Our Top 5 Books on Society and the Human Condition

12 August 2022

What does it mean to be human? And how are we shaped by society? We’ve selected our top five books from the Wellcome Collection that navigate the human condition and the way it intersects with society, from a deep-dive into what it means to be ‘normal’ to a fascinating exploration of our phobias and manias. Open your eyes to our vast and interesting human experience with our recommendations below.

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The Book of Phobias and Manias by Kate Summerscale (Publishing October)

Do you recoil in arachnophobic horror at the sight of a spider – or twitch with nomophobia when you misplace your mobile phone? In Kate Summerscale’s captivating A–Z compendium of phobias and manias, she deftly explores the past and present, the psychological and social, and the personal and the political, to shine a light on our obsessions and fears.




Exposed by Caroline Vout (Publishing September)

In this beautifully illustrated book, Cambridge Professor of Classics Caroline Vout explores the Greek and Roman body in all its (surprisingly human) glory. In this fascinating journey beyond ancient texts and marble statues, Exposed asks, where do we come from? What makes us different from gods and animals? And what happen to our bodies when we die?




Am I Normal? by Sarah Chaney (Out now)

Before the nineteenth century, the term ‘normal’ was rarely ever associated with human behaviour, instead used almost exclusively for maths. But from the 1830s, this branch of science took off across Europe and North America, with a proliferation of IQ tests, sex studies, a census of hallucinations – even a UK beauty map. This book is a surprising history of how the very notion of the normal came about and how it shaped us all, often while entrenching oppressive values.




Brainwashed by Daniel Pick (Out now)

In Brainwashed, historian and psychoanalyst Daniel Pick delves into the mysterious world of thought control. From the ‘brainwashed’ American POWs who chose to stay in Mao’s China rather than return to their homeland, to ISIS, TV advertising and online algorithms, this book is a fascinating exploration of brainwashing, shedding light on the ways in which we think about our minds and societies.




Something Out of Place by Eimear McBride (Out now)

Described as ‘formidable’ by Vogue, this essay from the award-winning author of A Girl is a Half-formed Thing unpicks the contradictory forces of disgust and objectification that control and shame women. From playground taunts of ‘only sluts do it’ but ‘virgins are frigid’, to ladette culture, and the arrival of ‘ironic’ porn, Eimear McBride looks at how this prejudicial messaging has played out in the past, and still surrounds us today.