The best books about pain

1 authors have picked their favorite books about pain and why they recommend each book.

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The Body in Pain

By Elaine Scarry,

Book cover of The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World

This modern classic by a Harvard anthropologist is about torture and inflicted body pain in general, though it has abundant examples from the bible and religion-related conflicts. Her main thesis is that acts of torture are attempts to destroy the worlds of the victim and remake them in the mold of the torturer. It helps us understand that acts of religious violence are always so some extent a clash of worldviews and the attempt to forcibly destroy one view of reality with another. 

Who am I?

Though religious violence is an odd obsession for a nice guy like me, the topic was forced on me. Having lived for years in the Indian Punjab, I was struck by the uprising of Sikhs in the 1980s. I wanted to know why, and what religion had to do with it. These could have been my own students. It is easy to understand why bad people do bad things, but why do good people—often with religious visions of peace—employ such savage acts of violence? This is the question that has propelled me through a half-dozen books, including the recent When God Stops Fighting: How Religious Violence Ends. 

I wrote...

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

By Mark Juergensmeyer,

Book cover of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence

What is my book about?

Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press). Now in its 4th edition, this is only one of many books on religious violence that I have written, but it’s the one that endures. It is based on my conversations with militants in every religious tradition—from Islam and Judaism to Buddhism and Christianity--and tries to get inside their worldviews. It explores the idea of terrorism as performance violence, and probes the role that religious images of cosmic war play in contemporary struggles from ISIS to the Christian right.

Yoga for the Wounded Heart

By Tatiana Forero Puerta,

Book cover of Yoga for the Wounded Heart: A Journey, Philosophy, and Practice of Healing Emotional Pain

Yoga, like any discipline designed to integrate us humans with ourselves, works for those who work it. Some, however, have a more challenging path, and this includes survivors of trauma. In this beautifully written work -- part memoir, part self-help -- the author details how finding yoga, and practicing it as if her life and sanity depended on it, brought her out of intense grief and PTSD. She shows us how it can work for us, too, if our life saga includes great sorrow, or if we'd simply like to deal better with the generic ups-and-down.

Who am I?

I'm an American author of thirteen books (so far). Some are on vegan living (Main Street Vegan, The Love-Powered Diet); others (Creating a Charmed Life, Shelter for the Spirit, Younger by the Day) are about wellbeing and crafting an inner life. My passions are spirituality -- yoga primarily, but all the ways people find meaning; compassionate living: extending loving-kindness to ourselves and all beings; and creating vibrant health through yoga, Ayurveda, plant-based eating, and a grateful outlook. (Here's a little preview: I'm in the early stages of a book about aging like a yogi.)

I wrote...

Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World

By Victoria Moran, Adair Moran,

Book cover of Main Street Vegan: Everything You Need to Know to Eat Healthfully and Live Compassionately in the Real World

What is my book about?

This is my heart's work for a way of life that's dear to me -- and to my daughter and co-writer Adair, a lifelong vegan who now works as an aerialist and stunt performer. People often think that going vegan is extreme, or that it's only for young celebrities and old hippies. Not so! It's a beautiful way of being on earth, of dining gently, living wisely, and making a difference.

I wrote Main Street Vegan because I'm a Main Street gal, originally from Kansas City where we're known for steak and barbecue. I learned that I can love my hometown and also choose to eat without harming animals (or my arteries) and help the planet deal with some of its troubles, too. This book is welcoming to you wherever you are on your vegan or veg-curious journey, and in it, you'll find everything you need to thrive.

The Palliative Society

By Byung-Chul Han, Daniel Steuer (translator),

Book cover of The Palliative Society: Pain Today

It’s a little weird that this book should find a place on my list. It’s a book about how society has become resistant to anything that is difficult and painful and the kinds of people that we have become as a result. But mathematics is difficult! To understand mathematics you have to think hard, sometimes for a long time. Moreover understanding something hard is discontinuous, it requires a leap to a new way of thinking. You have to start with a problem and this problem might be an ambiguity or a contradiction. A is true and B is true but A and B seem to contradict one another. When you sort out this problem you will have learned something.

The moral here is to embrace things that are difficult if you want to learn significant new things. “No pain, no gain.” You don’t have to worry about some super AI…

Who am I?

