helped so many of my novelists understand and implement dramatic story structure. If you are trying to write fiction, screenplays, or memoir, and you haven’t read this, prepare to have your mind blown open. I have one word for you: misbelief. Go read the book and you’ll soon understand why it’s a game-changer. Note: Lisa doesn’t mention memoir but when I interviewed her on my podcast, she assured me the concepts work beautifully and have been successfully applied. 

By Lisa Cron,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Following on the heels of Lisa Cron's breakout first book, Wired for Story, this writing guide reveals how to use cognitive storytelling strategies to build a scene-by-scene blueprint for a riveting story.

It’s every novelist’s greatest fear: pouring their blood, sweat, and tears into writing hundreds of pages only to realize that their story has no sense of urgency, no internal logic, and so is a page one rewrite. 

The prevailing wisdom in the writing community is that there are just two ways around this problem: pantsing (winging it) and plotting (focusing on the external plot). Story coach Lisa Cron…


Book cover of Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning

Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott Author Of Every Shot Must Have a Purpose: How GOLF54 Can Make You a Better Player

From my list on improving performance and growth.

Why we are passionate about this?

We have been coaching and learning about peak performance for four decades. To learn from playing golf ourselves, coaching others to play better, and continuously staying curious and learning from others is a mix that we want to keep alive. It’s not only to perform well that matters to us, but that we also grow as a human being. It’s about excellence and wellbeing. What skills, what culture, and what foundation can make that a possibility? Our deepest wish is for all of us to access our own unique possibilities to be good and happy. 

Pia and Lynn's book list on improving performance and growth

Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott Why did Pia and Lynn love this book?

This is the best book we have read about how to practice in the best way possible. So many people practice hard but don’t improve. We always say, “What you practice, you get good at,” … so make sure you practice and train in the smartest way possible.

Spaced-out practice means you need a break and time to recharge, and that is important for retention. Interleaving means that you don’t stay with one segment of a skill until you master it. You interleave several segments, and it makes it a lot harder to do, but retention and mastery improve.

By Peter Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Make It Stick as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

To most of us, learning something "the hard way" implies wasted time and effort. Good teaching, we believe, should be creatively tailored to the different learning styles of students and should use strategies that make learning easier. Make It Stick turns fashionable ideas like these on their head. Drawing on recent discoveries in cognitive psychology and other disciplines, the authors offer concrete techniques for becoming more productive learners.

Memory plays a central role in our ability to carry out complex cognitive tasks, such as applying knowledge to problems never before encountered and drawing inferences from facts already known. New insights…


Book cover of The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight

Richard Fisher Author Of The Long View: Why We Need to Transform How the World Sees Time

From my list on to take a longer view of time.

Why am I passionate about this?

Throughout my life, I have been fascinated by humanity’s place within deeper time. As a boy, I collected rocks and fossils, and at university studied geology. The long term has also been a theme running throughout my journalism career at New Scientist and the BBC, and it inspired my research during a recent fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US. I believe we need to embrace a deeper view of time if we are to navigate through this century’s grand challenges – and if we can, there’s hope, agency, and possibility to be discovered along the way. 

Richard's book list on to take a longer view of time

Richard Fisher Why did Richard love this book?

I first met Suddendorf – one of the three co-authors of this book – in Australia back in 2016.

He is a German professor living in Queensland (with an accent untroubled by antipodean influence), and is best known for studying the skill of “mental time travel”. From him I learnt that this is one of the foundational abilities of humanity, which may well have steered our entire evolution.

We can project our minds across the past, present, and future at will - unlike pretty much any other animal. Therefore it’s crucial as a skill if we want to take the long view, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. However, as Suddendorf and colleagues write in this terrific book, it’s also a “Promethean” talent, and is far from perfect.

If we want to take a longer view, understanding our cognitive faculties is key – this book serves as a…

By Thomas Suddendorf, Jonathan Redshaw, Adam Bulley

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Our ability to think about the future is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. In The Invention of Tomorrow, cognitive scientists Thomas Suddendorf, Jonathan Redshaw, and Adam Bulley argue that its emergence transformed humans from unremarkable primates to creatures that hold the destiny of the planet in their hands.
Drawing on their own cutting-edge research, the authors break down the science of foresight, showing us where it comes from, how it works, and how it made our world. Journeying through biology, psychology, history, and culture, they show that thinking ahead is at the heart of human nature-even…


Book cover of Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do about It

Andrew Shtulman Author Of Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories about the World Are So Often Wrong

From my list on the cognitive foundations of science.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a professor of psychology at Occidental College, where I direct the Thinking Lab. I hold degrees in psychology from Princeton and Harvard and have published several dozen scholarly articles on conceptual development and conceptual change. I’m interested in how people acquire new concepts and form new beliefs, especially within the domains of science and religion. My research investigates intuitions that guide our everyday understanding of the natural world and strategies for improving that understanding.

Andrew's book list on the cognitive foundations of science

Andrew Shtulman Why did Andrew love this book?

