Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow come to mind when I think of books about the mind (the latter of which I will freely admit I have only read half of). Despite their differences in approach, I found them both fascinating. A few more ideas may come to mind if I put in a bit more time. In contrast, the first ones that pop up are all a reflection of my own eccentric hobbies and pursuits. Education and self-improvement (of a specific kind, I acknowledge) are the broad categories for such interests.
Almost any list of books on the subject of the mind is likely to include a variety of subcategories. This one attempts to do so, but only to a much smaller extent than it might. There are some topics that pique my curiosity more than others, so I suppose I’ve naturally narrowed it down based on my own preferences. What follows is a list of “mind-expanding,” “mind-understanding,” and “mind-teaching” titles that can assist improve your mental abilities. Additionally, I’ve made an effort to include a diversity of writing styles in order to appeal to a wide range of audiences. With that said, let’s get this party started!
The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind by Michio Kaku
If you’re looking for an in-depth look at the evolution of our understanding of the human brain, this is a great place to begin. American physicist Michio Kaku is well-known for his popular science publications. When it comes to complex subjects, he manages to make them sound approachable while yet treating them with respect and nuance. An excellent resource for anyone who want to learn even more about scientists’ efforts to learn more about the human brain and how their tools help us discover previously unknown aspects of the brain and, therefore, human experience.
Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age by Sanjay Gupta
It is not Gupta’s goal to increase one’s IQ, but rather to assist the reader in the development of new brain cells and the better utilization of those already there. As a follow-up, he emphasizes the need of cultivating resilience in your own brain.
It is divided into three sections. It begins with an introduction to the brain, its functions, as well as a discussion of how the brain changes with age. Following a comprehensive look at the various ways a person can keep their brain in tip-top shape, the book concludes with an actionable 12-week strategy for putting these research-based concepts into action. For individuals caring for loved ones whose brain health is in decline, part three examines the difficulty of recognizing and treating brain illnesses and provides helpful guidance. You should check it out if you want an easy-to-understand introduction to a variety of topics.
Mistakes Were Made (but Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
Its third edition, published in 2020, is an updated version of the classic that appears on numerous best-of lists for works on the mind. No matter how long it’s been, some of the insights are still new to me, and I’ll never forget them. Essentially, the focus here is on the fact that people will do whatever it takes to make knowledge conform to their preconceptions rather than allow it to confront them. As a result of this, we (and I mean all of us) are free to make wrong decisions and harm others in ways we deem justifiable. Definitely worth reading.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
Rather than intrinsic talent or a special aptitude, Duckworth’s research found that success is the result of continuous and long-term effort. Anyone interested in literature about the mind should pick up this book, which focuses on the research that supports its claims. Anyone interested in education or helping young people recognize that their potential is not defined by their innate abilities but rather by their capacity to apply themselves and persevere is likely to find this book interesting.
A Mind For Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley
Readers will be encouraged by Oakley’s use of research and personal experience to show that even those who suffered in math and science classes in school can learn how to acquire a “mind for numbers.” In spite of her early lack of aptitude in math and science, Oakley later used her understanding of the brain’s functioning to become a professor of engineering. She has now taught these skills to tens of thousands of people all across the world, including through well-known MOOCs. Mindshift: Breakthrough Obstacles to Learning and Discover Your Hidden Potential is another one of her books that you might love.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan
New interest in the potential benefits of psychedelics such as LSD is examined by Pollan in light of recent revival in the study of these substances. When it comes to Pollan’s writing, one of my favorite aspects is his healthy skepticism and natural curiosity. He has a new book out called This is Your Mind on Plants if you like this one.
A Thousand Brains: A New Theory of Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
For a variety of reasons, this book may be one of the more difficult ones to get through on this list. Unlike some of the other books on this site, this one’s writing style isn’t quite as user-friendly. He also looks into the human brain and artificial intelligence, connecting what humans consider natural thinking to the ‘thinking’ done by machines. If you’re a fan of huge ideas, this book is worth a look.
The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and Our Quest for an Inspired Life by Lisa Miller
My favorite topics, the brain and spirituality, are brought together in Miller’s book. Miller and her colleagues conducted years of research and discovered that spirituality and religion helped to safeguard the brains of people who were otherwise prone to depression. She goes on to discuss the significance of living a “awakened” existence, and I enjoyed how open-minded she was in her assessment of spirituality and religion. If you’d like to learn more about this topic, you can listen to or read an excerpt.
Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives by Thich Nhat Hanh
It’s possible that you haven’t heard of Thich Nhat Hanh if you haven’t read a lot about Buddhism and meditation. Do not be alarmed. As a teacher, he is really talented and his writing is easy to understand. Start by reading some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books if you want to learn more about mindfulness and how to calm your thoughts.
Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo
There are many books out there regarding the mind, but this one is worth a look. Forleo urges you to tackle anything in life, no matter what the circumstances, by adopting her mantra that everything can be sorted out. She speaks her mind with no euphemisms or apologies. Even if you’re not a fan of profanity, I think the term “sh*tstorm” is the only way to describe when all of life’s wonderful problems come at you at once.
The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Happiness, Health, and Longevity by Catherine Sanderson
Even though Sanderson holds a doctorate from Princeton in psychology, he isn’t the kind to be perpetually cheerful. Both of these things are important to me. Using findings from positive psychology research, she explains how mentality may have a significant impact in settings where we wouldn’t expect it. It was Sanderson’s acknowledgment of the fact that for some, an optimistic perspective requires some (research-informed) effort that I admired. Even if you don’t believe in the power of positive thinking, I think you should give this book a shot.
Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning by Leslie Odom, Jr.
It’s time to confess. Before reading this, I’d only heard about the musical Hamilton but had never seen or heard anything from it. When I saw Lamar Odom sing on a Disney holiday special that I was made to watch (this is not a joke), I decided he would know a thing or two about holiday music and so I bought it. It’s not necessary to be a huge Hamilton fan to like or even read this book. A good message, regardless of if you are a fan of Odom or not. Failing spectacularly is exactly what it takes for a person to succeed at the end of the day.
Life Lessons from a Brain Surgeon: Practical Strategies for Peak Health and Performance by Rahul Jandial
For Jandial, a neuroscientist and brain surgeon, it’s only natural to be fascinated with the human brain. As a classic summary of how the brain works, his book includes memories from his medical training and professional career. You’ll also learn facts and anecdotes from folks who devote their lives to learning about the brain. While his writing style may not be to everyone’s taste, he makes his points in an understandable and memorable manner.
Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You by Jenara Nerenberg
This book explores the neurodiversity that exists among women who identify as such and who have different perspectives on the world than what has previously been considered ‘normal.’ As a result of having trouble processing some forms of input, Nerenberg, a journalist, set out to learn more about this topic.
Neurodivergencies including ADHD, autism, and sensory processing problems (among others) are examined in the book, which focuses on women’s experiences with these ailments and how they manifest in their lives. Neurodiversity is a term that is sometimes misunderstood, but Nerenberg makes an essential attempt here to broaden the definition to include more women’s experiences.
Gratitude by Oliver Sacks
Oliver Sacks is a must-read author on the subject of the mind. As an alternative, I encourage you to read this collection of four short articles he wrote before his death in 2015 instead of plunging into his more well-known writings. Reading the final thoughts of a great thinker as he neared death and the ensuing extinction of a mind that had contributed so much to our understanding of the human brain is both moving and strangely comforting at the same time.