The most recommended books on visual perception

Who picked these books? Meet our 21 experts.

21 authors created a book list connected to visual perception, and here are their favorite visual perception books.
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Book cover of Visual Thinking

Frank Jacobus Author Of Archi Graphic: An Infographic Look at Architecture

From my list on design sensing.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a designer, a teacher, a father, a husband, and a friend. I love beautiful things and personally want to know why I find certain things more beautiful than others. I love learning about the world and finding connections between everyday experience and art. When I say “art” I really am blending art, design, architecture, landscape architecture, product design, etc. I believe everything is connected in some way. If I were to pigeonhole myself in any way I would call myself a generalist design thinker. I draw, I write, I make little objects, I make big objects – I see very little difference in any of these things.

Frank's book list on design sensing

Frank Jacobus Why did Frank love this book?

This book outlines how the visual field operates at a psychological level.

I am an architect and cannot believe that we don’t teach straight from this and other Arnheim books more often. If you want to know what is happening to you, why you get chills up your spine when looking at art, read this book.

Arnheim is a psychologist, not a designer, so he breaks art down from this perspective.

By Rudolf Arnheim,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Visual Thinking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

For thirty-five years Visual Thinking has been the gold standard for art educators, psychologists, and general readers alike. In this seminal work, Arnheim, author of "The Dynamics of Architectural Form", "Film as Art", "Toward a Psychology of Art", and "Art and Visual Perception", asserts that all thinking (not just thinking related to art) is basically perceptual in nature, and that the ancient dichotomy between seeing and thinking, between perceiving and reasoning, is false and misleading. This is an indispensable tool for students and for those interested in the arts.


Book cover of Art and Illusion: A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation

Philip Steadman Author Of Vermeer's Camera: Uncovering the Truth Behind the Masterpieces

From my list on perspective, optics, and realistic illusion in art.

Why am I passionate about this?

If I was asked to describe the central theme of my life's work in a phrase, it would be 'geometry in the arts'. I'm an architect originally, now a professor in London, and have always loved drawing and the art of perspective. In the 1990s I became fascinated with the idea that Johannes Vermeer used the camera obscura, an obsession that led to my book Vermeer's Camera. I'm now working on Canaletto's Camera. And I have ideas for yet another book, on perspective, to be called Points of View. I've chosen five books on these topics that I've found most thought-provoking and inspiring.

Philip's book list on perspective, optics, and realistic illusion in art

Philip Steadman Why did Philip love this book?

Ernst Gombrich's masterpiece, published in 1960 and still in print, follows the drive in Western Art from Ancient Greece and Egypt to the present day, to achieve the illusion of realistic appearance in pictures. Kenneth Clark, himself a most accomplished art historian and writer, described Art and Illusion as 'One of the most brilliant books on art criticism I have ever read." I too admire the way the book combines great erudition with a clear conversational style and an ability to move beyond the usual confines of art history. Gombrich uses findings from psychology to illuminate his argument, supported with a surprising range of illustrations, not just from the fine arts, but from advertising, photography, caricature, and cartoons. Brilliant indeed.

By E.H. Gombrich,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Art and Illusion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Considered a great classic by all who seek for a meeting ground between science and the humanities, Art and Illusion examines the history and psychology of pictorial representation in light of present-day theories of visual perception information and learning. Searching for a rational explanation of the changing styles of art, Gombrich reexamines many ideas on the imitation of nature and the function of tradition. In testing his arguments he ranges over the history of art, noticing particularly the accomplishments of the ancient Greeks, and the visual discoveries of such masters as Leonardo da Vinci and Rembrandt, as well as the…


Book cover of Curvilinear Perspective from Visual Space to the Constructed Image

Jason Cheeseman-Meyer Author Of Vanishing Point: Perspective for Comics from the Ground Up

From my list on for people who draw people.

Why am I passionate about this?

Drawing and painting people has been my passion and my profession for a couple of decades now. Fine art, comic books, animation, illustration – as long as I'm drawing people, I'm happy. I love the challenge of trying to capture (or create) a living, breathing, thinking person on paper. And I love talking about art books with other artists. Which ones are great, which ones miss the mark, which ones have tiny hidden gems in them. This list is a mix of books I love, and books I heartily recommend.

Jason's book list on for people who draw people

Jason Cheeseman-Meyer Why did Jason love this book?

This is my list so I wanted to include this book that was so key to me. This is an art book, but it's a very math-y art book with very few illustrations and almost no how-to step-by-step illustrations. It has pages and pages of “to draw a line from 30 degrees above the horizon and 15 degrees to the left of center etc. etc. etc.” text. It's a dense read, but it was the book that solved six-point perspective for me, which was a topic I'd been working feverishly on for a solid year and couldn't quite nail on my own. It really opened up my understanding of perspective, especially curvilinear perspective drawing. I owe this book (and Flocon and Barre) a lot.

Book cover of Vision: A Computational Investigation into the Human Representation and Processing of Visual Information

Mark S. Nixon Author Of Feature Extraction and Image Processing for Computer Vision

From my list on computer vision from a veteran professor.