I'm a mathematician but an unusual one because I am interested in how mathematics is created and how it is learned. From an early age, I loved mathematics because of the beauty of its concepts and the precision of its organization and reasoning. When I started to do research I realized that things were not so simple. To create something new you had to suspend or go beyond your rational mind for a while. I realized that the learning and creating of math have non-logical features. This was my eureka moment. It turned the conventional wisdom (about what math is and how it is done) on its head.

I wrote...

How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics

By William Byers,

Book cover of How Mathematicians Think: Using Ambiguity, Contradiction, and Paradox to Create Mathematics

What is my book about?

If you love mathematics then this book will show you where the beauty and profundity that you love comes from. Most people mistakenly think that mathematics is nothing but logic, something like an AI program.  This book demonstrates that something very different is going on. Mathematics makes use of non-logical features like ambiguity, contradiction, and paradox. It is precisely these non-logical features that make math profound. The book demonstrates this with fascinating examples from all levels of math.

Profundity comes from being able to look at an idea from more than one point of view. Profound ideas often come from resolving situations of conflict, for example, zero resolves the conflict of having something that stands for nothing. Maybe I should have called the book, “mathematics beyond logic”.

Breathe With Me

By Michelle B,

Book cover of Breathe With Me

This is book one in a trilogy of heartbreak and redemption. The tears I cried for the couple as they fought life and each other were real. They were brought to their knees forced to face the consequences of their actions and forced to recognize their love for each other was never going to be easy. From the first chapter, I was driven into a universe that made me feel real pain and heartbreak, but more than that, real love.  Love that was unconditional and unfathomable. It takes a lot to get there, but their HEA was well worth the struggle.

Who am I?

I am a deeply emotional person although I hide it well. I feel things on a level not everyone understands. I am also a romantic. Because of that, I have always been drawn to romance books, even as a child, but more than that, I am drawn to romance that makes me feel. I want to feel the heartbreak and live through the struggles of love. Real love isn’t pretty and neat. It is messy and raw and vulnerable. I want to experience the gut-clenching, heart-racing emotions with every page and every word. It’s what keeps me turning the pages wanting more.

I wrote...

Break Me Down (Sons of Sin Book 4)

By Nola Marie,

Book cover of Break Me Down (Sons of Sin Book 4)

What is my book about?

Sons of Sin’s lead guitarist loves being the “sin” in their name. Because without Heaven, he’d rather fast-track to hell and rage.

Except for that one moment – a brief year in my life where I experienced Heaven. But I crashed and burned as hard as Lucifer himself when she destroyed me. He was my one. Until I learned something that shattered my heart. And now, in a cruel twist, the universe has thrown us back together. Shattered and gutted, how do two people heal when apologies don’t fix the damage, and the truth comes out years too late?

Unravelling Us

By Renée McBryde,

Book cover of Unravelling Us

Renee’s father was in jail for murder, and her mother never got over the shame. This book is about family secrets and how corrosive they can be, and also how a child survives a manipulative mother. I was floored by the wild level of pain a parent could inadvertently bestow on their child, but there is also much grace and love in this memoir. 

This book will be available May 2022.

Who am I?

My parents survived the Killing Fields of Cambodia and the aftermath of the Vietnam War, so their love for us was always tinged with anxiety, fear, and a large deal of paranoia and control. All of my books are about the complex relationship between parents and their children, and the things we knowingly or unknowingly pass down. I’ve also worked a number of years as a university student counsellor, where the same enduring themes play out in my students’ experiences. So naturally, I am drawn to stories that explore difficult but loving family dynamics. 

I wrote...

One Hundred Days

By Alice Pung,

Book cover of One Hundred Days

What is my book about?

In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust, and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-story housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world – and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble.

One Hundred Days is a fractured fairytale exploring the faultlines between love and control. At times tense and claustrophobic, it is nevertheless brimming with humour, warmth, and character. 

The Way Out

By Alan Gordon, Alon Ziv,

Book cover of The Way Out: A Revolutionary, Scientifically Proven Approach to Healing Chronic Pain

Alan Gordon is such a great communicator and his book spoke to me personally. It probably does the same for many others and his compassionate tone outlines the reasons why pain can become persistent. The same calming explanations also offer real opportunities to reverse the pain and they are all based on scientific research. This gives validation to their use and their practical application is so easy to apply by simply reading the descriptions. I felt really excited that this book in particular could start to create a push back against many years of medical dogma, and support both patients and clinicians in this emerging field of healthcare for those in persistent pain.

Who am I?

