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Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain [Kindle Edition]

David Eagleman
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (328 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $5.96 (37%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

If the conscious mind—the part you consider to be you—is just the tip of the iceberg, what is the rest doing?
 
In this sparkling and provocative new book, the renowned neuroscientist David Eagleman navigates the depths of the subconscious brain to illuminate surprising mysteries: Why can your foot move halfway to the brake pedal before you become consciously aware of danger ahead? Why do you hear your name being mentioned in a conversation that you didn’t think you were listening to? What do Ulysses and the credit crunch have in common? Why did Thomas Edison electrocute an elephant in 1916? Why are people whose names begin with J more likely to marry other people whose names begin with J? Why is it so difficult to keep a secret? And how is it possible to get angry at yourself—who, exactly, is mad at whom?
 
Taking in brain damage, plane spotting, dating, drugs, beauty, infidelity, synesthesia, criminal law, artificial intelligence, and visual illusions, Incognito is a thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions.




From the Hardcover edition.


Editorial Reviews

Review

“A stunning exploration of the 'we' behind the 'I'. Eagleman reveals, with his typical grace and eloquence, all the neural magic tricks behind the cognitive illusion we call reality.” –Jonah Lehrer,  author of How We Decide

“Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness.” –New Yorker

“Your mind is an elaborate trick, and mastermind David Eagleman explains how the trick works with great lucidity and amazement. Your mind will thank you.” –Kevin Kelly, Wired Magazine

“A fun read by a smart person for smart people…it will attract a new generation to ponder their inner workings.” –New Scientist

“Written in clear, precise language, the book is sure to appeal to readers with an interest in psychology and the human mind, but it will also please people who just want to know, with a little more clarity, what is going on inside their own skulls.” –Booklist 



From the Hardcover edition.

Review

A Boston Globe Best Book of the Year

“Original and provocative. . . . A smart, captivating book that will give you a prefrontal workout.”
Nature 
 
“A popularizer of impressive gusto . . . [Eagleman] aims, grandly, to do for the study of the mind what Copernicus did for the study of the stars. . . . Incognito proposes a grand new account of the relationship between consciousness and the brain. It is full of dazzling ideas, as it is chockablock with facts and instances.”
The New York Observer
 
“Eagleman engagingly sums up recent discoveries about the unconscious processes that dominate our mental life. . . . [He] is the kind of guy who really does make being a neuroscientist look like fun.”
The New York Times
 
“Although Incognito is fast-paced, mind-bending stuff, it’s a book for regular folks. Eagleman does a brilliant job refining heavy science into a compelling read. He is a gifted writer.”
Houston Chronicle 

“Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness.”
The New Yorker  
 
Incognito does the right thing by diving straight into the deep end and trying to swim. Eagleman, by imagining the future so vividly, puts into relief just how challenging neuroscience is, and will be.”
The Boston Globe
 
“Appealing and persuasive.”
The Wall Street Journal
 
“Your mind is an elaborate trick, and mastermind David Eagleman explains how the trick works with great lucidity and amazement. Your mind will thank you.”
Wired
 
“A fun read by a smart person for smart people. . . . It will attract a new generation to ponder their inner workings.”
New Scientist

“Fascinating. . . . Eagleman has the ability to turn hard science and jargon into interesting and relatable prose, illuminating the mind’s processes with clever analogies and metaphors.”
Salt Lake City Weekly
 
“Touches on some of the more intriguing cul-de-sacs of human behavior.”
Santa Cruz Sentinel
 
“Startling. . . . It’s a book that will leave you looking at yourself—and the world—differently.”
Austin American-Statesman
 
“Sparkling and provocative. . . . A thrilling subsurface exploration of the mind and all its contradictions.”
The Courier-Journal
 
“After you read Eagleman’s breezy treatment of the brain, you will marvel at how much is illusory that we think is real, and how we sometimes function on autopilot without consciously knowing what is happening. . . . This is a fascinating book.”
The Advocate
 
“A pleasure to read. . . . If a reader is looking for a fun but illuminating read, Incognito is a good choice. With its nice balance between hard science and entertaining anecdotes, it is a good alternative to the usual brainless summer blockbusters.”
Deseret News
 
Incognito is fun to read, full of neat factoids and clever experiments. . . . Eagleman says he’s looking to do for neuroscience what Carl Sagan did for astrophysics, and he’s already on his way.”
Texas Monthly
 