Why am I passionate about this?

It’s been fantastic to work in computer vision, especially when it is used to build biometric systems. I and my 80 odd PhD students have pioneered systems that recognise people by the way they walk, by their ears, and many other new things too. To build the systems, we needed computer vision techniques and architectures, both of which work with complex real-world imagery. That’s what computer vision gives you: a capability to ‘see’ using a computer. I think we can still go a lot further: to give blind people sight, to enable better invasive surgery, to autonomise more of our industrial society, and to give us capabilities we never knew we’d have.

Mark's book list on computer vision from a veteran professor

Mark S. Nixon Why did Mark love this book?

David Marr shaped the field of computer vision in its early days. His seminal book laid the structure for interpreting images and one which is still largely followed. He popularised notions of the primal sketch and his work on edge detection led to one of the most sophisticated approaches. His work and influence continue to endure despite his early death: we missed and miss him a lot.

By David Marr,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Vision as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Available again, an influential book that offers a framework for understanding visual perception and considers fundamental questions about the brain and its functions.

David Marr's posthumously published Vision (1982) influenced a generation of brain and cognitive scientists, inspiring many to enter the field. In Vision, Marr describes a general framework for understanding visual perception and touches on broader questions about how the brain and its functions can be studied and understood. Researchers from a range of brain and cognitive sciences have long valued Marr's creativity, intellectual power, and ability to integrate insights and data from neuroscience, psychology, and computation. This…


Book cover of About Looking

Sallie Tisdale Author Of The Lie about the Truck: Survivor, Reality TV, and the Endless Gaze

From my list on the existential crisis of looking in a mirror.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a writer, I’ve always been interested in ambiguity and ambivalence. How does that apply to the self? What does it mean to present myself to others? How do I appear to the world and how close is that to what I see myself to be? Are we ever truly seen—or willing to be seen? In a world where cameras exist everywhere and we are encouraged to record rather than simply be, how do we look in a mirror? Hannah Arendt said that we could tell reality from falsehood because reality endures. But I feel that nothing I experience endures; nothing remains the same, including the reflection. If anything lasts, it may be my own make-believe. Everything I write is, in some way, this question. Who is that?

Sallie's book list on the existential crisis of looking in a mirror

Sallie Tisdale Why did Sallie love this book?

This is a book of essays about the act of looking, especially looking at photographs and paintings and animals and other people. Thus these are essays about history, memory, suffering, beauty, and the self. Berger had a generous spirit; he wrote often about the lives of peasants and spent the last forty years of his life in rural France. Berger gazed upon the world in all its forms with composure and curiosity. 

By John Berger,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked About Looking as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As a novelist, essayist, and cultural historian, John Berger is a writer of dazzling eloquence and arresting insight whose work amounts to a subtle, powerful critique of the canons of our civilization. In About Looking he explores our role as observers to reveal new layers of meaning in what we see. How do the animals we look at in zoos remind us of a relationship between man and beast all but lost in the twentieth century? What is it about looking at war photographs that doubles their already potent violence? How do the nudes of Rodin betray the threats to…


Book cover of Jumbo Book of Amazing Mazes: Amazing Maze Activity Book Up Over 100 Mazes + Unicorn Themed Mazes

Scott Bedford Author Of Mega-Maze Adventure!: A Journey Through the World's Longest Maze in a Book

From my list on maze books for children.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an author, illustrator, and award-winning creative director. I have loved to draw and make things since a young age, mostly wacky contraptions (inspired by my love of the Hanna-Barbera Wacky Races cartoons). I’m also passionate about mazes, having spent many family holidays drawing mazes on a small whiteboard for my two boys to complete.

Scott's book list on maze books for children

Scott Bedford Why did Scott love this book?

While Jumbo Book of Amazing Mazes lacks the high-end production values of my other recommendations, it does offer a whopping 175 colourful illustrated mazes, enough (probably) to last the whole summer holidays! The mazes are varied, with many of them incorporating other puzzle techniques, so you’ll find code-word mazes, quiz mazes, number-logic mazes, and riddle mazes in the mix, this is something I like a lot, and one of the reasons it made my list. This book is great value for money and better than many, if not most, of the similarly priced alternatives (many of which only include black and white mazes, something to be aware of).

By Hayyoun Publishing,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jumbo Book of Amazing Mazes as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This jumbo book is packed with more than 175 colorful mazes of various puzzle types and features the fun and humorous Highlights! illustrations that kids know and love. Each maze is carefully designed to engage and entertain children while honing their concentration skills and attention to detail. In addition to irresistible traditional mazes, kids will enjoy untangling string mazes, solving code-word mazes, quiz mazes, number-logic mazes, riddle mazes, and more!


Book cover of The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul

Christof Koch Author Of The Feeling of Life Itself: Why Consciousness Is Widespread But Can't Be Computed

From my list on consciousness from a neuroscientist.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a neuroscientist best known for my studies and writings exploring the brain basis of consciousness. Trained as a physicist, I was for 27 years a professor of biology and engineering at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena before moving to the Allen Institute in Seattle, where I became the Chief Scientist and then the President in 2015. I published my first paper on the neural correlates of consciousness with the molecular biologist Francis Crick more than thirty years ago.

