The best books about the senses

3 authors have picked their favorite books about the senses and why they recommend each book.

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A Natural History of the Senses

By Diane Ackerman,

Book cover of A Natural History of the Senses

A Natural History of the Senses is gorgeously written and poetic while simultaneously presenting accurate basic science about our five senses. Diane Ackerman stunningly shows how a gifted writer can decipher a field, captivate the general public, and elicit the fascination and wonder that a topic deserves. I am also ever delighted by the fact that the book starts with the sense of smell, rather than relegating it to the least and last section as most books on our senses do. A Natural History of the Senses is a beautiful compendium of biology and a tour of human perception.


Who am I?

I’m a neuroscientist, author, educator, TEDx speaker, and leading expert on the psychological science of smell. I am captivated by stories and the “why” and “how” science of the world around us. The books I’ve chosen spoke to me during periods when I was seeking answers and blooming intellectually and creatively. They provided inspiration from the skill with which words were crafted and revelation from the ideas they conveyed. I owe these books a debt of gratitude and hope that my writing may offer to others a smidge of the illumination and motivation that these works gave to me.


I wrote...

Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food

By Rachel Herz,

Book cover of Why You Eat What You Eat: The Science Behind Our Relationship with Food

What is my book about?

How is personality correlated with preference for sweet or bitter foods? What genres of music best enhance the taste of red wine? With clear and compelling explanations of the latest research, Rachel Herz explores these questions and more in this lively book. Why You Eat What You Eat presents our relationship to food as a complicated recipe whose ingredients—our senses, personality, emotions and surroundings—combine to make eating a potent and pleasurable event. Skillfully weaving curious findings and compelling facts into an engaging narrative that tackles important questions, Why You Eat What You Eat revealhow psychology, neurology and physiology shape our relationship with food, how food alters the relationship we have with ourselves and each other-- and ultimately how to explore a happier and healthier eating experience.

Finding Wild

By Megan Wagner Lloyd, Abigail Halpin (illustrator),

Book cover of Finding Wild

Told in lyrical language, two children wander through their city, looking for “wild” and finding it in motion, size, sounds, touch, and smell.“It leaps and pounces and  shows its teeth.” The words dance around, hinting at flora and fauna, using adjectives and verbs to suggest and evoke. This journey arouses awareness of the natural world that lives all around us in the city. Young readers will enjoy guessing what is being hinted at. This is such an original way to talk about the urban wild!  


Who am I?

I am an award-winning author of picture books and early readers. I have set my stories in many kinds of locations, including a haunted house, an Eastern European shtetl, an English Renaissance village, and a working cattle ranch. For Wake Up, City, I turned to the setting I know best, the city. I drew on memories of walking to kindergarten in early morning Brooklyn. This book is my love song to cities everywhere. As a lifelong city dweller, I worry about the impact of urban spread on the planet, but I feel hopeful, too, because many cities are becoming more nature and wildlife-friendly. The books I'm excited to share celebrate city wildlife. 


I wrote...

Wake Up, City!

By Erica Silverman, Laure Fournier (illustrator),

Book cover of Wake Up, City!

What is my book about?

Then something changes, something shifts...Like a curtain rising, darkness lifts...Look around! It’s growing light. Wake up, City! Good-by night!

A young girl and her father leave the house in the quiet, pre-dawn darkness. They walk beneath the hazy glow of street lamps, observing rows of cars sleeping “tail to nose” and “sleeping pigeons with tucked in wings.” Slowly, darkness turns to light and the “gumdrop sun” rises, as the city comes magically to life. A woman begins her morning jog, street sweepers whoosh and swoosh down the road, store gates clatter open and trucks deliver crates of colorful produce. Her senses awakened by the sights and sounds of the city, the girl arrives at school, ready for the day. French artist Laure Fournier evokes the awakening city with a childlike sense of wonder, perfectly chosen details, a soft color palette, and a sensitive depiction of the girl and her father.

See What I'm Saying

By Lawrence D. Rosenblum,

Book cover of See What I'm Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses

Perceptual psychologist Lawrence Rosenblum’s book changed the way I thought about my brain on blindness and gave me hope about its ability to adapt. I was astonished by blind painters and mountain bikers, but more importantly, I learned that what often strike us as superpowers, are actually the result of practice and the cross-modal plasticity of the brain. The sighted brains that change after only five days of blindfold and intensive braille training, the experiments that demonstrate how humans can follow a scent trail, and the ways blind people (and sighted people) use echolocation to learn about their micro and macro environments (even if they are not always conscious of it), are just some of Rosenblum’s many examples that are as fun as they are fascinating.


Who am I?

