The best books about reality

Many authors have picked their favorite books about reality and why they recommend each book.

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The Case Against Reality

By Donald Hoffman,

Book cover of The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

The most important source of conflict is the unwarranted idea that language maps on to “reality” – and that we can test the degree to which it does by the correspondence between our ideas and the organization of the “real world.” In that frame, differences in perception devolve to who is right and who is wrong, and intellectual or actual fighting is not far away. But this idea about “truth” is unjustified and wrong. What Donald Hoffman has done in this book is to show that our common sense understanding that our sensory and perceptual systems evolved to correspond to the world is a delusion. And when you appreciate that evolutionary epistemology does not support delusion, then you are much more able to cut yourself loose from unnecessary ontological assumptions and can instead focus on how to use your life to interact with this one world in ways that are…


Who am I?

Steven C. Hayes is Nevada Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 47 books and nearly 675 scientific articles. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory, and has guided its extension to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) a popular evidence-based form of psychotherapy that is now practiced by tens of thousands of clinicians all around the world.


I wrote...

A Liberated Mind: The essential guide to ACT

By Steven C. Hayes,

Book cover of A Liberated Mind: The essential guide to ACT

What is my book about?

Over the last 35 years, Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues have developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with many hundreds of studies supporting the impact of his approach on everything from chronic pain to weight loss to prejudice and bigotry.

A Liberated Mind is the summary of Steven's life's work which will teach readers how to live better, happier, and more fulfilled lives by applying the six key processes of ACT. Put together these processes teach us to pivot: to "defuse" rather than fuse with our thoughts; to see life from a new perspective; and to discover our chosen values, those qualities of being that fuel meaning. Steve shares fascinating research results like how ACT techniques decreased typing errors on a clerical test or showed that positive affirmations actually increase negative emotion. And he weaves them with stories of clients and colleagues as well as his own riveting story of healing himself of a severe panic disorder, which is how the idea of psychological flexibility was born.

Dark Matter

By Blake Crouch,

Book cover of Dark Matter

Dark Matter is another favorite of mine that mixes a thriller with science fiction and the result is a reader who can’t turn the pages fast enough. Blake comes from a thriller background so he uses pace and action so well in this book and the mix of sci-fi is just enough to make you believe but not so much that it’s like reading a text book. That touch of science without being overwhelming influenced my psychological explanations in my second thriller.


Who am I?

My father was a police officer and my mother was an avid reader of anything horror or suspense, so I grew up in a cop family that was entertained by the likes of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Mary Higgins Clark, etc. I’ve been reading thrillers since I could comprehend their meanings and I’ve been experiencing the life of a cop since the day I was born. The results have been four books written with over 400,000 copies sold in 14 countries. I couldn’t be prouder of my upbringing and the things (including these books) that have helped shape my writing. I hope you enjoy the books on my list as much as I have!


I wrote...

We Have Your Daughter

By Matthew Farrell,

Book cover of We Have Your Daughter

What is my book about?

We Have Your Daughter is an edge-of-your-seat thriller about a mother who must balance between saving her daughter or keeping the secrets she’s been hiding for almost two decades. She can’t have one without losing the other and she’s running out of time to make her choice.  

Ubik

By Philip K. Dick,

Book cover of Ubik

PKD is the master of stripping away the veils of the so-called real world and uncovering the wonders of the Reality that lies beneath—and Ubik is my favorite of his novels. Reading PKD is like ingesting a mind-expanding drug. You’ll want to touch the wall after consuming Ubik, just to make sure the room you’re in is solid and actually there. Questioning the nature of what we assume to be real, as PKD does so well, can lead us to truly transcendent levels of Reality.


Who am I?

In my senior year of high school I had an experience that shifted my view of Life, the Universe, and Everything—and that experience cracked open both my interior and exterior worlds, taking me to extraordinary inner spaces and to the feet of a great spiritual master in India. I cherish stories that can look at the (apparently) mundane and find the glistening jewels of spirit hidden beneath, just as I treasure stories that use the tropes of fantasy to open our eyes to the universe’s sacred wonders. All the books on this list have done that for me. 


I wrote...

The Excavator

By J.M. DeMatteis,

Book cover of The Excavator

What is my book about?

Sandra Rosen awakens to find a mysterious boy standing at the foot of her bed. It is, she soon discovers, her son Henry. But she has no memory of his existence. A mind-hacker has excavated her psyche with surgical precision and now demands a ransom to replace the priceless memories he’s stolen.

