The best books about learning

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

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Make It Stick

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

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

If you want a review of the most fundamental scientific discoveries on how people learn, this is a great place to start. It not only provides clear summaries of the science, but also provides a host of detailed real-world illustrations of how the science can be rooted in a wide-range of applications.

Who am I?

Stephen M. Kosslyn has been immersed in the world of learning for decades. He is the founder of Active Learning Sciences, Inc., and is Chief Academic Officer of Foundry College. Kosslyn's research has focused on the nature of visual cognition, visual communication, and the science of learning; he has published 14 books and over 350 papers on these topics. He has received numerous honors, including the National Academy of Sciences Initiatives in Research Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, three honorary Doctorates, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

I wrote...

Active Learning Online: Five Principles that Make Online Courses Come Alive

By Stephen M. Kosslyn,

Book cover of Active Learning Online: Five Principles that Make Online Courses Come Alive

What is my book about?

Inspired by the surge of online courses during the COVID 19 pandemic, researcher and educational innovator Stephen M. Kosslyn offers a treasure trove of active learning principles and activities to bring online courses alive. Whether your course is synchronous (e.g., live with Zoom) or asynchronous (e.g., using video content on Canvas), Active Learning Online will inject your new or existing course with all the benefits of active learning: your course will be more interesting and effective, student engagement will increase, learning outcomes will be reached, and general teaching and learning experiences will be enriched.

At the heart of this book are five key principles from the science of learning that will help to ensure that the taught materials stick in students’ minds: (1) deep processing, (2) chunking, (3) building associations, (4) dual coding, and (5) deliberate practice. Based on these learning principles,
Active Learning Online provides a wealth of specific active learning exercises that you can implement in your classes immediately. 

Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self

By Allan N. Schore,

Book cover of Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development

This is the seminal book on the field of neuropsychobiology, the coming together of the four fields of psychoanalysis, attachment theory, epigenetics, and neuroscience to promote the understanding of the critical nature of the first 3 years of a baby’s life and the role that mothers play in that regulation and the emotional security of the baby.

Who am I?

Erica Komisar is a licensed clinical social worker, psychoanalyst, and parent guidance expert who has been in private practice in New York City for over 30 years. A graduate of Georgetown and Columbia Universities and The New York Freudian Society, Ms. Komisar is a psychological consultant bringing parenting and work/life workshops to clinics, schools, corporations, and childcare settings. She is a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, and The New York Daily News. She is a Contributing Editor to The Institute For Family Studies and appears regularly on Fox and Friends and Fox 5 News

I wrote...

Chicken Little the Sky Isn't Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety

By Erica Komisar,

Book cover of Chicken Little the Sky Isn't Falling: Raising Resilient Adolescents in the New Age of Anxiety

What is my book about?

This is a guide for parents who want to raise emotionally healthy and resilient adolescents in a time of great stress where anxiety and mental health disorders are epidemic.

In these times of great stress for our kids, resilience is not a given. The epidemic of mental health disorders in adolescents has made parenting even more challenging, but parents can still have an enormous impact on the health and well-being of their child. This book offers parents the tools they need to navigate this tumultuous time of change and create a continuous deep connection with their child. With covered topics such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, behavioral issues, and addiction, parents will learn how they can recognize mental health disorders as well as obtain compassionate and practical advice on how to address these issues if they occur

The Magical Yet

By Angela DiTerlizzi, Lorena Alvarez (illustrator),

Book cover of The Magical Yet

If you’re looking for a great way to introduce or continue the conversation about growth mindset, this book is delightful. I love that the character's problems don’t get solved in one attempt. My kids enjoyed the bright, whimsical illustrations and stayed engaged throughout (which is not always the case with books that are trying to teach something). Colombian artist Lorena Alvarez made the words come alive with her colorful magic.

Who am I?