If you value science, then you’ve probably puzzled over why other people don’t. Why won’t other people wear masks during a pandemic? Or buy genetically modified foods? Or vaccinate their children. Sinatra and Hofer provide answers by delving deep into the psychology of science denial. They explain the shortcuts we take when searching for scientific information, the misconceptions we hold about scientific knowledge, and the obstacles we face when changing our beliefs and attitudes about scientific topics. From their synthesis of empirical research to their consideration of real-life dilemmas, Sinatra and Hofer provide a compelling account of the public’s fraught relationship with science, as well as practical advice for improving it.

By Gale Sinatra, Barbara Hofer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

How do individuals decide whether to accept human causes of climate change, vaccinate their children against childhood diseases, or practice social distancing during a pandemic? Democracies depend on educated citizens who can make informed decisions for the benefit of their health and well-being, as well as their communities, nations, and planet. Understanding key psychological explanations for science denial and doubt can help provide a means for improving
scientific literacy and understanding-critically important at a time when denial has become deadly. In Science Denial: Why It Happens and What to Do About It, the authors identify the problem and why it…


Book cover of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

William MacAskill Author Of What We Owe the Future

From my list on doing good.

Why am I passionate about this?

William MacAskill is an associate professor in philosophy at the University of Oxford. At the time of his appointment, he was the youngest associate professor of philosophy in the world. He cofounded the nonprofits Giving What We Can, the Centre for Effective Altruism, and Y Combinator–backed 80,000 Hours, which together have moved over $300 million to effective charities. He is the author of Doing Good Better and What We Owe The Future.

William's book list on doing good

William MacAskill Why did William love this book?

The Scout Mindset is one of the best books I know on reasoning clearly and developing a truth-seeking attitude. Galef argues that instead of being like “soldiers,” who engage in wishful thinking by defending the ideas they most want to believe, we should be more like “scouts,” whose goal is to actually find out what is true. The book includes some of the latest research on the skills and habits one needs to be an excellent reasoner. 

By Julia Galef,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Scout Mindset as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of best smart thinking book 2022 (Business Book Awards)
Guardian best books of 2021

'Original, thought-provoking and a joy to read' Tim Harford

'Highly recommended. It's not easy to become (more of) a scout, but it's hard not to be inspired by this book' Rutger Bregman

When it comes to what we believe, humans see what they want to see. In other words, we have what Julia Galef calls a 'soldier' mindset. From tribalism and wishful thinking, to rationalising in our personal lives and everything in between, we are driven to defend the ideas we most want to believe…


Book cover of The Dyslexic Advantage: Unlocking the Hidden Potential of the Dyslexic Brain

Ed Thompson Author Of A Hidden Force: Unlocking the Potential of Neurodiversity at Work

From my list on challenging perceptions of neurodiversity.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a young businessperson in London in my early 30s, I was as ignorant of neurodiversity as much of the rest of the world. In the mid-2010s, I got fascinated by the topic thanks to conversations with autistic family members, who encouraged me to bring some of my expertise in corporate diversity programs to the field of “neurodiversity at work”. The topic of neurodiversity chimed with me, too, as I’d suffered a traumatic brain injury in a serious car accident, and there were aspects I could relate to. I founded neurodiversity training company Uptimize to help ensure organizations across the world understand how the importance of embracing and leveraging different types of thinkers.

Ed's book list on challenging perceptions of neurodiversity

Ed Thompson Why did Ed love this book?

I was struck at the time, reading The Dyslexic Advantage, by the detail and nuance Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide presented about many of the common strengths of dyslexic brains.

Dyslexia, like other forms of neurodivergence, has typically been seen in (only) a negative light – yet many famous and successful business people are dyslexic, and credit this with their success. Indeed, a study in 2006 found that as many as a third of all entrepreneurs are dyslexic!

In a business world reliant on innovative thinking, The Dyslexic Advantage highlights the multiple attributes of dyslexic thinkers – from insight to pattern matching – and makes an overwhelming case for the (better) inclusion of dyslexic thinkers in society and at work. 

By Brock L. Eide, Fernette F. Eide,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

An updated edition of Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide's popular dyslexia book with a wealth of new material and improved dyslexic-friendly font.

What if we viewed dyslexia as a learning and processing style rather than as a learning disorder?
 
Drs. Brock and Fernette Eide use their impressive backgrounds in neurology and education to debunk the standard deficit-based approach to dyslexia. People typically define “dyslexia” as a reading and spelling disorder. But through published research studies, clinical observations, and interviews with dyslexic individuals, the Eides prove that these challenges are not dyslexia’s main features but are instead trade-offs resulting from an…


Book cover of Conscious Mind, Resonant Brain: How Each Brain Makes a Mind

Ogi Ogas Author Of Journey of the Mind: How Thinking Emerged from Chaos

From my list on the great and marvelous mystery of consciousness.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an artist and mathematical neuroscientist. I’ve spent my life cracking some of reality’s greatest mysteries, including consciousness, self-consciousness, language, music, suffering, pain, anesthesia, compassionate love, extraterrestrial communication, and autism.

