Library Services


Summer Reading: Reviewing Books about the Brain

1 August 2023

Esther Ambrose-Dempster, PhD Student in Chemistry, recommends two books about the brain as part of our summer reads campaign.

A student reads a book in the Japanese Garden outside the Student Centre.

University summers are the perfect time to give your brain a break. After months of studying intensely, culminating in revision and exams, a well earned mental rest is necessary.

However and wherever you choose to spend your summer, it is always great to have a book close by. An excellent unwind for the mind before bed, or pastime for those long summer evenings, why not use this time to discover a bit more about your brain?

Two books about our amazing brains, worthy of review and recommendation are David Eagleman’s The Brain (available at UCL) and Emma Young’s Sane: How I shaped up my mind, improved my mental strength and found calm.

Eagleman  gives us a neuroscience lens on the complexity of the human mind, exploring recent findings and forming an image of you, while Young’s book occupies the space between personal experience and scientific research into finding peace within your mind.

David Eagleman's The Brain

Gripping from the beginning, Eagleman’s first chapter ‘Who am I?’ explores the shaping of us as human beings and the impact of external influences on the hardwiring of the human brain as we go through life. A neuroscientist himself, he weaves together the brain’s biology with history, philosophy and psychology. The science behind our senses and the illusion of reality that we experience (based on visual information triggering electrochemical signals to give us a grip on the physical world) is explored. Another theme is the dependency of our brains on other people, and what happens when one is left without a social web of other’s neurons to interact with. It all culminates in a killer final chapter, which is somewhat mind-boggling, but if there’s ever a time, it’s in a book about the mind…

Exploring the future and possibility of neuroscience, it offers neoteric ideas about transcending evolution as we know it, and speculation about the future of artificial intelligence which, written in 2015, already seems more tangible in 2023.

Little asides of case studies and elaboration on specific thoughts give added information and poignant contextualisation for the revelations on the pages. It’s a real page turner, commendable for such high-brow subject matter, and provides the reader with new snippets of knowledge, that not only make you realise quite how remarkable the human brain is, but will also undoubtedly be of use in a future pub quiz round.

The Brain by David Eagleman

Sane by Emma Young

Emma Young's Sane

Pitching itself as a literary guide to ‘discover the secrets of how to be mentally strong and stay sane’, this book is a completely different style, meaning reading these two back-to-back is no problem.

Young sets out from the point of personal struggle with her own mind, in the way so many of us do, e.g. losing our tempers quickly and losing focus or struggling to get good quality sleep. Incorporating the opinion of experts, leading scientific research and first-hand experience, she focusses each chapter on a different action for the mind. Beginning with ‘clear’ and ‘exercise’ your mind which delve into yoga, meditation and mindfulness, she travels to a highly regarded stress centre to personally experience it, as well as speaking to people who have benefitted from certain behavioural changes, such as a technique called ‘.b’.

Young researches the impact of smells on the mind and nourishment through diet and exercise, with each topic covered being something relatable for the reader. Her personal journey runs tandem throughout, giving a narrative, and the end of each chapter has a concise checklist which serve as an accessible aid for the reader to find their own calm. This book is an in-depth, intelligible self-help guide, making it a longer read but this complements and allows the journey of change for both the author and reader.

One borrowed and the other picked up in a charity shop, both are excellent non-challenging reads which have life applicable take home messages, through the ‘story of you’ and finding a place of ‘calm’ within our own minds.

This summer, we’re encouraging you to read for fun

Reading for pleasure has been shown to have multiple benefits in terms of mental health and focus. So why not grab a book for fun from one of our libraries during the summer months.