The best books about intelligence

2 authors have picked their favorite books about intelligence and why they recommend each book.

Soon, you will be able to filter by genre, age group, and more. Sign up here to follow our story as we build a better way to explore books.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission (learn more).

Birth of Intelligence

By Daeyeol Lee,

Book cover of Birth of Intelligence: From RNA to Artificial Intelligence

If flavorful food has been a critical element in the evolution of our large brains, how did large brains give rise to our high intelligence?  This is to be found in the circuits of our cerebral cortex and the regions to which it is connected. Daeyeol Lee is one of the leaders in research on how the cerebral cortex generates behavior in monkeys, for its insights into how this occurs in humans.  This is providing new ways to define the neural basis of intelligence based on the application of new single-cell recording techniques in primates and brain scanning techniques in humans.  

With his approach based on a deep understanding of how primates gave rise to humans, Lee asks the critical questions: What is intelligence? How did it evolve from monkeys to humans? Can computers and artificial intelligence ever equal human biological intelligence in all its complexity?   Based on Lee’s research…


Who am I?

I was stimulated by Norbert Wiener’s “Cybernetics” to study circuits in the brain that control behavior. For my graduate studies, I chose the olfactory bulb for its experimental advantages, which led to constructing the first computer models of brain neurons and microcircuits. Then I got interested in how the smell patterns are activated when we eat food, which led to a new field called Neurogastronomy, which is the neuroscience of the circuits that create the perception of food flavor. Finally, because all animals use their brains to find and eat food, the olfactory system has provided new insights into the evolution of the mammalian brain and the basic organization of the cerebral cortex.


I wrote...

Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters

By Gordon M. Shepherd,

Book cover of Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters

What is my book about?

I begin Neurogastronomy with a little-known fact about smell: when we eat, it stimulates the nose from the back of the mouth, called retronasal smell. The smells set up activity patterns in the brain, and from these and the other senses the brain constructs the perception of flavor. We may believe flavor comes from the mouth, but it actually is due mostly to retronasal smell. Thus surprisingly, our perception is an illusion, which is true of many perceptions we think are real.

Flavor further engages the brain regions that control emotion, memory, and cravings. Through food preferences, flavor impacts global issues such as the environment and climate change. Flavor is thus a powerful example of the global reach of the brain’s realities and illusions.

The Nature of Human Intelligence

By Robert J. Sternberg,

Book cover of The Nature of Human Intelligence

This collection of essays gives a good overview of current psychological research on human intelligence, ranging from traditional IQ research to criticisms of it by Robert Sternberg and Howard Gardner. It also includes overviews of research on cultural and brain aspects of intelligence. One startling observation is how little psychologists agree on a definition of intelligence.


Who am I?

I became fascinated by the highest achievements of human intelligence while a graduate student in philosophy working on the discovery and justification of scientific theories. Shortly after I got my PhD, I started working with cognitive psychologists who gave me an appreciation for empirical studies of intelligent thinking. Psychology led me to computational modeling of intelligence and I learned to build my own models. Much later a graduate student got me interested in questions about intelligence in non-human animals. After teaching a course on intelligence in machines, humans, and other animals, I decided to write a book that provides a systematic comparison: Bots and Beasts.  


I wrote...

Bots and Beasts: What Makes Machines, Animals, and People Smart?

By Paul Thagard,

Book cover of Bots and Beasts: What Makes Machines, Animals, and People Smart?

What is my book about?

Octopuses can open jars to get food, and chimpanzees can plan for the future. An IBM computer named Watson won on Jeopardy! and Alexa knows our favorite songs. But do animals and smart machines really have intelligence comparable to that of humans? In Bots and Beasts, Paul Thagard looks at how computers (“bots”) and animals measure up to the minds of people, offering the first systematic comparison of intelligence across machines, animals, and humans. 

Thagard explains that human intelligence is more than IQ and encompasses such features as problem-solving, decision making, and creativity. He uses a checklist of twenty characteristics of human intelligence to evaluate the smartest machines—including Watson, AlphaZero, virtual assistants, and self-driving cars—and the most intelligent animals—including octopuses, dogs, dolphins, bees, and chimpanzees.

Social Intelligence

By Daniel Goleman,

Book cover of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships

For more than three decades now, we’ve seen corporations, nonprofits, and governments go under because one or more of their executive leaders proved emotionally unstable. Those leaders were either narcissistic, paranoid, bipolar, impulsive, or immature (temper tantrums, poor coping skills, crying, withdrawing, pouting).

Without self-awareness—and the awareness to identify emotional instability in others—leaders cannot hope to connect genuinely and build personal influence and loyalty among colleagues and staffers.

