Books about the human brain

When the sun finally comes out and the sweaters get tossed in the basement, we're all at least a little tempted to turn off our brains. Don't do it! Summer reading — in this case, summer reading about the science of the mind — can be a lot more fun than dodging volleyballs on a beach. Neuroscience isn't just about parts of the brain and hard-to-pronounce chemicals; the books listed here cover everything from religion to pornography, from die-hard optimists to remorseless sociopaths. Sure, there's a lot of knowledge to be mined in these volumes, but most importantly, they're all fast, fun reads. As subject matter, the brain, it turns out, makes for the ultimate page-turner and science (don't tell my high school bio teacher I said this) the epitome of cool.

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, hardcover, 240 pages, Viking, list price: .95

Unless you're at the kind of cookout where words like amygdala and dopamine get tossed around instead of Frisbees, you're probably not thinking too intently about what's going on in your "medial forebrain pleasure circuit." That might change if you read neuroscientist David J. Linden's The Compass of Pleasure, a hugely entertaining look at why we enjoy the things we enjoy. They're not all vices, either — your brain can be stimulated by sex and drugs, but it also derives pleasure from working out and, believe it or not, paying your taxes. There's hardcore biology here, but it's tempered with personal anecdotes, penetrating observations and quotes from the likes of comedian Mitch Hedberg and Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy. If you're science-phobic, don't worry: Linden is incredibly smart, but comes across as the funny, patient professor you wish you'd had in college.

The Believing Brain: From Ghosts To Gods To Politics And Conspiracies — How We Construct Beliefs And Reinforce Them As Truths

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