Last night I taught a two hour class called ‘Navigating Neuroscience’ for the Guardian Masterclass series and I had the interesting challenge of coming up with a two hour course on some key concepts to help people make better sense of brain science, how it’s discussed, and its changing place in society.
As part of that, I recommended some books to give interested non-specialists a good critical introduction. I added a book after hearing some of the questions and I’ve included the list below.
I’ve mentioned some of them before on Mind Hacks in their own right, but I thought they’re worth mentioning as a set.
The books have been chosen to complement each other and the idea is that if you read all four, you should have a solid grounding in modern cognitive neuroscience and beyond. In no particular order:
Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience
by Sally Satel and Scott O. Lilienfeld
This is a great book for understanding common fallacies in conclusions drawn from cognitive neuroscience studies and what conclusions can reasonably be drawn from this evidence. It tackles several areas as examples of where these fallacies are having a significant effect: neuromarketing, neurolaw, lie detection, addiction and the brain-disease fallacy.
50 Ideas You Really Need to Know About the Human Brain
by Moheb Costandi
It’s a book of 50 small chapters each of which contains an essential idea on which the foundation of modern neuroscience rests. It’s very accessibly and accurately written and gets across some key subtleties that many academic textbooks miss. The great thing about this book is that it’s not just a ‘nuts and bolts’ guide to the brain and isn’t afraid to go into quite technical areas (‘Default Mode’, ‘Prediction Error’) while making sure they’re described in straight-forward language.
Great Myths of the Brain
by Christian Jarrett
This is especially good for listing and dispelling commonly cited but erroneous brain ‘facts’. It starts with some historical ones (‘Drilling a Hole in the Head Releases Evil Spirits’), move on to more obvious contemporary myths (‘We Only Use Ten Percent of Our Brains’) but then includes a range of common myths that may be well understood by neuroscientists but which pervade popular discourse and the media (‘Mirror Neurons Make Us Human’, ‘The Brain Receives Information from Five Senses’).
Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind
by Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached
This is a great book for understanding how neuroscience is understood and used in society. It’s actually an academic book and Rose and Abi-Rached are sociologists but it’s technically accurate without being densely written. I genuinely think it’s one of the most important neuroscience books of the last decade. It is a brilliant analysis of how brain science and the practice of brain science have become associated with changing ideas of what it means to be human and their reciprocal relationship between politics and social influence in the world.