I love this book because of its research and real-life case studies. With almost every chapter, you’ll say, “Oh, I know that guy or gal!”

Better: You learn how to cope with them (or maybe more importantly, you learn if it will be impossible to ever cope with them).


Who am I?

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of 49 books (Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, McGraw-Hill), in 62 foreign editions, with nearly 4 million copies sold. More than two dozen of her books focus on communication, and she’s facilitated workshops on the topic for 4 decades. She helps leaders shape their own message in book form at Booher Book Camps.


I wrote...

Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

By Dianna Booher,

Book cover of Communicate Like a Leader: Connecting Strategically to Coach, Inspire, and Get Things Done

What is my book about?

People often get promoted to leadership positions without knowing how to communicate an inspiring strategic vision to the people who report to them. So they focus on what they know: tactics, not strategy. As a result, they become stuck in micromanagement mode. Dianna Booher wants to prevent micromanagement before it happens by providing you with the right leadership communication skills. Grounded in extensive research, this book offers practical guidelines to help professionals think, coach, converse, speak, write, meet, and negotiate strategically to deliver results. In thirty-six brief chapters, Booher shows you how to communicate effectively to audiences up and down the organization so you can fulfill your most essential responsibilities as a leader.

Illuminating the Mind

By Jonathan Stoltz,

Book cover of Illuminating the Mind: An Introduction to Buddhist Epistemology

Buddhist philosophers try to construct rational defenses of those claims about the nature of ourselves and the world that are central to the Buddhist project. So clarity about how we obtain knowledge is important to Buddhist thinkers. In this book Stoltz presents some of the fruits of their efforts, the epistemological theories of the tradition. What I most like about this book is the clarity with which Stoltz connects Buddhist theorizing about knowledge with trends in more recent western epistemology, bringing out both important overlaps and significant discontinuities. 


Who am I?

I began studying philosophy, both western and Asian, as a college freshman, and I never stopped. Much of my career in philosophy was devoted to building bridges between western and Buddhist traditions. The best philosophers try to make their ideas as clear as possible. But standards of clarity can differ across traditions, and this sometimes makes it difficult to present the theories and arguments of one philosophical tradition to those who think in terms of another. I have struggled with this in my own efforts at bridge-building, and I am always appreciative when I see other scholars of Buddhism achieve the sort of clarity I aim for.


I wrote...

Buddhism as Philosophy

By Mark Siderits,

Book cover of Buddhism as Philosophy

What is my book about?

In Buddhism as Philosophy, Mark Siderits makes the Buddhist philosophical tradition accessible to a Western audience. Offering generous selections from the canonical Buddhist texts and providing an engaging, analytical introduction to the fundamental tenets of Buddhist thought, this revised, expanded, and updated edition builds on the success of the first edition in clarifying the basic concepts and arguments of the Buddhist philosophers.

Intelligence and How to Get It

By Richard E. Nisbett,

Book cover of Intelligence and How to Get It: Why Schools and Cultures Count

Richard Nisbett is one of the most influential social psychologists in the world, and we collaborated on the 1987 book Induction. His book on intelligence gives a good introduction to the psychology of intelligence and an incisive critique of attempts to use dubious research on a genetic basis for intelligence to explain racial inequality.


Who am I?

I became fascinated by the highest achievements of human intelligence while a graduate student in philosophy working on the discovery and justification of scientific theories. Shortly after I got my PhD, I started working with cognitive psychologists who gave me an appreciation for empirical studies of intelligent thinking. Psychology led me to computational modeling of intelligence and I learned to build my own models. Much later a graduate student got me interested in questions about intelligence in non-human animals. After teaching a course on intelligence in machines, humans, and other animals, I decided to write a book that provides a systematic comparison: Bots and Beasts.  


I wrote...

Bots and Beasts: What Makes Machines, Animals, and People Smart?

By Paul Thagard,

Book cover of Bots and Beasts: What Makes Machines, Animals, and People Smart?

What is my book about?

Octopuses can open jars to get food, and chimpanzees can plan for the future. An IBM computer named Watson won on Jeopardy! and Alexa knows our favorite songs. But do animals and smart machines really have intelligence comparable to that of humans? In Bots and Beasts, Paul Thagard looks at how computers (“bots”) and animals measure up to the minds of people, offering the first systematic comparison of intelligence across machines, animals, and humans. 

Thagard explains that human intelligence is more than IQ and encompasses such features as problem-solving, decision making, and creativity. He uses a checklist of twenty characteristics of human intelligence to evaluate the smartest machines—including Watson, AlphaZero, virtual assistants, and self-driving cars—and the most intelligent animals—including octopuses, dogs, dolphins, bees, and chimpanzees.

