Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

carlo rovelli physics book

A concise, but deep exploration of the nature of our universe and how it works

What is the nature of our world, of space, time, even consciousness? Seven Brief Lessons on Physics is a short book that covers (you guessed it) seven topics, including Einstein’s theories, quantum mechanics, and thermodynamics. While the concepts covered are incredibly complex, Carlo Rovelli, a theoretical physicist, writes in a way that doesn’t require the reader to have a degree in science to understand. It is an attempt to stimulate the reader’s curiosity, not a science textbook. In that sense, it is similar in style to Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time”, though shorter and less technical.

This quote, from a review in the Guardian, sums it up well:
“Rovelli’s book conveys a simple truth: physics is beautiful and awe-inspiring, its mysteries there for us all to muse upon.”


Spacetime – Space and time aren’t separate things, they are fused together. It goes against our intuition and what we used to believe about how the universe works. The author covers how Einstein’s special theory of relativity changed how we think about the topic.

Quantum mechanics – The universe operates in very different ways when you compare how galaxies work with how the smallest particles (like electrons) behave. The quantum world is very strange.

Thermodynamics – Heat, friction, movement, and vibration all come together to impact and interact with spacetime. Is heat one of the reasons why time behaves like it does? That’s an interesting question.

Consciousness – How does the knowledge of all of the topics above impact how we view ourselves and humanity? What does this mean for concepts like free will and what it means to be conscious? This was a fitting ending lesson to the book.


I love science. If you’re a science nerd, like me, I think you’ll enjoy this book. While it is written in a way to be understandable to the general public, it will likely be confusing for people who aren’t familiar with the deeper concepts in physics, especially the different theories of relativity.

Here’s a link to the Wiki page for this book (not much to see there). Here’s a link to the publisher’s website for the book. Lastly, here’s a link to the Wiki page for the author, Carlo Rovelli.


The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When The World Overwhelms You – Elaine N. Aron, Ph.D.

elaine aron highly sensitive person book cover

An explanation of sensory processing sensitivity, a temperament/personality trait

In this book, Dr Aron identifies and explains what sensory processing sensitivity (a highly sensitive person) means and what it looks like in the people who have this trait. Highly sensitive people (HSPs) are easily overstimulated and often misunderstood in our current culture that idealizes extroversion and constant stimulation. According to the author, HSPs comprise approximately 15-20% of the population. Could you or someone you know be included in this?

From the author’s website:

  • Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
  • Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
  • Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
  • Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
  • Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
  • Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
  • Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
  • When you were a child, did your parents or teachers see you as sensitive or shy?

There is a self-test available on her website for those who answered yes to many/most of the above question.

Topics Covered

Introversion vs sensitivity – Dr Aron talks about the differences of introversion and high sensitivity. They are not the same thing, though there are areas where they can seemingly overlap. Extroverts can be highly sensitive, for example.

Response to stimulation – HSPs are very sensitive to stimulation. This often means that they quickly get tired in high stimulation environments (like a group gathering in a crowded restaurant with music playing and many people talking at once) a need to get away to recharge. Stimulation can come from any of the senses, but especially through sights and sounds.

Highly sensitive people feel like outcasts – A common feeling among HSPs is that they are fatally flawed. They have a trait that isn’t appreciated in our modern age, even looked down upon. They often avoid high stimulation group activities due to their trait and can end up as loners because of this.

Benefits of high sensitivity – HSPs can greatly benefit from this trait in creative and artistic professions. They tend to be highly intuitive and empathetic. While this can cause trouble in some careers and relationships, in the right setting it can be a fantastic gift.

Practical wisdom for HSPs – This isn’t just a theoretical or abstract book, it is full of practical wisdom and therapy/counseling activities that you can do to help identify the problem areas in life and what you can do about it. Each chapter ends with follow up questions and thing you can talk about with your counselor or therapist if you decide to seek professional help for any issues related to this.


I really enjoyed this book. Partly because I identify as an HSP and I have HSPs in my family. It really helps to explain personality and temperament beyond the typical, stereotypical definitions of introversion. This book could also be really helpful for people who don’t have this trait but have a loved one or family member who does. It’s easy to misinterpret the actions of someone without understanding what is going on inside them. Once you have a better understanding, it can help decrease resentment and hard feelings. I also recommend it for people who work in the service industry, especially healthcare. If 1/5th of your clients/patients have this trait, you really should learn more about it and how you can best connect with them.

Find out more about the book on Dr Aron’s website. Here’s the Wiki link to learn more about sensory processing sensitivity.