My super-power is making brain science accessible and entertaining for children and adults alike. I am living this out as an author, mental health counselor, and the founder of BraveBrains. In addition to training parents and professionals, I have the joy of sharing my passion and expertise through podcast appearances, blogs, and articles. The lightbulb moments are my favorite, and I'm committed to helping people bring what they learn back home in practical ways. I write picture books because the magic of reading and re-reading stories light up the brain in a powerful way. But don’t worry…I always include some goodies for the adults in the back of the book.

I wrote...

Riley the Brave Makes It to School: A Story with Tips and Tricks for Tough Transitions

By Jessica Sinarski, Zachary Kline (illustrator),

Book cover of Riley the Brave Makes It to School: A Story with Tips and Tricks for Tough Transitions

What is my book about?

Making it to school is tough at the best of times! Riley Bear and his elephant parents share a peek into a grumpy morning. When big feelings threaten to ruin the day, this brightly illustrated story will help families find their way through. 

The educational afterword features tips and tricks for tough transitions, a treasure trove for parents, teachers, and other caring adults.

Principles of Neural Design

By Peter Sterling, Simon Laughlin,

Book cover of Principles of Neural Design

The authors hilariously claim in their acknowledgements that this is a short book. It is not. Instead, it is a volume that explains ten key principles of why brains work the way they do, from why they do so much computation with chemistry to the irreducible smallness of a brain’s components. A densely argued, fiercely detailed book, not one for the faint of heart – but one that has pride of place on the shelves of many neuroscientists, mine included.

Who am I?

I’m a British neuroscientist and writer who’s been using computers to study the brain since 1998, and writing about it since 2016. How I ended up a neuroscientist is hard to explain, for my formative years were spent devouring science books that were not about the brain. That’s partly because finding worthwhile books about the brain is so hard – few delve into how the brain actually works, into the kinds of meaty details that, for example, Hawking offered us on physics and Dawkins on evolution. So I wrote one to solve that problem; and the books on my list are just that too: deep, insightful works on how the brain does what it does.

I wrote...

The Spike: An Epic Journey Through the Brain in 2.1 Seconds

By Mark Humphries,

Book cover of The Spike: An Epic Journey Through the Brain in 2.1 Seconds

What is my book about?

We see the last cookie in the box and think, can I take that? We reach a hand out. In the 2.1 seconds that this impulse travels through our brain, billions of neurons communicate with one another, sending blips of voltage through our sensory and motor regions. Neuroscientists call these blips “spikes.” Spikes enable us to do everything: talk, eat, run, see, plan, and decide. In The Spike, Mark Humphries takes readers on the epic journey of a spike through a single, brief reaction. In vivid language, Humphries tells the story of what happens in our brain, what we know about spikes, and what we still have left to understand about them.

Drawing on decades of research in neuroscience, Humphries explores how spikes are born, how they are transmitted, and how they lead us to action. 

The Death of Expertise

By Tom Nichols,

Book cover of The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

I liked this book so much that I’ve become friends with Tom Nichols. I interviewed him for my book, for the extra chapters my publisher made me write for the paperback edition, and once, I believe, just because I wanted to talk to him. This former Naval War College professor and Jeopardy! champion cares so much about democracy that he left the Republican party after Donald Trump was elected president. 

Who am I?

I started worrying about populism in 2008, when vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin chastised the elitists, whom she defined as “people who think they’re better than anyone else.” Meanwhile, she thought she was so much better than anyone else that she could serve as backup leader of the world despite the fact that she believed that the political leader of the United Kingdom is the queen. After she lost she vowed, “I’m never going to pretend like I know more than the next person. I’m not going to pretend to be an elitist. In fact, I’m going to fight the elitist.” She was unaware that there is a third option: to study so that you know more than the next person. 

I wrote...

In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book

By Joel Stein,

Book cover of In Defense of Elitism: Why I'm Better Than You and You Are Better Than Someone Who Didn't Buy This Book

What is my book about?