Christof's book list on consciousness from a neuroscientist

Christof Koch Why did Christof love this book?

This book, by the co-discoverer of the molecular structure of DNA, helped kick off the modern research enterprise that seeks to track and identify the neuronal correlates of consciousness, that is the footprints of consciousness in the brain. Crick argues that for tactical reasons, scientists should focus on more accessible aspects of consciousness, such as visual awareness, and provides an easy-to-follow introduction into the mammalian brain.

By Francis Crick,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Astonishing Hypothesis as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Applying the methodology of science to the search for the soul, the winner of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA explores the fundamental questions of human consciousness, challenging science, philosophy, and religion. Reprint. 25,000 first printing.


Book cover of The Mind's Eye

M. Leona Godin Author Of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness

From my list on blindness and the brain.

Why am I passionate about this?

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.

M.'s book list on blindness and the brain

M. Leona Godin Why did M. love this book?

For me, thinking about blindness and the brain all started with an essay by Oliver Sacks called “To See and Not See” (An Anthropologist on Mars). In The Mind’s Eye Sacks picks up some of the threads of that earlier essay and goes deep into how seeing is not just a matter of having functioning eyes. From the pianist who could  suddenly no longer read music to blind people (like myself) who still consider themselves very visual, these neurological tales are intellectually intriguing and emotionally compelling. Sacks even includes his own journal of vision loss as one of the case studies. But whether he is the patient or the doctor, his distinct voice and personal connection to his subject matter has had a huge influence on my own writing.

By Oliver Sacks,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mind's Eye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

How does the brain perceive and interpret information from the eye? And what happens when the process is disrupted?

In The Mind's Eye, Oliver Sacks tells the stories of people who are able to navigate the world and communicate with others despite losing what many of us consider indispensable senses and abilities: the capacity to recognize faces, the sense of three-dimensional space, the ability to read, the sense of sight. For all of these people, the challenge is to adapt to a radically new way of being in the world - and The Mind's Eye is testament to the myriad…


Book cover of Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions

Suzanne Goh, MD Author Of Magnificent Minds: The New Whole-Child Approach to Autism

From my list on autism: strengths-based, neurodivergent.

Why am I passionate about this?

My journey began as a high school camp counselor at the Ability Center of Greater Toledo in Ohio. As I worked with children who had neurodevelopmental differences and collaborated with a co-counselor who had cerebral palsy, I saw how people with differences were marginalized and devalued despite being insightful, empathetic, passionate, funny, and talented. My appreciation for their strengths and perspectives shaped my approach as a pediatric neurologist, BCBA, neuroscientist, researcher, and founder of Cortica, which is focused on a whole-child, neurodivergent-affirming approach to care for autism and other neurodevelopmental differences. Reading is an important way for me to stay connected to the strengths-based lens I began cultivating in my teens.

Suzanne's book list on autism: strengths-based, neurodivergent

Suzanne Goh, MD Why did Suzanne love this book?

Our society places a premium on verbal thinking, but over the course of my career, I’ve had the pleasure of learning from neurodivergent children who see the world around them in images and use those images to solve mundane and complex challenges alike. This book by Temple Grandin has helped me to shift my own mindset as a verbal thinker and appreciate the abilities of those who think in more abstract, non-linear, and systemic ways.

As a BCBA and pediatric neurologist, having the opportunity to hear directly from Grandin, who is autistic, is invaluable. I share her perspective that we do autistic people–and society as a whole–a great disservice when we relegate visual thinkers to the sidelines instead of empowering them to be the artists, designers, engineers, inventors, mechanics, and innovators our world desperately needs.

Book cover of Zoom

Barbara Lehman Author Of The Red Book

From my list on wordless with surreal or magical realism elements.

Why am I passionate about this?

I love wordless books immoderately, and I also love books that have meta, surreal, or magical realism elements. This list combines these two features! I was personally so happy that The Red Book was described in a review as “a wordless mind trip for tots,” and I think all the books on this list would perfectly fit that description (and much, much more!) too.

Barbara's book list on wordless with surreal or magical realism elements

Barbara Lehman Why did Barbara love this book?

This book never fails to astound me with its visual surprises. I have looked at it at least a hundred times, and each time I cannot stop turning the pages to see what is next, despite already knowing! The art is superbly drawn, and has the perfect amount of rich detail to savor while “zooming” before we come to a satisfying rest at the contemplative ending.

By Istvan Banyai,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Zoom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

As seen on the SERIAL podcast, season 2, episode 1 ("Dustwun")!

Open this wordless book and zoom from a farm to a ship to a city street to a desert island. But if you think you know where you are, guess again. For nothing is ever as it seems in Istvan Banyai's sleek, mysterious landscapes of pictures within pictures, which will tease and delight readers of all ages.

"This book has the fascinating appeal of such works of visual trickery as the Waldo and Magic Eye books." -- Kirkus Reviews

"Ingenious."-- The Horn Book