How to Change Your Mind – Michael Pollan

Michael Pollan How to Change Your Mind book cover

What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

In this book, journalist Michael Pollan explains the history, science, and research of psychedelics as well as his own personal experiences. It is part science book and part personal journey/memoir. Pollan clearly has his biases when it comes to spiritual and mystical matters, but he does his best to set these aside (along with his neurotic tendencies) in exploring new ideas. This following quote from his website sums it up well:

But what I didn’t expect when I embarked on this journey was for it to result in what is surely the most personal book I’ve ever written. I like to immerse myself in whatever subject I’m reporting—whether that means buying a steer to understand the meat industry or apprenticing myself to a baker to understand bread. What began as a third-person journalistic inquiry ended up a first-person quest to learn what these medicines had to teach me about not only the mind but also my mind, and specifically about the nature of spiritual experience. This book has taken me places I’ve never been—indeed, places I didn’t know existed.

Michael Pollan – website


The cultural history of psychedelic substances – Many cultures throughout history have incorporated psychedelics into aspects of religious life and spiritual practices. Mr Pollan traces the history of some of these in various indigenous cultures.

Early scientific research on psychedelics – The history of LSD and the promising research on it for treating mental health conditions, substance abuse, and more in the 1950s and 1960s.

Countercultural revolution and the fallout – Timothy Leary and the culture wars are discussed and how this lead to political fallout and the abandonment of research on LSD and other psychedelic substances.

Transcendent experiences – The author explains the renewed interest and research on psychedelics and his own experiences under the influence. This is where the book shifts a bit from strictly science journalism into a more memoir-style.


I really liked this book. It will likely inform and challenge you. The author clearly has his own biases about spiritual and mystical matters, but he’s willing to explore areas that he once completely neglected. I give him major credit for that. He’s also a talented writer, so it’s not a difficult read or overly scientific. It’s definitely appropriate for the Eclectic Reading List.

You can learn more about the author and this book on his website. Here’s a link to the Wiki page for this book. Below is a video from a presentation at Google about his book and the topic of psychedelics.

Featured image from Penguin Random House.

A Brief History Of Time – Stephen Hawking

stephen hawking book cover

The history of the universe told through the lens of science and physics

Stephen Hawking was a brilliant theoretical physicist who dedicated his career to studying and teaching physics. “A Brief History Of Time” is his most popular book, selling over 10 million copies and has been translated into more than 30 languages. It is a remarkable book because he is able to explain incredibly difficult concepts (quantum mechanics, general relativity, cosmology) in everyday language. It is written in a way that doesn’t require a physics degree to understand.

I’m not going to do a very long breakdown of the book, because it will be pretty clear from this short list of topics if you’ll be interested or not. But please don’t click away until you at least read my recommendation. Yes, this is a science book, but I feel that it is really important, even for folks who don’t work in scientific fields.

Topics Covered

The history of scientific discovery: the author traces the history of the study of astronomy, going back as far as the ancient Greek philosophers.

Gravity and Space/Time: how does gravity work and how is it related to time? Hawking dives into the implications of Einstein’s theories of general and special relativity and what this means on a universal scale.

Black holes: it just wouldn’t be complete if Dr Hawking didn’t talk about the topic that he’s most know for! This section of the book is my favorite part.

The beginning of the universe: how did the universe get started? What does this mean for the future and our history? There is a bit of speculation and philosophizing from the author here that is out of scope for the book, but worth considering.

The quantum world: Dr Hawking explains the strangeness of the smallest particles in the universe and the forces that control how they work together. It’s a really, really weird world that we live in.


I love this book. I’m fascinated with all things science, especially things like black holes, how the universe works, and the weirdness of the quantum world. You don’t have to be a nerd to appreciate this book, but it helps. It was a brave undertaking to try and write a book that explains some really deep stuff in layman’s terms. Some have criticized it for not being scientific enough. Others say it is still too technical for the average person to comprehend. You can’t please everyone!

The one thing I will note is that I’m not entirely certain how up-to-date all the information is in this book. There has been a flurry of recent research, scientific observation, and breaking news on topics like dark matter, the weight of the Higgs Boson particle, and gravitational waves. I’m not sure how much (if at all) such info might conflict with some of the theories that Dr Hawking provides in this book, but it is something to keep in mind. There is a newer book called A Briefer History of Time that is supposedly a bit more refined, abridged, and updated that was published in 2005 that you may want to check out first. I haven’t yet, so I can’t comment on it.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Here’s a link to the Wiki page on the book.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Bessel van der Kolk

the body keeps the score book cover

Exploring the neuroscience of the brain-body connection in mental health

In “The Body Keeps the Score”, Dr Bessel van der Kolk shares what he’s learned as a researcher and mental health professional in caring for patients who have experienced trauma. The author covers the medical history of how we have treated those dealing with mental health conditions, what we’ve learned along the way, and he shares many patient stories that help to illustrate the topic.