Ogi's book list on the great and marvelous mystery of consciousness

Ogi Ogas Why did Ogi love this book?

This is it. The Bible of the Mind. The Codex of Consciousness. The Scroll of the Soul. Stephen Grossberg’s masterwork is a comprehensive mathematical account of human cognition.

Pick any part of the brain, any mental function—a sodium channel, a pyramidal neuron, a circadian circuit, a cerebellar lobe, audio recognition, hate, melodic preferences, linguistic meaning, throwing a spear at a target, visual memory, schizophrenia, free will—and Dr. Grossberg has put math to it. You’ll find that math in this book.

But be forewarned: this book is very, very, very challenging. The math isn’t derived from some other field of science. Because consciousness is not a subset of electromagnetism or a variety of planetary orbit. Consciousness is its own unique thing in the cosmos, and demands its own unique math.

Sophisticated, ornery math. Inaccessible math for most of us, sadly, but if you want to take a shot at the Finnegan’s…

By Stephen Grossberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Conscious Mind, Resonant Brain as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How does your mind work? How does your brain give rise to your mind? These are questions that all of us have wondered about at some point in our lives, if only because everything that we know is experienced in our minds. They are also very hard questions to answer. After all, how can a mind understand itself? How can you understand something as complex as the tool that is being used to understand it?

This book provides an introductory and self-contained description of some of the exciting answers to these questions that modern theories of mind and brain have…


Book cover of Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do

Jay Gurden Author Of Understanding Reactive Dogs: Why Dogs React and How to Help

From my list on to help you understand your dog.

Why am I passionate about this?

At least one dog has accompanied me almost my entire life. Much of that time has revolved around working Border Collies, training them, and working sheep together. One particular young dog turned my perceptions upside down when he arrived, proving to be like no other dog I had ever encountered. Through the learning about fearful and anxious dogs I needed to understand him, I found myself developing a new passion – helping others to understand dogs. Since that dog entered my life, I have been on an intense educational journey and sharing my learning and experience with others, both on the topics of ‘reactive’ dogs and dogs in general.

Jay's book list on to help you understand your dog

Jay Gurden Why did Jay love this book?

Dogs do so many things that seem strange and even a little weird to us, but they are all perfectly natural and normal for the dog. This book explains the ‘why’ of many of the things our dogs do and contains lots of information to help us lead the best and most fulfilling lives with our dogs. What I really love about this book is the way it normalises the fact that dogs are emotional creatures – as is now scientifically proven – and helps us to understand what that means for our lives together.

By Marc Bekoff,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For all the love and attention we give dogs, much of what they do remains mysterious. Just think about different behaviors you see at a dog park: We have a good understanding of what it means when dogs wag their tails--but what about when they sniff and roll on a stinky spot? Why do they play tug-of-war with one dog, while showing their bellies to another? Why are some dogs shy, while others are bold? What goes on in dogs' heads and hearts--and how much can we know and understand? Canine Confidential has the answers. Written by award-winning scientist--and lifelong…


Book cover of The Mind Is Flat: The Remarkable Shallowness of the Improvising Brain

Daniel Graham Author Of An Internet in Your Head: A New Paradigm for How the Brain Works

From my list on challenging everything you know about the brain.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am trained in physics but moved over to psychology and neuroscience partway through graduate school at Cornell University because I became fascinated with the stupefying complexity of brains. I found that a lot of the main ideas and approaches in these fields seemed flawed and limited—things like defining something to study such as “emotion” or “perception” without specifying what measurable quantities are necessary and sufficient to understand those things. Luckily, I was (and continue to be) mentored by independent thinkers like neuroanatomist Barbara Finlay and computational neuroscientist David Field, who instilled in me their spirit of free and deeply informed inquiry. Today, more and more brain researchers are rethinking established ideas.

Daniel's book list on challenging everything you know about the brain

Daniel Graham Why did Daniel love this book?

Thanks to Freud, one of the most cherished ideas in psychology is that we have an unconscious. Yet because it is by definition inaccessible, our unconscious is almost impossible to study scientifically. Freud himself certainly didn’t provide much reliable evidence for its existence. Nick Chater, a respected researcher of language and perception, argues that little if any evidence for an unconscious drive exists even now, almost a century after Freud. With lively and pugnacious arguments drawn from fascinating and diverse discoveries about language and perception, Chater deconstructs the unconscious and argues instead for a human mind that is inherently dynamic and in-the-moment. When I have assigned this book to my undergraduate students studying perception it has provoked some of the most heated debates, which is how I know it is a great book!

By Nick Chater,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A radical reinterpretation of how your mind works - and why it could change your life

'An astonishing achievement. Nick Chater has blown my mind' Tim Harford

'A total assault on all lingering psychiatric and psychoanalytic notions of mental depths ... Light the touchpaper and stand well back' New Scientist

We all like to think we have a hidden inner life. Most of us assume that our beliefs and desires arise from the murky depths of our minds, and, if only we could work out how to access this mysterious world, we could truly understand ourselves. For more than a…