Journalist David Shenk is the author of The Forgetting: Alzheimers: Portrait of an Epidemic (Doubleday, $25). Here he chooses his six favorite brain books.
The Prehistory of the Mind by Steven Mithen (Thames & Hudson, $18). In this sweeping archaeology of the mind, Mithen investigates how the human brain evolved from a simple hard-wired machine into a mechanism that can understand, and improve on, itself.
Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett (Little Brown & Co., $17). A rich philosophical companion to Mithens book, Dennetts work elegantly synthesizes everything we know from a century of studies on human cognition. He aggressively challenges stale explanations of human consciousness, and offers his own fresh ideas.
Searching for Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past by Daniel L. Schacter (HarperCollins, $17). An eloquent primer on the complex workings of human memory. Schacter draws from art, literature, psychology, and neurology to paint a vivid picture of how we remember, and why.
The Making of Memory: From Molecules to Mind by Steven Rose (out of print). Another marvelous book on memory, from one of the leading architects of its understanding. Rose uses his own lab experiments to narrate the evolution of his comprehension of human memory, deftly folding in perspectives from many other experiments and studies.
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat: And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver W. Sacks (Touchstone Books, $14). Sacks is the great living humanist-neurologist. Hes written several books reflecting on his peculiar clinical experiences with patients whose brains are malfunctioning in the strangest ways. Sacks gift, as both specialist and storyteller, is to use these oddities as a lens into the normal workings of the human brain.
The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About a Vast Memory by A.R. Luria (Harvard University Press, $17). This marvelous little book concerns the bizarre yet true case of S., a Russian man whose memory was quite literally boundless. He remembered every tiny detail of every experience he ever had-and, as a result, was able to make sense of very little. Having a perfect memory, it turns out, is intellectually debilitating. In healthy brains, the ability to forget is every bit as important as the ability to remember.