Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, scientist David P. Barash says “It’s no exaggeration to say that Behave is one of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read.” Indeed, Robert Sapolsky’s seminal new work is a humorous, exciting, and challenging examination of what it is in human nature and experience that drives our responses to one another, including what allows us to act so aggressively and violently towards one another. Ultimately, he hopes that a better understanding of the complexity of what drives our behavior can help us pave the way toward a more peaceful and compassionate future.

The Brain: The Story of You

Stanford scientist David Eagleman is back with another great book—this time, a companion to his BBC series of the same name. This is an excellent primer on how the brain creates "you" and defines your reality. His writing is easy to follow and enhanced with some colorful illustrations.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

It’s hard to imagine a creature as different from a human as an octopus. But we share something in common: intelligence. In Other Minds, science philosopher and scuba diver Peter Godfrey-Smith ponders the evolution of sentience in cephalopods (the octopus, squid, and cuttlefish family), which happened separately from (and before) the development of human consciousness. What are the commonalities in these parallel evolutions of intelligence?

Into the Magic Shop

Neurosurgeon Jim Doty is the director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. In Into the Magic Shop (named for a transformative experience he had as a boy), Doty shares his own story of moving past his successful-but-unhappy life by changing both his brain and his heart, and gives scientific and practical guidance for doing the same yourself.

The Mind Club: Who Thinks, What Feels, and Why It Matters

In this intriguing book, Daniel Wegner and Kurt Gray explore how we ascribe thoughts—a mind—to others. This exploration doesn’t just address how we think about the minds of other people (though it does that, too). It also includes animals, robots, God, and much more. The authors argue that how we think about the minds of others can affect our treatment of them. It’s what makes it seem reasonable to eat some animals and keep others as pets, what drives us to protect some people and harm others, and what determines many other “moral” decisions we make as we interact with the world.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

Atul Gawande has grown his audience with his smart, spot-on pieces in the New Yorker, and his excellent books are proving no less popular or worthwhile. Gawande, a concise and measured writer as well as a working surgeon and professor, discusses the miracles of modern medicine and how the American medical system can drastically err in the context of end-of-life care, death, and the process of dying. Some have called this book a “game-changer” and “required reading for every American.”

The Wandering Mind: What the Brain Does When You’re Not Looking

While you’ve been reading this newsletter, your mind has probably wandered off at some point – which is totally normal. We may feel frustrated by our lack of focus, but author Michael C. Corballis is here with a positive spin on the wandering mind, and shares all of the reasons that letting our brains go here, there, and everywhere is essential to our imagination, our shared humanity, and our sense of self.

Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain

This fascinating book tackles the challenges of balancing a philosophical, spiritual view of the self with a neurological, brain-based view. Churchland—a philosopher in a family of neuroscientists—takes on this existential struggle by drawing on personal experience, research, and philosophy. The end result for the reader is a better understanding of the brain and the self, from this synthesis of the spiritual, ethical, and neurological perspectives.

Struck by Genius

What would it be like to wake up one day after a lifetime of average academic performance and find that you had become a math genius? That’s essentially what happened to Jason Padgett. After a violent mugging, Padgett suffered from a brain injury that had an astonishing and unexpected effect: he started to see the world as a manifestation of math. In this autobiography, Padgett shares his very unique experience and how he embraced his new brain.