The best books on dopamine

Who picked these books? Meet our 10 experts.

10 authors created a book list connected to dopamine, and here are their favorite dopamine books.
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By Oliver Sacks,

Book cover of Awakenings

Marcia Calhoun Forecki Author Of Blood of the White Bear

From the list on pandemics, historical, or fictional.

Who am I?

I divide my reading between works of imagination and historical nonfiction. All good fiction requires research to enhance it’s authenticity. Several years ago, I published a story set in the 1918 influenza epidemic. The research for the story was fascinating, and led me to John M. Barry’s book included in my recommendations. After editing a memoir for retired screenwriter and film director, Gerald Schnitzer (sadly now deceased), he invited me to co-author a novel set in the Four Corners featuring a virologist who combines science and spirituality to find a cure for a pandemic, which became Blood of the White Bear

Marcia's book list on pandemics, historical, or fictional

Discover why each book is one of Marcia's favorite books.

Why did Marcia love this book?

A fascinating, readable nonfiction account of patients who contracted sleeping-sickness as children in the great epidemic of 1918. They grew to adulthood in a Bronx hospital, frozen in sleep for decades. The prognosis was hopeless until 1969, when Dr. Sacks dared to try a new drug, L-DOPA, giving his patients an astonishing, explosive, “awakening.” Dr. Sacks recounts case histories of his patients, their lives, and extraordinary transformations from his treatment. This book is a passionate exploration of the most general questions of health, disease, suffering, care, and the human condition. The patients’ realization of themselves as adults is heartbreaking. Dr. Sacks wrote:Awakenings came from the most intense medical and human involvement I have ever know.”

By Oliver Sacks,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The story of a disease that plunged its victims into a prison of viscous time, and the drug that catapulted them out of it' - Guardian

Hailed as a medical classic, and the subject of a major feature film as well as radio and stage plays and various TV documentaries, Awakenings by Oliver Sacks is the extraordinary account of a group of twenty patients.

Rendered catatonic by the sleeping-sickness epidemic that swept the world just after the First World War, all twenty had spent forty years in hospital: motionless and speechless; aware of the world around them, but exhibiting no…

Solo Leveling, Vol. 1

By Chugong, DUBU (artist),

Book cover of Solo Leveling, Vol. 1

Kevin Murphy Author Of First Login

From the list on LitRPG, graphic novels, and light novels.

Who am I?

LitRPG is special. It really is. LitRPG provides authors with some of the most powerful tools in storytelling. Computer-simulated worlds make magic fully believable. They enable giant mysteries, actual monsters, forbidden treasures, and incredibly diverse adversaries. LitRPG can be a love story or a tale of revenge. It can bring hope, despair, or just desserts. It’s a perfect vehicle for modern fantasy—a setting where the apocalypse can be at hand, where humans can fight gods, and where the world itself might be sentient. My love for LitRPG drove me to write an epic containing a series of huge, underlying mysteries that would reveal themselves over the course of the story.

Kevin's book list on LitRPG, graphic novels, and light novels

Discover why each book is one of Kevin's favorite books.

Why did Kevin love this book?

Solo Leveling (or Only I Level Up), in its webtoon form, is one of the peaks of LitRPG storytelling. The scenes are beautifully drawn, elevating the story beyond its original text-only format. You will be hard-pressed to find a more engaging read than this. The webtoon maintains tension incredibly well, and knows how to constantly supply its readers with little dopamine bombs along the way.

Solo Leveling plays with the formula of LitRPG, taking it off the rails by containing the game system inside the main character for much of the story, allowing him to grow stronger. Reading Solo Leveling is an absolute treat—perhaps doubly so for me as several of the niche ideas used in the story are also used in my books.

By Chugong, DUBU (artist),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The official English print publication of the popular Korean webcomic! E-class hunter Jinwoo Sung is the weakest of them all. Looked down on by everyone, he has no money, no abilities to speak of, and no other job prospects. So when his party finds a hidden dungeon, he's determined to use this chance to change his life for the better...but the opportunity he finds is a bit different from what he had in mind!


By Gregory Berns,

Book cover of Satisfaction: Sensation Seeking, Novelty, and the Science of Finding True Fulfillment

Fumio Sasaki Author Of Hello, Habits: A Minimalist's Guide to a Better Life

From the list on harnessing the power of habits.

