The best cognitive science books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about cognitive science and why they recommend each book. Soon, you will be able to filter this list by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to discover books.

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Book cover of Extended Consciousness and Predictive Processing: A Third Wave View

Extended Consciousness and Predictive Processing: A Third Wave View

By Michael D. Kirchhoff, Julian Kiverstein,

Why this book?

Where Andy Clark leaves off, claiming that cognition is extended into the environment via the tools that we use, Kirchhoff and Kiverstein take up claiming that consciousness itself may also be extended into the environment under certain circumstances. Consider that moment when you and someone close to you are both trying to remember the name of some actor from a movie. You both feel like the name is on the tip of your tongues but can’t quite come to a realization. You manage to blurt out the first name but nothing else and then your partner blurts out the last…

From the list:

The best books that redefine the mind as more than a brain

Book cover of Radical Embodied Cognitive Science

Radical Embodied Cognitive Science

By Anthony Chemero,

Why this book?

On the last page of The Continuity of Mind, I playfully hinted at a sequel (probably written by someone else) that would continue the paradigm’s push not just away from a “computer metaphor for the mind” but even beyond a brain-based approach to cognition. A couple of years later, Tony Chemero published Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, which (to me) felt like that sequel. 

In Radical Embodied Cognitive Science, Chemero draws on philosophy, then on cognitive psychology, then on dynamical systems theory, then on ecological psychology, and finally back to philosophy to tell the story of a progressive…

From the list:

The best books that redefine the mind as more than a brain

Book cover of The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin

The Robot's Rebellion: Finding Meaning in the Age of Darwin

By Keith E. Stanovich,

Why this book?

Stanovich takes his title from the very last sentence in Richard Dawkin’s book The Selfish Gene, “We, alone on earth, can rebel against the tyranny of the selfish replicators.” In his book, Stanovich shows how human beings are able to rebel against those selfish replicators – our genes. It involves exercising, in Kahneman’s terminology, our ‘system two’ and exercising tenacity and self-discipline in bringing to bear logic and rationality in our decisions. This book is not an easy read, but it is a fascinating account of why human thinking is different and of what such differences might in principle enable…

From the list:

The best books to learn how to argue well

Book cover of The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason

The Body in the Mind: The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination, and Reason

By Mark Johnson,

Why this book?

When I was a musician encountering theory in cognitive science for the first time, this book really moved me. I was searching for conceptual lenses on cognition in instrumental practice and this book is aimed at grounding the study of cognition in the body. I can still see myself sitting at a huge ugly desk under a tiny window thoroughly absorbed in this thrilling page-turner in the philosophy of mind. The book moved me so profoundly that I cried when I approached the last page, and gently closed the back cover. It is a precious book. It changed my world. 

From the list:

The best books on how we “make ourselves” through meaningful engagement with objects and people

Book cover of Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

Why Don't Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

By Daniel Willingham,

Why this book?

Harvard-educated cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham is one of the foremost experts in educational psychology. While the title of this book may not sound so appealing, it’s really a tight summary of some of the most important principles of psychology to learning more effectively. Willingham’s blog and other books are also excellent resources for someone who wants to understand how to learn well.

From the list:

The best books for becoming a more effective learner

Book cover of Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine

Things That Make Us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine

By Donald A. Norman, Tamara Dunaeff,

Why this book?

This book is about the design of artifacts that are used by humans. It discusses, in particular, how specific features of cognitive artifacts can support or impede their effective use. The physical artifacts discussed in this book provide concrete illustrations for some abstract computer science notions such as types. I have used some of the examples successfully in talks about computer science for the general audience. A focus of this book is on representations, which plays an important role in many areas of computer science. If you enjoy the examples discussed in this book and like to think about representations,…

From the list:

The best books about computer science without coding

Book cover of Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies

By Nick Bostrom,

Why this book?

I saved the most sobering and existentially terrifying book for last. This is the book that made Elon Musk famously tweet that strong A.I. is more dangerous than “nukes.” 

On the flip side, strong A.I. (superhuman level intelligence) is an extraordinary concept that, once one accepts its almost certain inevitability, is worldview altering.  

It’s also existentially horrific when one stops to examine the odds of successfully creating and remaining in control of an intelligence greater than ours. 

Bostrom takes us through the problem and, for every solution he postulates, he demonstrates the several ways this hypothetical A.I. would circumvent them.…

From the list:

The best books about the profound promise (and profound peril) of our technological futures

Book cover of The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind

The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us about the Mind

By Alison Gopnik, Patricia K. Kuhl, Andrew N. Meltzoff

Why this book?

I have always been fascinated, and read a lot about, how much babies learn during their first year, but this book still captivated and surprised me. It reads like a journey into a baby’s world. The authors’ perspective helped me notice and appreciate even more the seemingly small but clever things my babies did every day and, ultimately, see them as competent little people and trust their learning process. The Scientist in the Crib won’t give you any specific how-tos, but if you wish you knew what your baby is thinking, this book is for you.

From the list:

The best science-based books for raising a baby

Book cover of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know

By Alexandra Horowitz,

Why this book?

Oh my, this book is just amazing! The author is a cognitive scientist who explains how dogs perceive their world. You will learn about the canine sense of smell, why some dogs chase cars, their sharp ability to hear sounds, and how dogs communicate with each other. The author writes about different scientific studies and shares tidbits of fascinating information you likely don’t know about your dog. Although this book has nothing to do with lost dog recovery, it actually provides amazing insight into why some lost dogs become so panicked that they will run from everyone, even their own…

From the list:

The best books on lost dog recovery

Book cover of Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It

Out of Our Minds: What We Think and How We Came to Think It

By Felipe Fernández-Armesto,

Why this book?

Much of what we do and think comes from imagination, generated by our minds rather than by the physical world. This includes art, literature, music, religion, even science. Our dreams are spontaneous acts of creativity, and even memory itself can be distorted by the restless mind.  Fernandez-Armesto argues that many animals have better memories than we do, because the human system produces spontaneously creative thoughts at the expense of fidelity. That’s why memories are often false. The author is a historian with an interest in how the mind works, and his book is an amazingly comprehensive history of the human…

From the list:

The best books on the mind: how it works and where it came from

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