The Crock of Gold

By James Stephens,

Book cover of The Crock of Gold

This book is luminous. The world of everyday reality and the world of magic overlap and interact and influence each other. There are philosophers and gods, leprechauns and (once again) taking animals, and women wiser than all of them put together. The plot concerns a crime that never occurred and various types of bizarre trouble that result from it. Adventures follow adventures in a picaresque manner, not all of them necessarily connecting with any other, a free and easy approach that gives great fluidity to the whimsical narrative.


Who am I?

The world is a strange place and life can feel very weird at times, and I have long had the suspicion that a truly imaginative and inventive comedy has more to say about reality, albeit in an exaggerated and oblique way, than much serious gloomy work. Comedy has a wider range than people often think. It doesn’t have to be sweet, light, and uplifting all the time. It can be dark, unsettling and suspenseful, or profoundly philosophical. It can be political, mystical, paradoxical. There are humorous fantasy novels and short story collections that have been sadly neglected or unjustly forgotten, and I try to recommend those books to readers whenever I can.


I wrote...

My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand

By Rhys Hughes,

Book cover of My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand

What is my book about?

A novella that makes use of playful experimental techniques to tell the strange story of an entertainer who specialises in creating rabbits from shadows. He creates twelve special shadow rabbits who communicate with him via stories and poems that are fully contained works but also interact with each other to form a bigger story. These twelve narratives are set in a frame by another story and it turns out that this framing story is also potentially framed in a much larger cosmos. My Rabbit's Shadow Looks Like a Hand is a fantasy tale, a romance, and an example of philosophical speculative fiction with a humorous slant.

You Are the Universe

By Deepak Chopra, Menas C. Kafatos,

Book cover of You Are the Universe: Discovering Your Cosmic Self and Why It Matters

Deepak Chopra has been exploring the relationship between spirituality and science for many decades, and Menas Kafatos’s peer-reviewed research on cosmology and astrophysics, among other topics, is well documented. Their work in this book makes it clear that instead of living in a material, unknowing and uncaring universe, we instead live in what they call a human universe, one that is living, conscious, and evolving. This book makes the case convincingly that we create our own reality in a conscious universe that responds to the beliefs and thoughts that reside in our minds. I have watched Mr. Chopra speak numerous times, and I appreciate his loving and gentle delivery. This book gave me a condensed and satisfying explanation of his worldview.


Who am I?

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to understand how the universe works. I studied physics with a firm belief in scientific materialism, the belief that all things can or will be explained by science, including consciousness. However, after earning an advanced degree I found myself no closer to a satisfying answer to my inquiry into the relationship between consciousness and the physical world. Then, a personal experience of unembodied consciousness convinced me that my answers would have to come from a reexamination of all that I had believed, an internal journey over decades that has borne fruit in unexpected and magical ways.


I wrote...

Hoodwinked: Uncovering Our Fundamental Superstitions

By Larry Gottlieb,

Book cover of Hoodwinked: Uncovering Our Fundamental Superstitions

What is my book about?

One day in 1974, I had an experience that forever changed the way I look at life. And now that I have gone through that door, I find I can never go back.

Join me on my search for a deeper understanding of what it is to be a human being, the truth about our belief systems, the stories we’ve been hoodwinked into believing, and how, by uncovering our fundamental superstitions we can all, ultimately, open that door too.

Deep Secret

By Diana Wynne Jones,

Book cover of Deep Secret

Deep Secret is one of my all-time favourite books; one I reread often. There are no spaceships here, (though there is a Land Rover that isn’t!) but much of the action takes place on distant worlds; chiefly Thule and the Koryfonic Empire. Rupert Venables, the youngest Magid, faces not only the fall of the Koryfonic Empire and his task of finding the hidden heir, but also the need to choose a successor for his dead mentor, Stan. There’s so much to love about this chaotic, tangled, wonderful book; not least the combative but ultimately loving relationship between Rupert and Maree, the least likely of the candidates on Rupert’s list.


Who am I?

I’m Tasmanian. I’ve loved books set in other worlds since I encountered Robert Heinlein’s juveniles in my teens. I often find books set in the mundane world of here-and-now implausible or dull, because the adventures seem contrived or else result from characters doing something stupid or bad. If characters venture to other worlds, or other planets though—that’s a different ballgame! I read a great deal of fantasy and sci-fi, and when I was fourteen, I started writing my own. I enjoy a wide variety of genres, but my favourite stories are those where I can follow relatable characters through wild adventures and believe every line.  


I wrote...

