Here is a list of books that I’ve read over the course of my research that I highly recommend reading if you’re interested in neuroscience and the brain. Some are specific to teenagers, and others are more general books about the brain and psychology. Please feel free to contact me (link on the Contact page) if you think there’s a book I should read and add to the list!
Age of Opportunity by Laurence Steinberg, Ph.D.
I received this book for Christmas at age 14, and it’s largely to thank for my interest in teenage neuroscience. It talks about the big picture ideas (reward processing, relationships, risk taking) and investigates a lot of case studies about teenagers. This man is pretty incredible, as he conducts lots of his own research for the book, and has been called on as an expert in many trials involving juveniles. The book is addressed to parents, but that only really matters in the last few chapters.
The Teenage Brain by Frances E. Jensen, MD
This book is similar to Age of Opportunity, but the opening chapters focus a lot more on brain structure and the fundamentals of neuroscience. Overall, it includes more diagrams and figures about the brain than Age of Opportunity does. It’s also addressed to parents, which at some parts can be a bit of a turn-off for a teenage reader (she’s always stressing strict parenting rules) but the science is a great level for anyone looking for a straightforward explanation of neuroscience during the teenage years.
We Are Our Brains by D.F. Swaab
D.F. Swaab is the man responsible for first discovering a link between brain anatomy and homosexuality. In his book, he draws on his own research and that of other to explore normal and abnormal brain functioning from the womb to old age. Swaab explores everything from the science of orgasms to delinquency, Alzheimer’s to autism, in a beautifully written account. Though not specifically focused on adolescence, the book does include many sections about puberty, sexuality, and adolescent behavior.
The Health Reference Series Sourcebooks
The Health Reference Series Sourcebooks are a collection of books that provide information about all sorts of health concerns; most pertinent to this podcast are the mental health, addiction, sexuality, and adolescent sourcebooks. Each book includes all the relevant facts, figures, and treatment options for the health topic, compiled from research by the National Institutes of Health. These sourcebooks are an excellent tool for understanding any health issues you may be facing, mental or physical. There is also a sourcebook series for teenagers, but I find the information in the adult versions to be more in-depth and comprehensive.
Coming of Age on Zoloft by Katherine Sharpe
Coming of Age on Zoloft is a wonderful book, both a memoir about antidepressant use and a scientific and societal exploration of the antidepressant explosion that started in the 1980s, especially among young people. I am not depressed, nor have I ever taken antidepressants, but I loved reading this book, because it explores the sadness and emotion in such a universal way, all the while exploring how antidepressants factor into the lives of young people. I highly recommend this book for anyone, whether you take antidepressants, used to, are considering starting, or just want to understand sadness, depression, and medicine in a more holistic way.
Demystifying Anorexia Nervosa by Alexander R. Lucas, MD
Demystifying Anorexia Nervosa is truly a complete guide to understanding anorexia, covering the various causes, symptoms, neurological manifestations, and treatment options. The book also provides a number of stories about young men and women who Dr. Lucas has treated, adding personal stories to the overall medical investigation. For anyone dealing with anorexia, this book covers each facet of the disorder. Complement with the Eating Disorders sourcebook for a full range of information.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
I read The Power of Habit for my own enjoyment, because I’m a psychology geek, and I was pleasantly surprised by the neuroscience employed in the book. The book focuses on the habit loop, which pervades every aspect of our lives- addiction and gambling, of course, but also things like driving and eating. I recommend this book to anyone and everyone, whether you think you have “bad habits” or not. You will learn about how your brain uses habits to go on autopilot in so many daily activities, and how you can neurologically overpower autopilot in order to create positive change in your life.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
This book is not about the brain, but about a neurosurgeon’s journey through his own mortality. It is both poignant and inspiring, and made me cry as well. Kalanithi spends much of the book describing how and why he pursued neuroscience in his career, and how studying the brain expanded his understanding of the universe. If you’re an aspiring neuroscientist or doctor, I highly recommend this memoir. It is also a beautifully narrated audiobook.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of books to read about neuroscience, psychology, and adolescence. Below, I’ve listed some titles that are on my own to-read list, which have received positive reviews from book critics and newspapers. I cannot vouch for them personally, but I will be sure to include them on my own reading list once I finish them!
- The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge- This book is all about neural plasticity, or the ability of the brain to wire and rewire itself according to experience. The book explores plasticity in normal brains, as well as incredible instances of brain recovery after traumas, thanks to the wonders of plasticity. This is high on my own reading list, and hopefully I’ll get around to it soon!
- The Future of the Mind by Michio Kaku- This book has been sitting on my desk, awaiting the day when I’m not wading in college applications and have the time to indulge. It’s all about the new technology and science that is expanding our understanding of the brain, and with it the ways we may be able to fix, enhance, and change our brains in the future.
- The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker- Pinker is a linguist and psychology professor at Harvard, and I read another of his books for my philosophy class. His books are very dense, but truly at the cutting edge of science, linguistics, and philosophy. The Language Instinct explores the nature of language as an inherent capacity of the human brain, rather than a learned skill. If you’re at all interested in language and its relation to the brain, this book is the gold standard in the field.
This list will be regularly expanded, so once you’ve read your picks from this list, come back for more suggestions!