Ultimate guide to buying your Neuroscience Textbooks

Neuroscience concerns itself with all aspects of the brain, from genes and neurons all the way up to neural networks and behavior. The variety of topics within neuroscience is thus necessarily broad. We’ve already listed a few neuroscience textbooks in clinical neuroanatomy and neuroeconomics and decision-making, but here we’ve collected all the major neuroscience textbooks from genes to circuits to behavior. We’ve split our recommendations according to the level (undergraduate or graduate) and course you might be taking. After all, a medical student probably has little use for computational neuroscience! For a complete list of textbooks in neuroscience, look here.

First we list our favourite textbooks for specific undergraduate and graduate courses. We also discuss how to get your textbooks as cheap as possible, or even for free! And lastly we list 8 books that are a good buy for anyone.

The best Neuroscience textbooks for your undergraduate and graduate course

We’ve gone through all the major neuroscience textbooks and distilled those that best suit your course needs. For example, we know that Kandel is too detailed for an undergraduate course, and medics often have little use for computational neuroscience content. We’ll put up more detailed reviews of all these books in due time, but if you’re just looking to buy the best book for your neuroscience course, look no further! Click on the book’s cover to find its price on Amazon.


Cellular neuroscience

Nicholls' neuroscience textbook is already in its 5th edition and has stood the test of time. It is particularly preferred by undergrads in biology as well as psychology for its carefully laid-out illustrations. Although Bear's Neuroscience used to be the preferred undergrad neuroscience textbook, Bear hasn't released a new edition since 2006. Nicholls is much more up-to-date and has done a good job keeping up with developments in the field.

For a more thorough account of the field go to the Bible of neuroscience, which is undoubtedly Kandel. Recently updated and unparalled in breadth and depth, this is the reference for any neuroscience graduate student. Sadly, it's also a physically enormous book to carry around, so if you anticipate this to be a problem perhaps consider the excellent (and thinner) graduate textbook Purves 5th edition.
Nicholls 5th edition
From Neuron to Brain
Nicholls, 5th edition, 2011
621 pages

Table of Contents
Kandel principles of neural science</td>
<td > 5th edition
Principles of Neural Science
Kandel, 5th edition, 2012
1760 pages

Table of Contents

Cognitive neuroscience

Garrett is a great first introduction to the link between cognition and neurons, especially thanks to its narrative rather than dry style of presenting ideas and experiments. If you prefer bullet points over stories, or you already have prior knowledge on the topic, perhaps go for Carlson's (11th edition!) Physiology of Behavior.

If you're a grad student, the choice is easy: Gazzaniga has just released a new version of the acclaimed Cognitive Neuroscience, and there's no other cognitive neuroscience textbook that comes close in terms of breadth and expertise.
Garrett Brain & Behavior: An Introduction to Biological Psychology
Brain & Behavior: An Introduction to Biological Psychology
Garrett, 4th edition, 2014
656 pages

Table of Contents
Gazzaniga Cognitive Neuroscience
Cognitive Neuroscience, the Biology of the Mind
Gazzaniga, 4th edition, 2013
752 pages

Table of Contents

Medical school

There's really no getting around Young's Basic Clinical Neuroscience, which recently came out with a new edition. It's great for both young and old medics, covers anatomy and neurophysiology, and is rich in its links between basic physiology and pathophysiology. Note, however, that if your neuroscience course in medical school is about basic (not clinical) neuroscience, then you're probably better off going for Nicholls or even Kandel (see above). Young Basic Clinical Neuroscience
Basic Clinical Neuroscience
Young, 3rd edition, 2015
464 pages

Table of Contents
Young Basic Clinical Neuroscience
Basic Clinical Neuroscience
Young, 3rd edition, 2015
464 pages

Table of Contents


For an introduction to neuroanatomy you can't beat the concise (and cheap!) High Yield Neuroanatomy. However, don't expect excessive detail, or detailed clinical cases. Rather, it'll serve as a good overview which might be all you need for your course, and you gain access to a website with USMLE-style (US medics exam) questions.

