Jonah Lehrer

Reading to stimulate the creative mind, from Virginia Woolf to Oliver Sacks.

Jonah Lehrer takes readers on regular tours of the brain’s mysteries for Wired magazine and in books like How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. His latest work of nonfiction, Imagine, follows scientists and artists alike as they trace the sources of creativity and share cutting-edge research that shows how each of us can tap into our gray matter’s capacity for invention. He took a moment to recommend four fascinating works of fiction and nonfiction that unfold the many layers of the creative mind at work. (And don’t miss our interview with Jonah Lehrer about Imagine.)

Books by Jonah Lehrer

To the Lighthouse

By Virginia Woolf

“Not only is this novel a masterful example of creativity — Woolf wrote it after recovering from a severe bout of mental illness — but it eloquently describes the difficulty of making something new, as the protagonist, a painter named Lily, struggles throughout the novel to finish her canvas. The last line describes her triumph: ‘Yes, she thought, laying down her brush in extreme fatigue, I have had my vision.'”

Touched with Fire

By Kay Redfield Jamison

“There are no easy answers concerning the link between mental illness and creative output. But in this sensitive and exhaustively researched text, the psychologist Jamison explores how and why the burden of manic depression might also be a creative blessing.”


By Oliver Sacks

“I’ve always been a huge fan of Sacks’ work. In this recent volume, he captures the peculiar ways in which creativity can result from changes within the brain. There is, for instance, the strange case of Tony Cicoria, a doctor utterly uninterested in music who became obsessed with playing and composing for the piano after being struck by lightning.”

Triumph of the City

By Edward Glaeser

“Glaeser is a Harvard economist, but he’s most interested in the ordinary miracle of urban life. Why is it that when people cram themselves together into the same zip code they become so much more productive? Why do some cities produce more patents? His research clearly demonstrates that, even in this high-tech, interconnected age of Skype and email, cities remain more important than ever.”