I Am a Strange Loop

By Douglas R. Hofstadter,

Book cover of I Am a Strange Loop

I think glorious failures are far more interesting than modest successes, and let’s face it, any book that attempts to explain consciousness is bound to fail on so many levels. What I love about Hofstadter’s work is its boldness and reach. He’s as happy in the world of abstract metaphor as he is speaking of science or mathematics, and understands that we need new metaphors of consciousness just as badly as we need new scientific models. And even though he flounders at times, it kind of doesn’t matter, because of the sheer energy and verve of his quest: sort of Don Quixote with a calculator. For the math geeks amongst you, there’s an unusually clear and careful discussion of the incompleteness theorem as well. What’s not to like?


Who am I?

I’m an educator at heart and have been teaching in high schools for over thirty years now. I get a kick out of helping young people see the world anew and think about ideas in ways that at first seem strange and challenging to them, both in the classroom and through my novels. Of course, to be any good at that, I have to be inquisitive and open myself, and there’s nothing like the topic of consciousness to make you feel feeble-minded and ill-informed. It’s such a wondrous topic because it sits at the precise meeting point of so many of our scientific, cultural, artistic, religious, and philosophical traditions.


I wrote...

Genesis

By Bernard Beckett,

Book cover of Genesis

What is my book about?

Anax thinks she knows history. Her grueling all-day Examination has just begun, and if she passes, she’ll be admitted into the Academy—the elite governing institution of her utopian society. But Anax is about to discover that for all her learning, the history she’s been taught isn’t the whole story. And the Academy isn’t what she believes it to be. In this brilliant novel of dazzling ingenuity, Anax’s examination leads us into a future where we are confronted with unresolved questions raised by science and philosophy.

Centuries old, these questions have gained new urgency in the face of rapidly developing technology. What is consciousness? What makes us human? If artificial intelligence were developed to a high enough capability, what special status could humanity still claim? Outstanding and original, Beckett’s dramatic narrative comes to a shocking conclusion.

Frames of Mind

By Howard E. Gardner,

Book cover of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

Hailed by educators throughout the world, Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been applied to hundreds of classrooms and schools. It shatters the theory that being smart is only measured by math and English skills. Through scientific and unquestionable documented historical research. Goodbye to SATs. Now we can acknowledge that geniuses can also be measured by linguistics, music, mathematical, spatial, body, and personal intelligence. A politician, athlete, architect, dancer, or musician can be brilliant in what they do but may not be able to write, speak, or do mathematics. We have known this to be our experience but now Gardner’s research makes it a fact. Now it’s time to change those old, outdated, and irrelevant SAT exams!


Who am I?

I am the former Principal bassist with the Cincinnati Symphony and am currently active as a soloist, educator, and author of three books on the mind, body, and spirit of music. My first book is about the mind, The Inner Game of Music, followed by The Mastery of Music on the human spirit of over 120 great musicians and Bringing Music to Life exploring physical skills of communication of all artists, actors, and dancers. I hope to inspire artists of all disciplines, that our performances come from our hearts and souls and not the technical form of dance, music, or words. Performers express feelings and use this gift to spread inspiration and joy to the world.


I wrote...

The Inner Game of Music

By Barry Green, W. Timothy Gallwey,

Book cover of The Inner Game of Music

What is my book about?

Barry Green with W. Timothy Gallwey, the popular author of the Inner Game of Tennis, Inner Skiing, Golf, and Work. Together they have taken the same principles which proved so successful when used in sports and applied them to music. The Inner Game is designed to help every musician overcome obstacles, improve concentration, reduce nervousness, and paving the way for heightened performance.

Green explains how innate skills can be enhanced by focusing on the music rather than outer games of technique and awards. The technique can be summarized in 4 words: turn up the music and are used for the purpose of drowning out the shouts...that come from the interfering voices of doubt, fear, and judgment. Instead of listening to the inner voices, the musician focuses only on musical sounds that include their awareness, commitment, and trust skills.

The Developing Mind

By Daniel J. Siegel,

Book cover of The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are

I am a great admirer of Dr. Siegel who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. This is a terrific book in which Siegel explores the role of interpersonal relationships in forging key connections in the brain. As he says, “Human connections shape neural connections, and each contributes to mind. Relationships and your personal linkages together shape the mind. It is more than the sum of its parts; this is the essence of emergence.” His description of brain architecture is excellent

Siegel’s emphasis on relationships is important and I fully agree with it. His take on the mind is interesting. He says, “The mind is a process that emerges from the distributed nervous system extended throughout the entire body and also from the communication patterns that occur within relationships.” I echo those sentiments in The Embodied Mind when I say that the mind is more…


Who am I?