If you require more detail, the Head and Neuroanatomy atlas from the Thieme series is our pick. It's a bit more expensive, but it'll last you much longer than the High Yield book, plus you get access to the Winking Skull website, where you can test yourself and gain access to a wider array of images.
High-Yield(TM) Neuroanatomy
High-Yield(TM) Neuroanatomy
Fix, 5th edition, 2015
208 pages
no TOC available
Head and Neuroanatomy
Head and Neuroanatomy (THIEME Atlas of Anatomy)
Schuenke, 2nd edition, 2016
600 pages

sort-of TOC

Clinical neuroanatomy

First published in 1998, Woolsey's is in its 3rd edition and covers the entire central nervous system including pathologies, blood supply, and magnetic resonance imaging maps. Although good for early clinical work, at 272 pages it falls short of the much more extensive and in-depth Blumenfeld atlas' 975 pages. If you're willing the spend the extra cash, Blumenfeld will last you your entire career, and has excellent re-sale value if you ever decide to sell the book thanks to being so well-known in the community. The Brain Atlas: A Visual Guide to the Human Central Nervous System
The Brain Atlas
Woolsey, 3rd edition, 2007
Neuroanatomy Through Clinical Cases
Neuroanatomy Through Clinical Cases
Blumenfeld, 2nd edition, 2011

Computational neuroscience

The field is absolutely daunting to the mathematically-impaired, so for most undergrads it's crucial that a textbook provides a gentle introduction. Trappenberg does just that. It links computational concepts to neuroanatomy (such as with neural networks), and examples and exercises that can be done in MatLab are provided on the author's website.

Expect no such mercy from Dayan and Abbott's Theoretical Neuroscience. These two authorities in the field dive right in with the maths, and I would recommend anyone lacking the necessary engineering mathematics skills to stay away from this textbook. If you do possess these skills, expect to be rewarded with the most thorough overview of computational neuroscience to be divulged in a single textbook.
Trappenberg Fundamentals of Computational Neuroscience
Fundamentals of Computational Neuroscience
Trappenberg, 2nd edition, 2010
Dayan Theoretical Neuroscience
Theoretical Neuroscience
Dayan & Abbott, 1st edition, 2005


This developing field hasn't yet reached a stage of maturity to have an accessible undergrad textbook. Glimcher's recently released 2nd edition Neuroeconomics is great for those with prior knowledge of either neuroscience or economics. It collects the most recent research by leaders in the field, but exactly for that reason covers many findings that have yet to solidify into a deep understanding of underlying principles. Certainly recommended for those pursuing graduate degrees in neuroeconomics though! none recommended, go read Scholarpedia Glimcher Neuroeconomics
Glimcher & Fehr, 2nd edition, 2013

Buying your neuroscience textbook on the cheap

Latest-edition textbooks can easily run you over $100 dollars per book. But there could be a number of reasons why you don’t want to buy a new textbook:

  • The most recent edition of your neuroscience textbook of choice isn’t that recent, and there are plenty of second-hand books being sold online.
  • You only need the book for a short period of time, e.g. for a single course or exam.
  • You’re happy with an older edition of a textbook. This could apply to anatomy or basic biology books, but less so for state-of-the-art topics which have seen a lot of development in recent years.

You can save a lot of money if you spend a little more time searching for a second-hand version. Though you probably know of a couple of ways, we’ve listed a few options to buy cheap textbooks with some personal comments on why they might be a good/bad idea.

Amazon: second-hand neuroscience textbooks

Amazon not only sells new books but also used books. The great thing is that these orders for used books are often fulfilled by Amazon themselves, making it more reliable, or by registered sellers who have been rated by others. For example, here you find all the used (or returned) Kandel 5th edition books. Despite the 5th edition being very recent, you can already shave off $20 from the New price. Make sure, however, to only buy from sellers with >95% rating; it’s not worth the hassle if they mess up your order. For other books, for example Hal Blumenfeld’s Neuroanatomy through Clinical cases, it’s pretty pointless: the used price is equal to the sell price!