As a physiotherapist for 25 years, chronic pain has always fascinated me. Understanding the variety of factors that contribute to its development and continuance always felt enigmatic. It always seemed I was missing part of the puzzle or that the patient was. The pathway of trial and error, accident, and luck were part of a slow and frustrating journey to my level of understanding today. My recommendations have been fundamental pieces of my learning and as well as my own work, now contribute to one possible pathway for other patients and clinicians to interpret chronic pain and recover from it without the historic difficulty that many have attempted to overcome.

I wrote...

The Pain Habit: Your Journey To Recovery. Discover the Truth About Your Pain

By Drew Coverdale,

Book cover of The Pain Habit: Your Journey To Recovery. Discover the Truth About Your Pain

What is my book about?

Are you one of the one in five people worldwide who suffer from a condition that results in living with persistent pain? The ability to recover from pain, no matter how long we have experienced it, lies within all of us. It exists within you.

Not everyone knows how to achieve that. Do you? Those who do recover intuitively tap into that ability without thinking. Others don't know where to look, then look everywhere outside of themselves, then believe recovery is impossible and finally stop looking anymore. Has that happened to you? If you've suffered long enough and feel ready to take the steps towards becoming pain-free, you're ready for this book.

The Vanishing Half

By Brit Bennett,

Book cover of The Vanishing Half

This is one of the most unusual and memorable books about sisters I’ve ever read. It’s the story of Black twins, Desiree and Stella, who are separated in early adulthood in the 1950s, one returning to her hometown in the South after escaping an abusive marriage, the other passing as White in the White world she’s chosen to inhabit. The choices Desiree and Stella make that cause their paths to diverge haunt the sisters, each in her own way. But what never changes is the deep bond that exists between them even in absentia. I loved this book. Read it, then call your sister. 

Who am I?

I’ve led a storied life. One of six children, I married and divorced before the age of 20 and moved from Santa Cruz, California to New York City in my early 30s. I carved out my career as a writer while scraping by on government assistance as a single mom. They say write what you know, and I did just that. My first novel, Garden of Lies, became a New York Times bestseller, skyrocketing me from poverty to financial security. I’ve since gone on to publish 20 novels about family relationships, romantic love, and reversals of fortune. With more to come!  

I wrote...

Such Devoted Sisters

By Eileen Goudge,

Book cover of Such Devoted Sisters

What is my book about?

Growing up, my four sisters and I squabbled but were inseparable, playmates and roommates who often whispered to each other long after lights-out. We shared clothing and confidences. I used to ride to the public library in my small town on the back of my sister Laura’s bike. She is partly the reason I became a reader and a writer. Such Devoted Sisters draws from those experiences. It's the story of sisters Annie and Laurel, who flee from LA to New York City to escape their brutal stepfather. Annie protects her younger sister while carving out a life of her own. When they both fall for the same man, it sorely tests their sister bond. Will the bond break? Read it to find out!  

Falling for the Unexpected

By Rachel Lyn Adams,

Book cover of Falling for the Unexpected

Falling for the Unexpected is a book that tackles real-life issues while giving the reader a sense of hope. While both of the main characters have their flaws, we see tremendous growth in both of them throughout their story. Simone, the heroine shows a lot of strength throughout her journey and is a relatable character. The conflicts within the story aren’t glossed over, but rather tackled in a realistic manner that has you rooting for both Kyle and Simone.

There are times when your heart breaks for what the characters are enduring and other times where you want to cheer for them because of what they’ve overcome. When the story is over you realize that the unexpected things in life are sometimes what you need the most.

Who am I?

Everyone wants to find romance. Some of us find it within the pages—or more than once. I also think romance gets a bad rap, but I for one love to fall in love repeatedly. It doesn’t matter if they’re fictional because when you read a story; you get lost in their world, as though you’re their friend, too. That is what I strive for when I write my characters. I write them as someone you could go out for a drink with and just have a good time. However, most of my characters experience life or death situations, but that just makes them stronger in the end, especially when I base them on my real-life experiences like in Tattooed Dots.

I wrote...

Tattooed Dots

By Kimberly Knight,

Book cover of Tattooed Dots

What is my book about?

Easton Crawford put his modeling career before his marriage until it was ending in divorce. Years later, he is finally learning how to be the father his daughter needs him to be. He’s not looking for someone to step into the mother role—just nightly casual hook-ups. When his best friend convinces him that a good way to meet single women is to go on a singles cruise, he finds more than just a one-night stand.

