True-life stories

Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death

In his latest book, neuroscientist Adrian Owen explores the “gray zone”—the space between full consciousness and brain death, where people have working minds in damaged bodies. Dr. Owen’s research suggests that up to 20% of people once thought to be in vegetative states are actually in this “gray zone”—aware and capable of thought on some level, but immobile. What are the implications of this discovery for the patients themselves, as well as for legislation, families, religion, and insurance? What even counts as life? Dr. Owen attempts to answer these questions and more.

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.

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.

On The Move: A Life

Oliver Sacks has long delighted us with his books about the brain’s quixotic variations. In this, his final book, published just a few months before his death, he finally invites us into his own life and his own brain with an autobiography filled with irreverence, discovery, loss, and joy. It is the perfect capstone to a long and lively literary career, and a wonderful remembrance and celebration of a great man and a great scientist.

Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole: A Renowned Neurologist Explains the Mystery and Drama of Brain Disease

This book is conversational in tone but the stories it touches on go from hilarious to heartbreaking in a matter of moments. Ropper, a Harvard professor and clinician who counts Michael J. Fox among his patients, brings some of his most fascinating neurological patients to life. Written very much in the tradition of the Oliver Sacks oeuvre, Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole manages to be fun and informative at the same time.

30 Lessons in Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans

Usually we share a neuroscience-based book, but this month we can’t pass up the opportunity to share 30 Lessons in Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. This collection, by renowned Cornell University gerontologist Karl Pillemer, is the result of Pillemer’s years of study with over 1,000 older adults from a range of social, economic, and educational backgrounds. He has compiled the wisdom he has learned from conversations with people reflecting on what they did right and wrong in their long lives.

Animal Madness: How Anxious Dogs, Compulsive Parrots, and Elephants in Recovery Help Us Understand Ourselves

Have you long suspected your dog has emotional problems, or worry your pet iguana needs Prozac? You’re not alone: author Laurel Braitman’s experience with her beloved Bernese Mountain dog led her to extensively research the topic of “animal madness” and found that it led her to new ways to look at human mental illness. Animal Madness has received several accolades, including being chosen as a Discover magazine top summer read.

Madness: A Bipolar Life

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be bipolar? Marya Hornbacher details her life of mental illness in a brutally honest and eye-opening manner.This New York Times bestseller provides a great window into what it is like to live with a lifelong, devastating diagnosis.