To find out how The New Dark Ages started and usher in the Intellectual Restoration, I spent a week in the county with the highest percentage of Trump voters. I went to the home of Trump-loving Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams; talked to Tucker Carlson; got lessons in obfuscation from a fake news kingpin; reproduced the experience of being an inexperienced government official by acting as mayor of L.A. for a day and interviewed members of secret organizations trying to create a new political party. All while wearing a cravat. 

Brain Rules

By John Medina,

Book cover of Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School

While not a book explicitly about creativity, it opened my eyes to how our brains work, how we can make them work better, and what we’re just going to have to live with. For instance, “multi-tasking” is really a myth—some brains just switch from one task to another faster and women are better at that than men, something rooted in our evolutionary development. And our brains are hardwired for movement, particularly walking. Developmental neurobiologist Medina offers plenty of food for creative brains.

Who am I?

Creativity is a practical, problem-solving, risk-taking endeavor, something we all do, whether we claim it or not. After working for many years with groups of graduate business students, artists, writers, business professionals, women in recovery, men in prison, with those just discovering their creative ability—and with myself and my own creative journey, I realize the question isn’t “Am I creative?” The question is “Am I using it?” or “Am I continuing to grow?” Nothing is more exciting than watching others as they realize just how creative they are.

I wrote...

Create! Developing Your Creative Process

By Cathy Pickens,

Book cover of Create! Developing Your Creative Process

What is my book about?

What is creativity, exactly? In what ways am I creative? How can I be more creative? What is my own personal creative process? If I could be more creative, what would it mean for my personal life and career?

Create! is a six-step guide to developing your individual creativity, a roadmap tested and enthusiastically endorsed by hundreds of workshop participants, from those who already defined themselves as creative to those who didn't (yet). With author and creativity expert Cathy Pickens as your guide, you'll discover your best creative process and, if you're not careful, a whole lot about your creative self.


By Jim Kwik,

Book cover of Limitless: Upgrade Your Brain, Learn Anything Faster, and Unlock Your Exceptional Life

I’m always saying to my clients, “Everything in life comes with a user manual these days except your brain.” That is, until Jim Kwik wrote his book Limitless. People often feel distressed when they aren’t able to make their brain do what they want it to do, such as focusing, remembering old things, or learning new things. This book translates into a useable form, what neuroscience has shown us is how our brains work. With this book it is now possible to make your brain work for you. If you have a brain, you should not be without this book.

Who am I?

I’m a psychologist in Los Angeles specializing in helping people identify their blind spots and break the cycles of their past by retraining their mindset about the future. I developed a new treatment called Future Directed Therapy and I’ve been helping people build better lives for over 15 years. I’m very passionate about empowering my clients to find practical skills and tools for taking charge of their emotional health and achieving the things they want in life. I recommend these books to my clients on a regular basis and find inspiration in them for my own blog Living Forward which I write as a featured expert for Psychology Today

I wrote...

Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind's Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life

By Jennice Vilhauer,

Book cover of Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind's Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life

What is my book about?

Science has shown that anticipating a positive future is the key to well-being and mental health. Yet when many people think of the future, they experience anxiety, depression, fear, and self-doubt. Unaware of how to change the future, most people are trapped in a cycle of re-creating their past. But your past does not define who you are or where you are going — you can break free. Future Directed Therapy (FDT) is a new psychological method that helps people create their future with awareness and choice, using skills based on cutting-edge cognitive science. Think Forward to Thrive is filled with information and step-by-step exercises to help you: overcome negative emotions; identify what you want in life; transform limiting beliefs; and take action.

Love and Living

By Thomas Merton,

Book cover of Love and Living

This was one of the last pieces Merton wrote before his life was cut short in 1967 and I believe that he outlined both the problems with education in the modern world as well as a possible solution in an accessible way. I often go back to the first chapter in this work as a foundation for my own understanding of teaching and learning. It is truly inspiring!

Who am I?