“Being able to feel safe with other people is probably
​the single most important aspect of mental health;
safe connections are fundamental to
meaningful and satisfying lives.”

“Neuroscience research shows that
the only way we can change ​the way we feel
is by becoming aware of our inner experience
​and learning to befriend what is going on inside ourselves.” ​

Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.

Trigger warning: this book doesn’t go into graphic detail, but it does cover topics that may be disturbing to some readers who have experienced trauma. For example, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse are discussed, as is addiction and self-harm.

Topics Discussed

Adverse Childhood Experiences – also known as ACEs and discussed in a previously reviewed book Supernormal – are traumatic events or lived experience of abuse and neglect throughout childhood. The higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to develop chronic conditions (mental and physical) later in life. Dr van der Kolk pays special attention to how this relates to psychiatric diseases like PTSD, anxiety, and depression.

The Science of Trauma – Dr. van der Kolk goes over the history of how our understanding of trauma has changed over the years, including the neuroscience of how the brain processes threats, danger, abuse, and trauma. The development of advanced imaging techniques (fMRI and PET scans) has allowed scientists to see which parts of the brain are over or underactive during various mental states.

Treatment Options For Psychiatric Disorders

Talk Therapy – the ability to talk about our experiences and problems has been shown to help many people. Perhaps the more studied of these is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but there are many others that are covered in the book.

Yoga – connecting with your bodily senses in a meaningful way is what yoga is all about. This is a way to integrate physical activity into healing the mind.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – this type of therapy uses eye movement while processing negative events from your life (trauma) and the feelings and emotions connected to it.

Internal Family Systems – also known as Self Leadership, is a system of therapy that helps you to look at how your conscious mind is a collection of sub-personalities. IFS can be used to evaluate each perspective/personality in the system and address negative, harmful, overly critical, or violent ones. (I didn’t do a very good job of explaining it here, which is why you should read the chapter about it!)

Neurofeedback – this type of treatment uses electrodes on your head to detect the electrical signals happening in your brain. With these on, the patient then goes through guided imagery to learn how to engage parts of the brain that are helpful for focusing attention, calming anxiety, and processing emotions.


This is a really, really important book that I highly recommend. I appreciate how the author explains the science and research while mixing in patient stories to help illustrate the concepts and topics. Some of the patient stories were too painful for me to read and I’m guessing that anyone with a history of trauma or abuse may have a similar experience. I especially recommend this book to anyone who works in healthcare and for those who have friends or family that have experienced trauma.

You can find the book on Amazon here. Click this link to go to the author’s website.

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain – Oliver Sacks

oliver sacks musicophilia book cover

Science meets art, neurology meets music in this fun book

Are you the type of person to carry a tune around in their head wherever you go? Some people are good at visual imagery, I have a very vivid auditory/musical mind. Dr Sacks is the author of some great books, but this one is my favorite from him because I am also a lover of music. Music is almost magical to me. It has the power to move us in a deep way that is beyond words. It even has healing power. The author explores this and much more in Musicophilia.

Music can move us to the heights or depths of emotion. It can persuade us to buy something, or remind us of our first date. It can lift us out of depression when nothing else can. It can get us dancing to its beat. But the power of music goes much, much further. Indeed, music occupies more areas of our brain than language does–humans are a musical species.

From Dr Sack’s official website –


Case Studies – The author covers cases studies of musical savants as well as things he has learned from many of his own patients over the years. He shares stories of how music is used as a tool for therapy and healing and stories of the blessings and curses of expert musical ability. He was there during the beginnings of music therapy and speaks to how it can help patients with a variety of conditions.

Humans are a musical species – Dr Sacks explains some of the theories out there about the origin of language and makes a case that music came before language, not the other way around. Why does music play such a major role in almost every documented culture? What is it in us that is drawn to music, rhythm, and how it draws people together.

Musical hallucinations – I never had heard of this, but it is very much a real phenomenon and it is underreported. People who once were able to hear but have since become deaf often develop musical hallucinations. The same is true for blind people experiencing visual hallucinations. The neuroscience behind it is interesting, though it does make some folks question their sanity, even though there’s a perfectly good explanation for it.

Pathology – Dr Sacks also covers more rare disorders like amusica. Some people are unable to differentiate between tones, rhythms, melodies. This can be congenital or acquired (stroke, head injury, illness). Absolute pitch is much more common in populations that have a tonal language (like Mandarin) and for people who are blind.


