1. Incognito by David Eagleman
*Why does your foot hit the brake pedal before you are conscious of danger ahead? *Why do you hear your name is mentioned in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to? *Why is a person whose name begins with J more likely to marry another person whose name begins with J? *Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? *And how is it possible to get angry at yourself: who, exactly, is mad at whom? A thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions.
A very accessible exploration of how our brains work, drawing on the latest research in neuroscience. For now it’s probably the single best title to stock for the layman interested in the science and psychology of the human brain, and thus human behaviour. – SM
2. Imagine by Jonah Lehrer
Where does creativity come from? And how do you harness it? How do you measure the imagination? How do you quantify an epiphany? In Jonah Lehrer’s ambitious and enthralling new book, we go in search of the epiphany. Shattering the myth of creative ‘types’, Lehrer shows how new research is deepening our understanding of the human imagination. Creativity is not a ‘gift’ that only some possess. It’s a term for a variety of distinct thought processes that we can all learn to use more effectively. Sometimes inspiration strikes in a crowded cafe, while at others a walk in a quiet park is more productive. Lehrer helps us fit our creative strategies to the task. Lehrer considers how this new science can also make neighbourhoods more vibrant, companies more productive and schools more effective. We’ll learn about Bob Dylan’s writing habits and the drug addiction of poets. We’ll see why Elizabethan England experienced a creative explosion, and how Pixar designed its office space to get maximise its talent. From the neuron to the finished symphony, “Imagine” reveals the mind’s deep inventiveness and its essential role in our complex world.
3. The Shrink and the Sage by Julian Baggini and Anotonia Macaro
Tangentially related to the previous two titles, The Shrink and the Sage by philosopher Julian Baggini and his partner, existential psychotherapist Antonia Macaro, is a collection of their columns for the Financial Times Weekend newspaper. The authors approach life issues from a philosophical and a psychological perspective respectively. It’s entertaining, often funny, and always fascinating. Also a quick read, and one to dip in and out of.
As the blurb says, “Combining practical advice on personal dilemmas with meditations on the meaning of concepts like free will, spirituality and independence, this book – their first together – expands on these columns and adds much more. Through questions of existential unease, metaphysical trauma and – for instance – how much we should care about our appearance, intellectual agony uncle and aunt team Baggini and Macaro begin to piece together the answer that we’d all like to hear: what is the good life, and how we can live it?” I merchandise it in Philosophy and Psychology. – SM
4. The Quantum Universe by Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
It’s not new, but keep an eye on Brian Cox (pin-up studmuffin to geeks and nerds everywhere) and Jeff Forshaw’s The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen. It’s a very accessible guide to particle and quantum physics for the non-scientist. Particle physics may be big in the news very soon, as there are rumblings from CERN that evidence for the existence of the Higgs boson may be announced very shortly. If the previous sentence sounds like gibberish to you, reading The Quantum Universe will explain why this is such massive news. – SM