As a thirteen-year-old boy, I read Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and I became totally fascinated by Freud’s slow, methodical questioning that eventually revealed deeply hidden unconscious conflicts in the lives of his patients. Then and there I resolved to become a psychiatrist. As a psychiatrist, I explored my patients’ early memories. Over the years, I authored seven books, including The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, published in 28 countries now. I have previously taught at Harvard University, the University of Toronto, York University (Toronto), and St. Mary’s University. This book takes my studies of memory a step further and drills right down to the intelligence of cells.


I wrote...

The Embodied Mind: Understanding the Mysteries of Cellular Memory, Consciousness, and Our Bodies

By Thomas R. Verny,

Book cover of The Embodied Mind: Understanding the Mysteries of Cellular Memory, Consciousness, and Our Bodies

What is my book about?

It seems that in July 2007, a 44-year-old French man went to a hospital complaining of mild weakness in his left leg. When the doctors performed numerous scans of his head, they discovered a huge fluid-filled chamber occupying most of the space in his skull, leaving little more than a thin sheet of actual brain tissue. It was a case of hydrocephalus, literally – water on the brain.

Dr. Lionel Feuillet of Hôpital de la Timone in Marseille was quoted as saying, “The images were most unusual...the brain was virtually absent.” The patient was a married father of two children and worked as a civil servant apparently leading a normal life, despite having a cranium filled with spinal fluid and very little brain tissue.

The Black Door

By Richard J. Aldrich, Rory Cormac,

Book cover of The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers

I am fascinated by how different countries approach intelligence, both from how they organize intelligence activities and how intelligence informs policymaking. These various approaches highlight there is not a common approach to intelligence and help explain why simple definitions of intelligence are insufficient at capturing various intelligence activities and organizations. The Black Door looks at how British Prime Ministers have used intelligence and their relationships with intelligence organizations over the past century. A well-written account by two thoughtful and prolific scholars, the reader will appreciate how British Prime Ministers have used intelligence to not only understand the world but to also act.  


Who am I?

My fascination with intelligence studies is tied to my previous experience as a practitioner. While serving as a military officer and CIA officer, I became curious about how two organizations with a shared history could be so different. Exploring the “why” of the CIA/DoD differences led me to the broader interplay of organizational cultures, individuals, and missions in influencing the evolution of intelligence, its purpose, and its role. These five books will provide the reader a broader appreciation of how intelligence was used to help policymakers understand reality and how intelligence organizations have been used to try to change reality. You will not merely learn something about intelligence but will be entertained and engaged while doing so. 


I wrote...

Subordinating Intelligence: The DoD/CIA Post-Cold War Relationship

By David P. Oakley,

Book cover of Subordinating Intelligence: The DoD/CIA Post-Cold War Relationship

What is my book about?

In the late eighties and early nineties, United States policymakers made intelligence support to the military the Intelligence Community's top priority. In response to this demand, the CIA and DoD instituted policy and organizational changes that altered their relationship with one another. While debates over the future of the Intelligence Community were occurring on Capitol Hill, the CIA and DoD were expanding their relationship in peacekeeping and nation-building operations in Somalia and the Balkans.

By the late 1990s, some policymakers and national security professionals became concerned that intelligence support to military operations had gone too far. In Subordinating Intelligence: The DoD/CIA Post–Cold War Relationship, David P. Oakley reveals that, despite these concerns, no major changes to national intelligence or its priorities were implemented.

Who am I?

I have been dreaming about Artificial Intelligence (AI) since a young age. I am currently Professor of AI at UNSW, Sydney. I was named by the Australian newspaper as one of the ”rock stars” of Australia’s digital revolution. Although this is highly improbable, I have spoken at the UN, and to heads of state, parliamentary bodies, company boards, and many others about AI and how it is impacting our lives. I've written three books about AI for a general audience that have been translated into a dozen different languages.


I wrote...

Machines Behaving Badly: The Morality of AI

By Toby Walsh,

Book cover of Machines Behaving Badly: The Morality of AI

What is my book about?

Can we build moral machines? Toby Walsh examines the ethical issues we face in a future dominated by artificial intelligence. Professor Toby Walsh, a world-leading researcher in the field of artificial intelligence, explores the ethical considerations and unexpected consequences AI poses – Is Alexa racist? Can robots have rights? What happens if a self-driving car kills someone? What limitations should we put on the use of facial recognition? Machines Behaving Badly is a thought-provoking look at the increasing human reliance on robotics and the decisions that need to be made now to ensure the future of AI is as a force for good, not evil.

Or, view all 10 books about intelligence

New book lists related to intelligence

All book lists related to intelligence

Bookshelves related to intelligence