If you are a music lover who is interested in learning more about the science behind it and how it can go right (and wrong), you should check this out. While reading this book, I went on a deep rabbit trail in checking out the musical savants listed in this book. It’s so fascinating to me. Dr Sacks has a unique writing style and can tend to ramble on a bit in some of his books (not to mention excessive footnotes!), but I really enjoyed all of that in Musicophilia.

To Learn More

You can find the book on Amazon here. You can find out more about Dr Oliver Sacks on his website. You can learn more about the NOVA production that features a few of the case studies in this book here.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teaching of Plants – Robin Wall Kimmerer

robin wall kimmerer braiding sweetgrass book

Equal parts memoir, science book, and essays about Native American wisdom

Braiding Sweetgrass is a really unique book. Robin Wall Kimmerer, the author, weaves together the knowledge and wisdom she’s gained as a scientist, professor, mother, and member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. It might help to view this book as a series of essays on different topics. There are certain themes that tie everything together, but each chapter has its own narrative, structure, and topics. This is a fascinating book that is very informative and calls you to join in instead of lecturing you about topics.


Indigenous culture – Dr Kimmerer speaks from a place of identity with her dual citizenship, American and Potawatomi worlds as they collide and intersect. She shares the deep wisdom traditions of many tribes who are native to the Americas, long before the conquistadors and colonizers showed up.

Persecution and genocide – She takes a deep look at what really happened in our history as a country and the treatment of the Indigenous people as the United States expanded and grew.

Nature – Dr Kimmerer explains in several areas just how much we can learn from nature if we would just slow down and listen. She shares scientific insights about the biology of plants and how we can take these scientific principles and apply them to our daily life.

Mindfulness – Our busy American culture is often so preoccupied with jumping from task to task that we rarely have the chance to slow down and think about what we’re doing and why. Part of the wisdom from Indigenous people is being more mindful about how we interact with the earth and each other. Are we caught up in consumer culture? Do we realize the impact this has on our environment, our bodies, and our minds? Can we slow down and practice gratitude and thankfulness? What do we do with the tension between honoring life and consuming it for our benefit?


If you are interested in botany, biology, gardening, and connecting with nature, I think you’ll be delighted with this book. The science nerd part of me loved those chapters. If you would like to learn more about the true history of how Native Americans were treated in the US, you will find this book informative and also heartbreaking. If you enjoy memoirs and storytelling, Braiding Sweetgrass will full your cup with her stories of growing up, balancing between 2 cultures, raising a family, and pursuing a career while discovering her identity all over again.

This is a powerful book. It has the power to change your perspective. I know it helped to change mine. Check it out and let me know what you think.

You can find the book on Amazon here.

Into the Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores the Border Between Life and Death – Adrian Owen

adrian owen into the gray zone book

A science book that forces you to consider philosophical and ethical questions

I first picked this book up because I was curious about learning more regarding consciousness and the science behind it. This book delivered on that, but it also opened so many other doors of thought that I didn’t realize were there. What is consciousness exactly? What does it mean to have a good quality of life? What if we’re wrong in our assumptions about these questions? Who gets to decide? These questions go beyond the scientific method.

Science and storytelling

What I like most about this book is that it isn’t just a science book or textbook. Adrian Owen is a neuroscientist and researcher, but he also does a great job of telling the story of his discoveries and the patients he encounters along the way. It can all too easy to dismiss or gloss over data points and numbers, but when you hear the stories that people have gone through it makes you stop and put yourself in their place. While the science part really is fascinating, you don’t have to be a neuroscientist to benefit from (or understand) this book. The stories of Kate, Juan, and Scott will stick with you for a long time.

It turns out, we were wrong about consciousness

Spoiler alert: many people who were previously thought to be non-responsive or in a vegetative state are actually aware of what’s going on. Up to 20%, it appears. This raises all kinds of ethical questions about how we treat people who are non-responsive or appear to be in a vegetative state. Until the science improves and we can truly know who is conscious and who isn’t, should we change how we handle these cases from a medical standpoint? Are we being ethical in making decisions about care?


If you have a science background and are interested in the study of the mind and consciousness, you really should read this book. Those who are on the fence or are willing to reconsider their stances on the right to live or right to die movements will also find this book interesting, if not challenging. I definitely recommend this book. It is thought-provoking and doesn’t pretend to have all the answers. In fact, it will likely leave you with more questions. If you’re okay with that, check this one out.

You can find “Into The Gray Zone” on Amazon here and find out more about the book and the author here.