At age thirteen, Brooke Bradley became an adult, raising her younger sister while her mother continually ignored her parenting responsibilities. Since then, Brooke has continued to take care of the people in her life, including her deadbeat boyfriend, Jared. For Brooke’s thirtieth birthday, her best friend surprises her with a cruise but fails to mention it’s a singles cruise. When Brooke meets Easton, the one man willing to be her constant, will she finally find the courage to leave Jared? 

A Calculus of Suffering

By Martin S. Pernick,

Book cover of A Calculus of Suffering: Pain, Professionalism and Anesthesia in Nineteenth-Century America

Most of us figure doing evil, even if good results, is not ethical but without this, there would be no medicine. Martin Pernick covers the discovery of anesthesia and the ethical dilemmas this new ability to save lives by poisoning people posed. Anesthesia is a technique and techniques are amoral. How do we ensure they enhance rather than diminish us? How do we avoid seduction into a sleep during which we can be cosmetically enhanced? Is there a limit to how many drugs we give children to manage their behaviour – just because we can? Treating and stopping are not the same as not treating. Pernick doesn’t tell us how to manage this calculus, but he makes us aware modern life involves more of a calculus than we might have thought.   

Who am I?

I’ve been researching treatment harms for 3 decades and founded in 2012, now an important site for people to report these harms. They’ve been reporting in their thousands often in personal accounts that feature health service gaslighting. During these years, our treatments have become a leading cause of mortality and morbidity, the time it takes to recognize harms has been getting longer, and our medication burdens heavier. We have a health crisis that parallels the climate crisis. Both Green parties and Greta Thunberg’s generation are turning a blind eye to the health chemicals central to this. We need to understand what is going wrong and turn it around.   

I wrote...

Children of the Cure: Missing Data, Lost Lives and Antidepressants

By David Healy, Joanna Le Noury, Julie Wood

Book cover of Children of the Cure: Missing Data, Lost Lives and Antidepressants

What is my book about?

Study 329, a trial of paroxetine in depressed teenagers, led to a fraud charge and a $3 billion fine against GlaxoSmithKline for reporting a negative trial as showing paroxetine worked wonderfully well and was safe. Nearly one in five teens on paroxetine had serious behavioural problems. The ‘fraudulent’ report was ghostwritten, as it appears were other trials of antidepressants in depressed teens, all negative but published as safe and effective with FDA turning a blind eye and willing to approve drugs that didn’t work. Children of the Cure gives you the insight into who was sleeping with who story behind a trial that despite the fraud charge and billon dollar fines is now standard practice for all trials of all drugs you or those you know may be taking. 

Healing Pain

By Nini Leick, Marianne Davidsen-Nielsen,

Book cover of Healing Pain: Attachment, Loss, and Grief Therapy

I cried a lot, when I read this book at first. Later on I have returned to it now and then and find relief in its clear way to describe how important it is not to try to repress your grief. Face it and work through it, and you’ll afterward feel better and stronger than ever before.

Throughout life we have many opportunities to practice mourning. The better you become at going through grief, the greater becomes your courage to go into new loving relationships, and the better you become at loving.

Who am I?

I am a psychotherapist and pastor. Since my first book Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World, which became an international bestseller, I have received letters from all over the world, from people, telling me about their lives. I discovered there is a need for books on how to live your life in an authentic way. I have studied Psychiatrist C.G. Jung and Philosopher Søren Kierkegaard at the university. The books, I recommend are easier to read than these two. In my books, I use many examples. It is important to me that the wisdom of great writers becomes accessible to all people regardless of their level of education.

I wrote...

Confronting Shame: How to Understand Your Shame and Gain Inner Freedom

By Ilse Sand, Mark Kline (translator),

Book cover of Confronting Shame: How to Understand Your Shame and Gain Inner Freedom

What is my book about?

Shame might be far from the first thing that comes to mind when you think about what's causing your problems. Shame is hidden, and rarely something we talk about, but it can underlie challenges that we deal with on a daily basis, including anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem.

This book will help you understand what shame is, how it arises, and, in turn, how to overcome it. With exercises in each chapter, it provides tools to reflect on, confront and free yourself from shame. The book also includes a questionnaire to assess how much shame impacts you. Be kind to yourself and rediscover your empathy for yourself with Confronting Shame.

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