I’ve been meditating for thirty years, leading meditations with students for the last decade, and most recently working with teachers to explore how they can deepen the experiences of their students by engaging in their inner lives. This work, as well as my own experiences in the classroom as an educator, makes the topic ideal for me to explore and share more about.

I wrote...

Healing Breath: A Guided Meditation Through Nature for Kids

By William Meyer, Brittany R. Jacobs (illustrator),

Book cover of Healing Breath: A Guided Meditation Through Nature for Kids

What is my book about?

This is a beautifully illustrated guided meditation for kids. It connects them to a deeper sense of self as well as the natural world around them. 

Join the award-winning team of writer and teacher Bill Meyer and illustrator Brittany R. Jacobs on a guided meditation journey through rich, colorful landscapes spanning the globe. Breathe into the experience of waves on the ocean, trees in a forest, and the warmth of a desert, and feel your connection to all of life, from barnacles to baboons to falcons to farmers. This magical meditation-in-a-book is ideal for anyone who wants to simultaneously calm down and rise up to the world in all its wonders.

Thinking in Time

By Richard E. Neustadt, Ernest R. May,

Book cover of Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers

Neustadt and May wrote this book based on their seminars with government officials. Those seminars, and this book, taught two points. First, policy-makers rarely studied the background and context of the issues they were facing but instead were consumed with the need for swift decisions on immediate action. Second, those policy-makers nevertheless used history in making their decisions, nearly always using it simplistically and often incorrectly. The book is composed of a myriad of case studies. In each, the authors show how a better understanding of history might have led to better decisions.

Who am I?

Gaming led to my career as a history professor. When I was about ten, I discovered some of the first commercial board games, Gettysburg or Diplomacy. Hooked, I delved into the history behind such games and discovered a passion for delving deeper. After I began teaching, I thought I could share that passion with my students through historical simulations. My “sim” courses became among the most popular in the university. 

I wrote...

Can You Beat Churchill? Teaching History Through Simulations

By Michael A. Barnhart,

Book cover of Can You Beat Churchill? Teaching History Through Simulations

What is my book about?

Can You Beat Churchill? is an essay and a guidebook about using historical simulations to immerse students in actual historical roles and learn for themselves what they can (or cannot) change about the past.

The Adventures of Coach and Little Dell

By Tanae Denean Eskridge, Brandon M. Frame, Armond Hill (illustrator)

Book cover of The Adventures of Coach and Little Dell: My First Tie

This is the only other picture book, besides my own, that I’ve been able to find for learning how to tie a necktie. It is a sweet story about a father figure coach who teaches a fatherless boy an art on manhood. I love books that teach values along with practical things so I had to place this story on my list.

Who am I?

A long, long time ago I needed to learn how to tie a noose. Not really! It was a necktie, which lots of people feel is like wearing a noose. I tried to find a book on the subject but there were none so I wrote one. That little exercise developed into my Learn To Tie With The Rabbit and The Fox Series of books. I’ve been creating children’s picture books to show how to tie ties, bows and shoelaces for the past 30 years. You can find all of my books plus learn to tie books by lots of other authors at The Rabbit and The Fox Book Store.

I wrote...

Boo's Shoes - A Rabbit And Fox Story: Learn To Tie Shoelaces

By Sybrina Durant, Pumudi Gardiyawasam (illustrator),

Book cover of Boo's Shoes - A Rabbit And Fox Story: Learn To Tie Shoelaces

What is my book about?

No Laces! That’s what Boo, the bunny, always says. He doesn’t want to learn to tie them. He has plenty of shoes for every occasion and none of them have laces or strings. So, what’s the point of learning to tie? His friend, Farah Fox, convinces him that it’s a skill he can use...and one that might make him happier, too.

This book is meant to be a parent-child activity. Youngsters can read Boo’s story and their parents can help with the how-to-tie instruction pages. A fun shoelace-themed “I Did It” badge is included at the back of the book to give in celebration of conquering this difficult task.

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