All in the mind: six books about brains

14 May 2015

If you wanted to be pedantic, you could say that all books, fiction especially, are about the mind. The author reveals herself in ways she does not intend, portrays one person's normal as unusual, another person's unusual as normal. Then there's the characters themselves. Pedantry aside, these six books all take the mind as their subject one way or another, from bipolar disorder to epilepsy, from hallucinations to compulsion. 

An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison

An Unquiet Mind

Dr Kay Redfield Jamison is one of the foremost authorities on manic depression (bipolar disorder) – and has experienced its terrors and cruel allure first-hand. Her book An Unquiet Mind, with an introduction by Andrew Solomon, is a definitive examination of manic depression from both sides: doctor and patient, the healer and the healed. A classic memoir of enormous candour and courage, it teems with the wit and wisdom of its creator.

>>Read the first chapter

 

Electricity by Ray Robinson

electricity

Needing no-one and asking for nothing, Lily's only constant companion is her epilepsy, but when her mother dies, she is forced to renegotiate her life and revisit the world she left behind. Robinson's inspiration came from his cousin, who lived with his family when he was younger and who suffered from epilepsy. He interviewed several other female sufferers as well as doctors, neurologists and neuropsychologists as part of his research; the result is, for want of a better word, electric.

 

The Man Who Couldn't Stop by David Adam

The Man Who Couldn't Stop

David has suffered from OCD for twenty years, and The Man Who Couldn’t Stop is his unflinchingly honest attempt to understand the condition and his experiences. What might lead an Ethiopian schoolgirl to eat a wall of her house, piece by piece, or a pair of brothers to die beneath an avalanche of household junk that they had compulsively hoarded? Drawing on the latest research on the brain, as well as historical accounts of patients and their treatments, this is a book that will challenge the way you think about what is normal, and what is mental illness. 

>>Read the first chapter

 

Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks

Hallucinations

Have you ever seen something that wasn’t really there? Heard someone call your name in an empty house? Sensed someone following you and turned around to find nothing? Hallucinations don’t belong wholly to the insane. Much more commonly, they are linked to sensory deprivation, intoxication, illness, or injury. Dr Sacks weaves together stories of his patients and of his own mind-altering experiences to illuminate what hallucinations tell us about the organization and structure of our brains, how they have influenced every culture’s folklore and art, and why the potential for hallucination is present in us all, a vital part of the human condition.

>>Read the first chapter

 

How to Stay Sane by Philippa Perry

How to Stay Sane

Here's Philippa Perry introducing her brilliant book perfectly: “I cannot pretend that there is a simple set of instructions that can guarantee sanity. Each of us is the product of a distinctive combination of genes, and has experienced a unique set of formative relationships. ... What makes me happy might make you miserable; what I find useful you might find harmful. Specific instructions about how to think, feel and behave thus offer few answers. So instead I want to suggest a way of thinking about what goes on in our brains, how they have developed and continue to develop. I believe that if we can picture how our minds form, we will be better able to re-form the way we live.”

>>Read the first chapter

 

Life Lessons from Kierkegaard by Robert Ferguson

Life Lessons from Kierkegaard

There are six books in the Life Lessons from Great Thinkers series, all of which have some invaluable things to say. Kierkegaard seemed most apposite when talking about the mind; he says: “We cannot work our way rationally out of real despair.  What matters is to have faith in life; and never to forget the power of laughter either.”

>>Read the first chapter


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