Thanks to a degenerative retinal eye disease, I’ve lived on pretty much every notch of the sight-blindness continuum. While going blind super slowly I’ve engaged with the science of seeing and not-seeing as an  academic and artist for about 25 years. I like to say that there are as many ways of being blind as there are of being sighted, there are just fewer of us. Besides teaching literature and humanities courses at NYU, I’ve lectured on art, accessibility, technology, and disability at universities and institutions around the country. I love sharing stories about the brain on blindness, and hope you find my recommendations as fascinating as I do.


I wrote...

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

By M. Leona Godin,

Book cover of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

What is my book about?

From Homer to Helen Keller, Dune to Stevie Wonder, the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocularcentric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” Blindness has been used to signify thoughtlessness (“blind faith”), irrationality (“blind rage”), and unconsciousness (“blind evolution”). At the same time, blind people have been othered as the recipients of special powers as compensation for lost sight, such as the poetic gifts of John Milton and  the heightened senses of the superhero Daredevil.

Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten—illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it.

Duck and Friends

By Kenny E. Rettore,

Book cover of Duck and Friends: A Soft and Fuzzy Book Just for Baby!

This adorable book about a cheerful duck with a touch of the pages produces an irresistible crinkling sound and a shake reveals gentle rattling. Because of the fabric tabs extending from each page and the soft, fuzzy cover and cloth pages provides a big stimulation for baby fingers and senses.

Who am I?

I am the co-author and CEO of The Wonder Weeks. I advise various global players in the field of babies and I'm a sought-after speaker at fairs and in daily exchange with mothers and fathers. With all this knowledge I know the needs of parents and their children like no other, with my books and apps I stand for power to the parents! 


I wrote...

The Wonder Weeks: A Stress-Free Guide to Your Baby's Behavior

By Hetty Van de Rijt, Frans X. Plooij, Xaviera Plooij

Book cover of The Wonder Weeks: A Stress-Free Guide to Your Baby's Behavior

What is my book about?

The Wonder Weeks describes in easy-to-understand terms the incredible development changes and regression periods that all babies go through during the first 20 months of their lives. How to stimulate your baby's mental development and help him turn his 10 predictable, great, fussy phases into magical leaps.

The book is based on the scientific- and parental-world-changing discovery of a phenomenon: all normal, healthy babies appear to be fussier at very nearly the same ages, regression periods, and sleep less in these phases.

Flavor

By Bob Holmes,

Book cover of Flavor: The Science of Our Most Neglected Sense

In Neurogastronomy, Gordon Shepherd likens smells to human faces, writing that they are easy to recognize but hard to describe. In Flavor, Bob Holmes introduces readers to a small tribe of nomadic hunter-gatherers in Malaysia, the Jahai, who have more than a dozen words to describe smells, none of which relate to the smell of any particular object. Vocabulary, he writes, is something we can learn with little effort. His experiences with chefs, gastronomy experts, and food scientists may inspire readers to find personal vocabularies. In the end, he writes, “What’s important is that coming up with a description forces me to pay attention and paying attention enriches my flavor experience.”


Who am I?

When I began research on For the Love of Hops about 70 percent of the hops grown worldwide were valued simply for the bitterness they added to beer, but that was about to flip completely. Today, new varieties like Citra and Mosaic are powerful brands, with aromas and flavors that hops never exhibited in the past. That’s why the book begins with a deep dive into how and why we smell and taste what we do, something these books helped me better understand.


I wrote...

For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops

By Stan Hieronymus,

Book cover of For the Love of Hops: The Practical Guide to Aroma, Bitterness and the Culture of Hops

What is my book about?

Thousands of brewers have used the technical information in For The Love of Hops to improve the quality of beers they make. But there is more to the story. As Sierra Nevada Brewing founder Ken Grossman wrote in the foreword, “This book is an amazing compendium on the hop, written at a level of detail that will captivate historians, chemists, and brewers alike.”  

The Various Flavors of Coffee

By Anthony Capella,

Book cover of The Various Flavors of Coffee: A Novel

Coffee, sex, travel, exotic locales, romance, and at long last love. This novel has it all, made vivid through the story of a more or less ordinary Englishman in the late 1890s who finds that he has a remarkable talent for discovering and describing the flavors and the problems in brewed coffee. He goes to Ethiopia to learn more about coffee. There his adventures become, shall we say, quite vivid, and some remarkable twists appear. Nicely written by an international best-selling author. Used copies are really cheap. You will have fun reading this with a great cup of coffee.


Who am I?