“Eagleman presents difficult neuroscience concepts in an energetic, casual voice with plenty of analogies and examples to ensure that what could easily be an overwhelming catalog of facts remains engaging and accessible. . . . The ideas in Eagleman’s book are well-articulated and entertaining, elucidated with the intelligent, casual tone of an enthusiastic university lecturer.”
—TheMillions.com
 
“Written in clear, precise language, the book is sure to appeal to readers with an interest in psychology and the human mind, but it will also please people who just want to know, with a little more clarity, what is going on inside their own skulls.”
—Booklist

 
“A stunning exploration of the we behind the I. Eagleman reveals, with his typical grace and eloquence, all the neural magic tricks behind the cognitive illusion we call reality.”
—Jonah Lehrer, author of How We Decide

“A fascinating, dynamic, faceted look under the hood of the conscious mind. . . . Equal parts entertaining and illuminating, the case studies, examples and insights in Incognito are more than mere talking points to impressed at the next dinner party, poised instead to radically shift your understanding of the world, other people, and your own mind.”
—Brain Pickings 

“Eagleman engagingly sums up recent discoveries about the unconscious processes that dominate our mental life.”
—The New York Times Book Review  
 
“Fascinating. . . . Eagleman has the ability to turn hard science and jargon into interesting and relatable prose, illuminating the mind’s processes with clever analogies and metaphors.”
Salt Lake City Weekly
 
“A great beach read.“
Philadelphia City Paper

Incognito feels like learning the secrets of a magician. In clear prose, Eagleman condenses complex concepts and reinforces his points through analogies, pop culture, current events, optical illusions, anecdotes, and fun facts.”
—Frontier Psychiatrist 
 
“One of those books that could change everything.”
—Sam Snyder, blog
 
“Buy this book. The pithy observations, breezy language and wow-inducing anecdotes provide temporary pleasure, but the book’s real strength is in its staying power.“
Science News 
 
“A whirlwind, high-definition look at the neural underpinnings of our everyday thinking and perception . . . fascinating.”
—Brettworks.com

“Eagleman embodies what is fascinating, fun, and hopeful about modern neuroscience.”
—Brainstorm.com  
 
“After you read Eagleman’s breezy treatment of the brain, you will marvel at how much is illusory that we think is real, and how we sometimes function out autopilot without consciously knowing what is happening. . . . This is a fascinating book.”
—The Advocate 
 
“Funny, gripping and often shocking . . . Eagleman writes great sentences of the sort that you might be inclined to read to those in your general vicinity.”
—bookotron.com 

Incognito reads like a series of fascinating vignettes, offering plenty of pauses for self-reflection. Eagleman’s anecdotes are funny and easily tie to the concepts he explains. Moreover, his enthusiasm for the subject is obvious and contagious.”
—Spectrum Culture 

Incognito is popular science at its best . . . beautifully synthesized.” —Boston Globe Best of 2011

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1,683 of 1,852 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Derivative and vague June 5, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Perhaps I shouldn't have read this book. I am a neuroscientist, and clearly this is meant for a lay audience, however I often enjoy such books for their concise synthesis of research and the freedom they give the author to speculate. Unfortunately it became clear quickly that this would not be such a book - p.19 announces that the author is from the Malcolm Gladwell school of nonfiction "Why was Topsy the elephant electrocuted by Thomas Edison in 1919? ... is there a real Mel Gibson? ... why do strippers make more money at certain times of month?" Ask intriguing questions, link them with vague explanations, file them under a catchy one-word title, and voila NY Times bestseller. While I have little doubt that this book will do well commercially and be enjoyed by many, I cannot recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in neuroscience.

While chapter two is a solid introduction to perception as inference, it is downhill from there. It becomes clear that Eagleman is not interested in any systematic review of the unconscious factors that influence our decisions, but is merely interested in presenting flashy examples. This by itself wouldn't be so objectionable, if he had actually come up with interesting and novel examples, instead of simply reciting old standards and cribbing from other authors. Eagleman has borrowed so much of his material that V.S. Ramachandran should demand royalties. However, Eagleman apparently hasn't read Ramachandran carefully enough, as he references his paper "Why do gentlemen prefer blondes?", apparently unaware that the paper was satirical. How embarrassing.

Eagleman attempts to go beyond the flashy examples in Chapter 5, declaring that the brain is a "team of rivals." This reference to D.K.
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96 of 109 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book is not only fascinating, but beautifully written. An example: "Your consciousness is like a tiny stowaway on a transatlantic steamship, taking credit for the journey without acknowledging the massive engineering underfoot" (pg 4). To anyone interested in the mind, it will be an illuminating read, because even if you have heard of some of the individual experiments mentioned in this book, this book pulls them all together into a revealing exploration of what the non-conscious part of the brain does, and how this all relates to aware consciousness.