Elysian Dawn

By Sally Odgers,

Book cover of Elysian Dawn

What is my book about?

Marianne Arcadia expected to marry Jeremiah and raise a family. Edsen Balm had no more hope than to stay close to Marianne. Jameel Singh intended to travel home to Terra to meet his fiancée’s parents. Hanaka Moon was meant to oversee the next generation of ship-born and pass the mantle of healer to her daughters. Meera Singh wanted to prove herself as the brightest new diamond in Mother Shiva’s crown. Cornelia Conti hoped to get her embroidery done and to find a shampoo that didn’t contain Stay-colour. All their plans crash-landed with the starship Elysian Dawn but that, as they say, was just the beginning.

The Mirror of Her Dreams

By Stephen R. Donaldson,

Book cover of The Mirror of Her Dreams

The Mirror of Her Dreams, Book 1 of Mordant’s Need, is my all-time favorite book. A woman who believes herself dull and unlovable finds herself transported to a world where at least someone believes she is special. The world is doused in a spectacular kind of magic, which I won’t spoil. But the book focuses on someone from our world learning about another reality and growing into a much stronger person than she believed possible. 


Who am I?

Fantasy takes me to a place where I can get out of my own skin, explore new worlds, and live adventures. The stories that pulled folks from our world (for those of you as loosely tethered as I am, I refer to Earth) provided more connection to the idea that I could be in those fantasy worlds and involved in those stories. That’s the bonus level of escapism! I didn’t realize just how many of my favorite stories fell into that category until I wrote this. Those books were definitely instrumental in my writing, though I didn’t follow any of those specific formulas. I’ll have to write another grouping for the other major category of books that influenced my writing.


I wrote...

The Guardian of the Palace: Book 1 of The Guardian League

By Steven J. Morris,

Book cover of The Guardian of the Palace: Book 1 of The Guardian League

What is my book about?

Everyone knows magic isn’t real. Alien invaders? Ha! But something destroyed an entire skyscraper in a never-before-seen implosion. Can one skeptical security guard stand between monsters and magic that threaten the world?

The Guardian of The Palace is the action-packed first book in The Guardian League fantasy series. If you like magic intruding on reality, exploring new worlds, and a good chuckle, then you'll love Steven J. Morris's inventive tale. Buy The Guardian of The Palace for a monstrous serving of adventure today!

Remainder

By Tom Mccarthy,

Book cover of Remainder

If you were suddenly awarded 8.5 million pounds, what would you do with it? Would you take the advice of the financial consultants and invest it sensibly? How boring. If you were a visionary you might create a sensual paradise of your imagination. But if you are just an ordinary young working-class Londoner? You might remember an instant—on holiday, or at a party—when you felt happy and content, and decide to recreate it. 

This time the writing is sparse and matter-of-fact. I hardly noticed as the hero’s project proceeds gradually, logically into realms of absurdity, told with deadpan humour. For me, speculative fiction involves a world that is recognisable and familiar—but which gradually becomes ‘curiouser and curiouser’.

It’s a story that makes you think—though without telling you what to think.


Who am I?

I was a student in 1968-71 (see photo) and the memories of that vanished world still haunt me. When I was supposed to be studying relativity and topology I was reading Blake and Jung, Marcuse and Mao—all misfits in their own way. After a long and undistinguished career as a mathematics lecturer in far-flung locations—Lesotho, New Guinea, Uxbridge—I retired in 2019 to write speculative comic fiction which would bring the Swinging Sixties back to life. Something of a misfit myself, I look at today's world and ask despairingly, “Is this really happening?” The books on my list provide me some solace.


I wrote...

The Hammond Conjecture: The Third Reich meets the Swinging Sixties, cyberpunk meets neuroscience, in a comic meta-thriller

By Martin B. Reed,

Book cover of The Hammond Conjecture: The Third Reich meets the Swinging Sixties, cyberpunk meets neuroscience, in a comic meta-thriller

What is my book about?

The Hammond Conjecture is an alternate-history novel that explores themes of memory, identity, and historical narrative. It is also a lot of fun. 

Are you sure you know who you are? If your memories disappeared and were replaced with someone else’s, would you still be you? And what if those memories were not just from a different person—but from another world? That’s the dilemma facing Hugh Hammond, an anti-hero for our times of fake news and subjective truth. Hugh is imprisoned in an isolation hospital in the 1980s, but recalls his life as a secret agent battling the Third Reich in an alternative 1960s Europe. Has he lost his mind? Whatif anythingis real? A darkly comic tale of sex, drugs, and quantum mechanics.