Cover image for Unthinkable : an extraordinary journey through the world's strangest brains / Helen Thomson.
Unthinkable : an extraordinary journey through the world's strangest brains / Helen Thomson.
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 2018

Physical Description:
275 pages ; 24 cm


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
612.82 THO Book Adult General Collection

On Order



An Amazon Best Nonfiction Book of the Month

Indiebound Bestseller

Award-winning science writer Helen Thomson unlocks the biggest mysteries of the human brain by examining nine extraordinary cases

Our brains are far stranger than we think. We take it for granted that we can remember, feel emotion, navigate, empathise and understand the world around us, but how would our lives change if these abilities were dramatically enhanced - or disappeared overnight?

Helen Thomson has spent years travelling the world, tracking down incredibly rare brain disorders. In Unthinkable she tells the stories of nine extraordinary people she encountered along the way. From the man who thinks he's a tiger to the doctor who feels the pain of others just by looking at them to a woman who hears music that's not there, their experiences illustrate how the brain can shape our lives in unexpected and, in some cases, brilliant and alarming ways.

Story by remarkable story, Unthinkable takes us on an unforgettable journey through the human brain. Discover how to forge memories that never disappear, how to grow an alien limb and how to make better decisions. Learn how to hallucinate and how to make yourself happier in a split second. Find out how to avoid getting lost, how to see more of your reality, even how exactly you can confirm you are alive. Think the unthinkable.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Thomson, a writer for New Scientist magazine, spent two years interviewing people with unusual neurological disorders, and here shares nine of the most fascinating stories she heard. The interviewees include a woman from Denver who gets lost in her own house; a man from Bilbao, Spain, whose synesthesia gives him the impression of seeing other people's "auras"; and a London math teacher prone to musical hallucinations. Rather than focusing on the disorders, Thomson places the people at the forefront, exploring their varying responses to their conditions and intense struggles to live "normal" lives. Lay readers will value her ability to render scientific terms and theories accessible, and her corresponding skill as a storyteller. In one particularly memorable episode, the author travels to the United Arab Emirates to meet with a 40-year-old man suffering from lycanthropy, a rare syndrome involving delusions of transformation-in this case, into a tiger. She also visits a British woman who suffers from depersonalization-the feeling of becoming detached from oneself-and chats with a man who once believed himself to be dead. Throughout, Thomson emphasizes "we are our brains," convincingly showing that these strange minds belong to people from whom much can be learned, in a book that will please fans of the late Oliver Sacks. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Scientific revelations often occur when results do not fit within accepted paradigms. This is one reason neuroscientists research outliers; studying people with unusual brains has led to some of their greatest findings. Thomson, an award-winning science journalist, tells the story of nine people with extraordinary brains. But rather than focusing on the science, Thomson travels around the world to tell stories of the consequences of unusual cognition on lives. Her subjects include a man who believes he is a tiger, a man who for years believed he was dead, and a woman completely detached from both her internal and external worlds. The author often includes a tip about how the story, however strange it may seem, relates more generally to either humans or all mammals. While recognizing the challenges that each of the individuals face, this work is ultimately a celebration of variance within human experience. Indeed, the book may change your perception of what it means to be human. VERDICT Thomson has a gift for making the complex and strange understandable and relatable. Oliver Sacks is noted as an inspiration and, indeed, this book will appeal to his many fans.-Beth Dalton, Littleton, CO © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Introduction-The Strange Life of the Brainp. 1
Never Forgetting a Momentp. 17
Being Permanently Lostp. 45
Seeing Aurasp. 73
Switching Personalitiesp. 99
An Endless Hallucinationp. 129
Turning into a Tigerp. 147
Becoming Unrealp. 171
Waking Up Deadp. 189
Feeling Other People's Painp. 215
Conclusion-Nothing Is Unthinkablep. 241
Acknowledgmentsp. 253
Notes and Sourcesp. 255
Indexp. 265