Who am I?

When I became a minimalist, I found that having less made my household chores so much easier. Before then, I thought I was a loser who lets dirty dishes and laundry pile up. But when my environment changed, what I had believed was my personality also shifted. Once my apartment was tidy, it became a habit to do the dishes right away and vacuum the floor before going out, and my life became consistently enjoyable. But other habits were harder nuts to crack, like quitting drinking or exercising regularly. In Hello, Habits I write about my journey of acquiring these habits through a process of trial and error.

Fumio's book list on harnessing the power of habits

Discover why each book is one of Fumio's favorite books.

Why did Fumio love this book?

Why do we need to acquire good habits to begin with? One reason is we can’t feel a sense of fulfillment or achievement where there’s no stress. People like Elon Musk and Bill Gates surely have enough wealth to spend the rest of their lives lying on the beach, but that’s not what they do. Eating sweets is all it takes for the neurotransmitter dopamine to be released and give us a dose of happiness, but that doesn’t satisfy us for very long. In this book, author Gregory Berns focuses on the stress hormone cortisol. He shows us, in an approachable and entertaining manner, that a reasonable amount of stress is what actually helps us experience a deep sense of satisfaction.

By Gregory Berns,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

“A discussion that is meaty, contemporary and expansive . . . Berns artfully blends social critique with technical expertise.”—The Washington Post Book World

In a riveting narrative look at the brain and the power of novelty to satisfy it, Dr. Gregory Berns plumbs fields as diverse as neuroscience, economics, and evolutionary psychology to find answers to the fundamental question of how we can find a more satisfying way to think and live.

We join Berns as he follows ultramarathoners across the Sierra Nevadas, enters a suburban S&M club to explore the deeper connection between pleasure and pain, partakes of a…

Book cover of The Forager’s Guide to Wild Foods

Jessica Carew Kraft Author Of Why We Need to Be Wild: One Woman's Quest for Ancient Human Answers to 21st Century Problems

From the list on surviving the collapse of civilization.

Who am I?

I am a writer, an anthropologist, and a mother. I spent five years researching ancient human survival skills and learning from modern wilderness survival experts about how to live the original Homo sapiens lifestyle. I became deeply invested in the importance of these skills amidst climate change and digital transformation because they connect us to our evolutionary heritage and safeguard our species’ survival into the future if and when our civilization collapses (as all past civilizations have done!) I find hope in being prepared for the possible demise of our industrial system, embracing the opportunities that arise instead of trying to preserve it at all costs. 

Jessica's book list on surviving the collapse of civilization

Discover why each book is one of Jessica's favorite books.

Why did Jessica love this book?

Foraging is my favorite survival skill. Discovering food in the wild provides the perfect dopamine rush, and it’s exactly what we evolved to do as humans.

Nicole’s comprehensive guide covers so many edible plants and also gives fun, inventive recipes, so that even if it’s not the apocalypse, you might want to experiment with things like pickled magnolia leaves or elderberry pancakes.

When I find wild plants I intend to eat, I always like to double check with another field guide or the online citizen science database iNaturalist to make sure I did the ID correctly – nobody wants to end up like Into the Wild’s Christopher McCandless in that bus in the Alaska wilderness!

By Nicole Apelian,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Forager’s Guide to Wild Foods as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

319 color pages, 400 wild foods, plant localization maps for each plant (400 maps), paperback, great print quality, superior plant identification guidelines, recipes for each plant, full page photos of the plants, at least 3 pictures for each plant, medicinal uses.

The Forager’s Guide to Wild Foods is probably the most important thing you want to have by your side when you go out foraging. Maybe there are times when you're still not sure about a certain plant and you need to consult the book, despite your vast experience. Or maybe you don’t have experience at all and just want…

Book cover of Defiance of the Fall: A LitRPG Adventure

Chris Tullbane Author Of See These Bones

From the list on starters in progression fantasy.

Who am I?

As an author, I’m fascinated with the fictional quest for power and the challenges and changes that journey both entails and provokes. Progression fantasy, beyond all the numbers and formalized rankings, is about the character first… not just people growing stronger, but how that growth impacts them on a fundamental level. It's something central to my own fiction, and as I’ve explored the progression fantasy genre, I’ve loved seeing the different ways other authors tackle that same idea. The worlds, people, and magic systems vary wildly between different series in the genre, but that central conflict’s impact on those engaged in it remains uniquely compelling.