I have found coffee, or in fact just about any aspect of it, from pour-over to espresso, to be endlessly challenging and rewarding. My first visit to coffee farms was in 2004, to Ethiopia and Kenya. Since then I’ve been to dozens of farms in nine or ten countries. There is something about coffee people; they are wondrously generous about sharing their expertise, if they think you care and if you know the right questions to ask. Before going deeply into coffee, I was a professor of history, and I've continued to publish on topics as diverse as Stalin, the witch hunts in Europe and North America, and the body in the Anglosphere, 1880-1920.


I wrote...

Coffee: From Bean to Barista

By Robert W. Thurston,

Book cover of Coffee: From Bean to Barista

What is my book about?

Taking the story of coffee from the ground up, the book covers cultivation, processing, roasting, brewing, the spread of coffee around the world, health and drinking coffee (good news!), and climate change. I cover the history of coffee as it spread from Ethiopia, including the social benefits and disruption that it helped facilitate. New research is featured on the plants, their main pests, and questions about how much and what kind of shade is best for the trees. Certification programs like Fair Trade get their share of praise and criticism, as does organic coffee farming. For the book, I draw on my own experience as a roaster and retailer as well as on my many visits to coffee farms around the world.

Interoception

By Kelly Mahler,

Book cover of Interoception: The Eighth Sensory System

We have more than five senses. The sixth, seventh and eighth are the vestibular sense, the proprioceptive sense, and the interoceptive sense. Interoception allows us to sense our internal organs and experience "gut" feelings including hunger, satiety, thirst, itch, pain, temperature, nausea, the need to urinate and defecate, and sexual arousal. This book provides practical solutions for improving self-regulation, self-awareness and social understanding.

Who am I?

As a preschool teacher for 25 years, I observed many children with sensory processing differences (SPD), autism and ADHD. I wondered why they were uncomfortable touching finger paints, why they avoided swings and never let their feet leave the ground, why they broke crayons and tripped on-air, and why they felt inadequate playing and making friends. To help"out-of-sync" children become more competent in work and play, I learned to identify their sensory processing challenges and steer them into early intervention. My mission is to explain to families, teachers, and professionals how SPD affects learning and behavior, to offer practical solutions, and to see all children flourish.


I wrote...

The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Differences

By Carol Stock Kranowitz,

Book cover of The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Differences

What is my book about?

Some children don’t behave the way we expect, not because they won’t, but because they can’t. An often misdiagnosed reason is Sensory Processing Differences (or Disorder, when severe) -- "SPD." This problem may cause a person to be over-or under-responsive to ordinary sensations ... or crave intense stimuli ... or misinterpret sensations ... or be extremely clumsy, or constantly moving, or easily fatigued.

Written for parents and teachers, the book offers many examples of how SPD plays out. The 2022 third edition expands information on research, treatments (especially occupational therapy), and "look-alike" disorders including learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism. It suggests a drug-free approach and tips for developing a sensory lifestyle at home and school, bringing help and hope to challenging children and their grown-ups.

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.

You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense

By Charles Bukowski,

Book cover of You Get So Alone at Times That It Just Makes Sense

Bukowski had a unique perspective on the world, and anyone who has read his work would most definitely agree. This book, which is a collection of some of Bukowski’s greatest pieces in my opinion, has a way of resonating with you on a personal level. Whether it be gaining a newfound perspective on the animals that scurry around our yards, or of a gambler wasting away in a casino on a Monday afternoon, Bukowski has a knack for bringing up the world’s problems in a way that is both depressing and humorous at the same time, while also giving peeks at his wit and charm as well.


Who am I?

For as long as I can remember, it has been of the utmost importance to find meaning in life—both for myself and for everyone else. I have spent much of my time in the past few years pushing for continued discourse in the fields of philosophy and psychology. I have studied at various educational institutions in these fields, and have thus used that knowledge to discuss topics relating to such on my podcast, Think More, which can be found on Spotify. I founded an online journal titled Modern Rebellion in the hopes of assisting contemporary artists and intellectuals with getting their work out there into the public eye.

I wrote...

Perspectives

By Zachary Austin Behlok,

Book cover of Perspectives

What is my book about?

This text seeks to give my own poetic take on various philosophical and psychological topics ranging from rebellion to depression, and so much more, while doing so in a way that is easy to grasp. I find that it can be very difficult for us, as individuals, to fully realize and understand that the world we reside within is not necessarily perfect—I seek to tackle that by means of relaying my own perspectives regarding such in a way that is unbiased yet emotional. Perception of the world around us differs vastly per the individual, and by learning of another’s perspective, maybe it will become easier to understand your own. This book hopes to assist in self-realization and understanding in ways previously deemed impossible.

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