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A Book Review of “Unthinkable” by Helen Thomson

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Rose is an enthusiastic writer and reader who publishes articles every Thursday. She enjoys all book genres, especially drama and fantasy.

What’s the Big Deal?

Unthinkable: An Extraordinary Journey Through the World’s Strangest Brains tells the story of nine people who harbor extremely peculiar mental states. The author, an English psychologist known as Helen Thomson, travels across multiple countries and continents to uncover the secrets of these unique cases. With evidence and experiments to back up her data, Thomson includes in each chapter the detailed experiences she had with each person as well as the psychology behind what they’re dealing with. Being both educational and interesting, Unthinkable is undoubtedly a book for the ages.

“Unthinkable” by Helen Thomson

“Unthinkable” by Helen Thomson

Book Summary

Thomson’s journey across the globe kicks off with this group: first, there’s Bob, who has an extraordinary autobiographical memory and can tell you exactly what he was doing on any day of his life; then Sharon, who is unable to build a mental map in her mind and gets lost constantly; and then there’s Rubén, who can’t help but see colored auras around every person based on their personality and how he feels about them.

After these three, Thomson visits more folks, starting with Tommy: the man who experienced a brain hemorrhage and, after the resulting surgery, completely and permanently changed personalities; then Sylvia, who is deaf, and yet hears the constant auditory hallucination of music being played wherever she goes; and Matar, who suffers from a condition called lycanthropy and believes he can turn into a tiger.

The final set of people Ms. Thomson chats with starts with Louise, who experiences severe depersonalization and feels as though she “becomes unreal”; Graham, who believed he had no brain and was dead for the better part of three years; and finally, Joel, the mirror-touch synesthete who literally feels everything, physical and emotional, that anyone else does while he’s looking at them. Sounds crazy, right? Not so fast. Read Unthinkable, and the unfathomable will become nothing more than unlikely.

Quick Facts

  • Author: Helen Thomson
  • Pages: 251
  • Genre: Nonfiction, psychology, biography
  • Ratings: 4/5 Goodreads, 7/10 GetAbstract
  • Release date: February 22, 2018
  • Publisher: HarperCollins

To Read or Not to Read?

I recommend this book if:

  • You like informational books
  • You have a curious mind and like learning new things
  • You’re interested in quick tips and tricks on how to bend your mind in surprising ways, e.g. believing you have a phantom limb or how to make yourself hallucinate
  • You’re interested in mental disturbance, disorder, or other areas of peculiarity in the mind
  • You want to expand your horizons with a book genre you may not have tried before, and discover things as you do it

Our inability to understand our own minds is the price we pay for the ability to question it in the first place.

— Helen Thomson, “Unthinkable”

Reviews

“Do we have free will, or are we just a function of our particular brain anatomy? As with the majority of what we learn in “Unthinkable,” it’s complex, and we don’t have nearly enough answers. Mostly, though, this book is a chef’s tasting menu of fascinating things about your brain—and a good one at that.” —The Washington Post

“A user-friendly tour of the brain and the curious things that go on inside of it, from splendidly practical visions to debilitating hallucinations.” —Kirkus Reviews

Helen Thomson, the book’s author

Helen Thomson, the book’s author

The Takeaway

In my opinion, Unthinkable was a worthwhile read. It was interesting and very smart, but not in a frustrating way—I understood everything that Thomson said. I think one of the best parts of the book was that Thomson’s passion and interest in the subject she writes about is patently clear throughout—she really believes that what she’s discovering can help people, and provide special insight into topics that others are too afraid to research. After reading her book and exploring her extensive sources, I believe she’s right.

If you’re interested, you can buy the book here.

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