Books for Brainiacs (literally)

I was browsing the NPR list of recommended Sci-Fi titles today, and could barely manage a ho-hum.  I’ve slipped into one of my periodic non-fiction moods, and I’ve learned to follow such whims to see where they take me.  I fear that my book queue may get even more unmanageable after stumbling upon these NPR recommendations:  Insane Science:  Five New Books that Explain the Brain.  Here is a quick summary of the article:

The Compass Of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, And Gambling Feel So Good  by David J. Linden.  Everyone probably guessed Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Vodka, and perhaps Generosity, but the author claims that Paying your taxes belongs in that category too.

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts To Gods To Politics And Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs And Reinforce Them As Truths by Michael Shermer.  Shermer, a former Evangelical Christian who became an agnostic in college claims that belief precedes the explanations we invent for them.  However, Shermer acknowledges that, “we could be wrong.”

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through The Madness Industry by Jon Ronson.  The bad news:  an estimated 1% of the population is psychopathic.  The good news:  if you wonder if you are, you almost certainly are not.

The Optimism Bias: A Tour Of The Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot.  Even if you are a cynic, your brain is probably hardwired for optimism.  “Most people are programmed to predict happy endings in all facets of our lives.”  As you might have guessed, there is measurable survival value in thes.

A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What The Worlds Largest Experiment Reveals About Human Desire by Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam.  If you want to know what people really think about sex, look online, claim the authors, and that is what they did.  Their conclusion, after sifting through “reams” of data?  Men’s sexual brains “are more like Elmer Fudd,” and women’s, “like Miss Marple.”  That hook I think, is enough to get me to download this one.  Not that I would be crass enough to ever make a joke about Elmer Fudd and Congressman Wiener – nope, no way.

Happy reading, everyone, and I categorically deny all rumors that I have too much time on my hands!

40 thoughts on “Books for Brainiacs (literally)

  1. You did make these titles up, didn’t you? I have heard it’s a lot easier to break into publishing with non-fiction, but most of these look pretty out there. Thanks for sharing. I’m still chuckling.


    • Coincidentally, the speaker at the monthly lunch for the local California Writer’s Club branch on Saturday is an agent who specializes in non-fiction, including some of the Dummies titles. I will post notes and web links of interest afterwards.


  2. The Optimism Bias seems interesting. I thought people’s thoughts usually end result in negative thoughts. So, to say we all think we will all have an happy ending… interesting. We all want a happy ending… or else, it’s just too sad to think about.


  3. Hmmm, interesting. The last one sounds like it has a pretty weak premise however. The authors conclusions sound like the same tired old cliches that are always bandied about. Yawn. Women like sex!

    Thanks for sharing anyway and congrats on Freshly Pressed. x


    • It may be a week premise but it drove me to download the book, since I had to find out what they were talking about – hopefully more than the cliche of male-as-doofus. Thanks for the congratulations.


  4. What a fabulous list! I look forward to checking some of those titles out. Thank you very much for sharing it, and congratulations on being freshly pressed!


  5. Thanks for posting this list. Personally I’m not sold on the idea that the brain is hard-wired or constructed for anything, but I’m interested in reading books like these to see what the theories are. “The Psychopath Test” looks particularly interesting; I’ll keep an eye out for that.


    • I agree completely that the brain is not hardwired, and yet, to press the analogy to the breaking point, I suspect that some of our collective orientation/worldview functions like an operating system, within which some of these findings are valid.

      Or to speak from the Buddhist perspective, the ultimate truth of emptiness (that is, emptiness of anything fixed) doesn’t negate relative truth while the “dream” lasts.


  6. I just thought I would add in, as they say, my “two cents”

    Books on Neuroscience:
    – “The Tell Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest For What Makes Us Human” by V.S Ramachandran
    – “A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers” by V.S Ramachandran

    Books on Computational Neuroscience (Mathematical Neuroscience)
    – “Computational Modeling of Genetic and Biochemical Networks” by James M Bower and Hamid Bolouri
    – “Databasing the Brain – From Data to Knowledge” by Steven Koslow and Shankar Subramaniam
    – “Mathematical Foundations of Neuroscience” by G. Bard Ermentrout

    I’d like to add a note on computational neuroscience: it’s amazing.

    Thank you!


  7. 1. I need to look on NPR’s site more often.
    2. I love anything about science. I wish I had time to read for pleasure. Maybe I could do a chapter a night. Good idea. Thank you for the suggestions.


  8. you’ve made good job with this post!
    “The bad news: an estimated 1% of the population is psychopathic. The good news: if you wonder if you are, you almost certainly are not.” — so i can sleep peacefully 🙂


  9. well, most of my time is spent “shopping” since that’s what my website is but I am also a closet literati … thanks for the summer reading list. The only thing I can get out of my current list of book-sharers is the top latest mystery novels that have been churned out by the million. I’m looking for and need new ideas for some reading – so thanks!

    By the way, if you need anything for outdoor living, check us out, k? thanks again!


  10. Congrats to a Freshly Pressed entry. 😀 I loved reading this entry. Hopefully, these books will be available somewhere near me. Loved the analogies too.


  11. Interesting post… Put it together with Noam Chomsky’s work (media propaganda) and how gullible we are and the result of the equation is a lot more than scary


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