As I read it, I feel like I am watching an excellent science documentary series. It is the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time. However, a caveat: cognitive science and artificial intelligence are some of my areas, so I do not know how interesting the book will be as a popular science book for the general audience.

The book contains some proposals, predictions, and speculations that are not yet borne out. It makes some strong claims about what consciousness is not, and how it emerges from the activities of the non-aware parts of brain activity. I find this interesting, but to some, this may detract. It certainly sets the stage for future work.

The one chapter that did not work so well was where he speculated on the legal system and how our notions of punishment should be altered as a consequence of things learned about neurology. It was less grounded and just contained a lot of hand waving.

There was an interesting profile of the author recently published in New Yorker magazine (April 25, 2011, p. 54-65). For me it made the book even richer by having first read the profile, to understand the interests, motivations, and background of the author. If you are interested in reading this book, you may enjoy reading the New Yorker profile first.
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222 of 263 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind Blowing! April 17, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I thought I already knew quite a bit about neuroscience and human behavior, but I learned so much from this book that my mind is still reeling. While reading Incognito, I actually experienced the kind of spiraling mind-expansion that I haven't felt since...well...never mind....

The book, which is grounded in a massive amount of neuroscience research, is written in a conversational manner with lots of analogies and metaphors that make the information both accessible and retrievable. For example, consciousness is described as being like the CEO of a very large company, having little awareness of the details of day-to-day operation, responsible only for setting major goals and for adapting to major changes. While his metaphors become redundant at times (especially "team of rivals," a phrase repeated so often as to become irritating), the author is generally skilled at finding ways to explain complicated processes in a straightforward manner. He also creates opportunities for active engagement by providing optical illusions and mental exercises that help the reader actually experience some of the idiosyncrasies of the brain.

Since I had read some of the Amazon reviews before finishing the book, I was apprehensive about the penultimate chapter on the justice system and the concept of culpability. I thought the main point would be that nobody should be held culpable for misdeeds because so many of our actions are not under our control. But the author clearly states that "explanation does not equal exculpation." He does, however, suggest that although we don't currently have the scientific sophistication to find the biological underpinnings of all deviant behavior, we have learned enough to suggest that we will keep finding more explanations.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Feeling smarter and more aware after reading it.
Published 1 day ago by Eliza
5.0 out of 5 stars All in all a good read, with a grain of salt in separation ...
Very well written. Explains the fundamentals of our brains functional design, conscious and subconscious. Also gets into brain owners re-design of this functionality. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Rick F
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex topics presented in a wonderfully digestible manner
Second time I've read it. Felt good to go back and reinforce the basic principles be presents. A recommended read that has held up well.
Published 13 days ago by Daniel B. Curran
5.0 out of 5 stars Good Primer on the Brain
In Incognito Eagleman gives a solid overview of the current understanding of how the human brain works. Read more
Published 17 days ago by somebody
4.0 out of 5 stars I got both the book and audio book. The ...
I got both the book and audio book. The book is well written (and spoken) and provides lots of clear insight into how we think and why!
Published 26 days ago by Michael
5.0 out of 5 stars Desrcibes how the mind really works - with illusions and science to...
Incognito is a great book. My children also enjoyed the optical illusions and other examples that explain how the mind works.
Published 1 month ago by Jason Huebner
3.0 out of 5 stars Delivered but not new.
The book was delivered in a timely manner. The book was touted as being new, yet it was written in in several places and several of the pages were dog-eared. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Jennifer Rosenbaum
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant body of work
As a psycho therapist this body of research and information truly help you understand brain function and thinking. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Leland M. Olsen
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I read this book for a school project, and unlike any other book I have ever read for school, kinda liked.

Not too shabby David Eagleman, not too shabby.
Published 2 months ago by Alex
5.0 out of 5 stars Facts and intriguing speculations about our brain based on research to...
An extremely interesting presentation of facts based on research and speculation on where further research may take us (e.g. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Gareld R. Mceathron
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More About the Author

I'm a neuroscientist during the day and a writer at night. As a believer in the endeavor of popular science, I travel frequently to give public lectures. It has been an incredible pleasure to meet warm, funny, like-minded readers everywhere I visit.

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