Chris' book list on starters in progression fantasy

Discover why each book is one of Chris' favorite books.

Why did Chris love this book?

Defiance of the Fall started as a web series and has some of the classic hallmarks of such… brief chapters ending in cliffhangers and a need to always recap what’s just happened.

Worse, the prose starts out very rough, though it improves with each successive book in the series.

So, why did I include it? Because it distills progression fantasy down to its purest form, to what some readers summarize as “Numbers go brrrr.”

In other words, there is always action and advancement happening. The dopamine hits for the reader never stop, and the main character, Zac, doesn’t either.

If there’s a problem, he’s cutting through it, and if he can’t, he’ll go on some sort of cosmic traveling trip to get strong enough to do so. Power is his all-consuming focus, and that is progression fantasy.

Tell No One

By Harlan Coben,

Book cover of Tell No One

Alex Davidson Author Of The Padre

From the list on crime with a cinematic sensibility.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by the sociopathic mind. I sometimes feel that sociopaths are, in many ways, freer than the rest of us. They are divorced from the crippling feelings of guilt and remorse. Throughout my writing career, I have interacted with both cops and career criminals and I have become convinced that they share similar mindsets. They may not be full-blown sociopaths (though some are), but they have what I would call “a touch” of the sociopathic mind. They are essentially the same people. This is a theme that I find my writing continually dwells on—the freedom of having an anti-social personality and its consequences for both society and the individual.

Alex's book list on crime with a cinematic sensibility

Discover why each book is one of Alex's favorite books.

Why did Alex love this book?

I love a good page-turner. I love to write them and I love to read them. I strive to write novels that the reader will binge. Novels as addictive as a drug. I want each chapter I write to be like another hit—a re-up that floods the reader’s brain with dopamine. Tell No One by Harlan Coben is a novel that I binged. It keeps you guessing until the end. And while some of the payoffs may seem a little over-the-top, I am able to overlook it because this novel (like much of Coben’s work) is just so damn addictive!

By Harlan Coben,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Tell No One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Every year, the Doctor David Beck and his young wife, Elizabeth, meet at the same deserted lake to rediscover their love for each other, and inscribe one more year into 'their' tree. But that year was the last. Elizabeth was kidnapped and Beck knocked unconscious. By the time he woke up, his wife had been discovered dead, and horribly mutilated. For eight years he grieves. Then one afternoon, he receives an anonymous e-mail telling him to log on to a certain web-site at a certain time, using a code that only the two of them knew. The screen opens onto…

Book cover of The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History

Michael E. Long Author Of The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

From the list on finding your place in the world.

Who am I?

I’m interested in everything – which is a problem, because there’s not time for everything. So how do you find the best of the world and your own place in it? Understanding your motivations is a good place to start, hence The Molecule of More. The rest comes from exploring as much as you can, and that begins with understanding the scope of what’s out there: ideas, attitudes, and cultures. The greatest joy in my life comes from the jaw-dropping realization that the world is so full of potential and wonder. These books are a guide to some of the best of it, and some of the breadth of it.

Michael's book list on finding your place in the world

Discover why each book is one of Michael's favorite books.

Why did Michael love this book?

If you’re reading my book recommendations, it’s almost certainly because you read the book Dan Lieberman and I wrote about dopamine. In that case, you’ll want to read the book that inspired us to write our book, Fred Previc’s seminal explanation of the technical aspects of dopamine and psychology. If you were hoping for a deeper diver on certain points, Previc’s text is the only way to go – and we remain grateful to him for his groundbreaking work.

By Fred H. Previc,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Dopaminergic Mind in Human Evolution and History as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

What does it mean to be human? There are many theories of the evolution of human behavior which seek to explain how our brains evolved to support our unique abilities and personalities. Most of these have focused on the role of brain size or specific genetic adaptations of the brain. In contrast, in this text, Fred Previc presents a provocative theory that high levels of dopamine, the most widely studied neurotransmitter, account for all major aspects of modern human behavior. He further emphasizes the role of epigenetic rather than genetic factors in the rise of dopamine. Previc contrasts the great…