Amazon: get the best deal on new textbooks

If you’re not in a rush to buy your new textbook and are set on getting an unsoiled one, there’s a few ways to get the best deal over at Amazon. Firstly, go over to Chintzee (or Chintzee UK) and set up a price alert for your textbook. As soon as the price drops, you’ll get an email and you can save a couple of bucks. Another way to save some money on your new book is to go for a slightly less sturdy version of the book (e.g. Loose leaf instead of Hardcover, which would save you about $35 on Purves’ Neuroscience). If you like the idea of not having to carry around your hefty textbooks, save yourself about $20 and back issues down the line by getting the digital version of the book. And make sure you sign up for Amazon’s free Prime program, which they’ve sweetened up for students: free shipping and the occasional deal on books.

Buy your textbook from a textbook marketplace

Any student who’s had to move house with a large collection of textbooks knows how much these books get in the way after you finish university. This is why many people try and get rid of them online, either through reselling on Amazon (see this Lifehacker post on how to sell your own book on amazon)  or on any of the many market places. Here’s a few to consider:

  • eBay: huge collection, reliable, but given the size of eBay it’ll be hard to find a surprising deal.
  • Valore Textbooks (US only): a dedicated textbook marketplace, have up to hundreds of books ready to ship, and can give you money for your old textbooks. Again, not likely to find an awesome deal because the site knows the going rate for each book, but reliable nonetheless.
  • Abe books (US, or UK): aggregates books from local bookshops. Not as easy to browse, and be careful not to buy old editions (1985 edition for Kandel anyone?) but you might find a steal there.
  • Waterstones (UK only): the famous and beloved Waterstones also does second-hand. As before, be careful what edition you end up buying and the condition of your book (the site’s a little chaotic) but it does the trick if you’re in the UK.

Spend £/$/€ 0,00 on your neuroscience textbook (a.k.a. free textbooks)

If you’re seriously strapped for cash or just hate the thought of having a paper book (it’s the 21st century after all), some academics are putting together free online neuroscience textbooks and similar resources. Here’s a few:

  • Neuroscience Online: this is the most advanced and famous open-access textbook, in constant development by well-respected academics from the University of Texas. A wonderful initiative.
  • Neuroscience Tutorial: this collection of cognitive neuroscience information was originally put together for a graduate course at Columbia University by Dr Mangels, who coincidentally recommends Gazzaniga. The website is pretty old, but can’t look a gift horse in the mouth…
  • Wikipedia and Scholarpedia are excellent resources for many things neuroscience. Scholarpedia was written by Dale Purves himself!

Eight best-sellers in neuroscience textbooks

1. Principles of Neural Science, Fifth Edition by Eric R. Kandel

The Fifth edition of this book offers an accessible insight into all fundamental themes in neuroscience. The book covers the entire range of neuroscience, from molecules and cells to anatomic structures and systems, to the senses and cognitive functions. This is supported by more than 900 precise, full-color illustrations. The author is the world-famous Prof. Kandel, Nobel-prize winner for his work on the Aplysia snail. He’s also written an autobiography, which is here on amazon and reviewed here.

2. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are by Joseph LeDoux

The book is an introduction to neurology from the viewpoint of the synapse and associated biochemistry, and thus necessarily more specific than Kandel’s Principles of Neural Science. LeDoux’s expertise in the field is experimental research into fear circuits in the brain, and this forms the bulk of the examples. It is not the first book in the field that i would recommend to someone just getting interested, as it’s a little hard going if you have no idea of the jargon. But it is written for the educated laymen, doesn’t require a college degree to grasp, and is worth it if you’re looking for a book specifically about the synapse. Coincidentally, LeDoux also has a band with some other NY-based neuroscientists called The Amygdaloids.

3. Neuroscience, Fifth Edition by Dale Purves

Neuroscience by Dale Purves is a remarkably well-organized and well-written text. It is highly accessible and easy to follow, which is impressive given the amount of detail and depth it provides. Explanations of complex concepts are accompanied by easy-to-follow graphics that enhance understanding, and just skimming the graphics would give you a good feel of the material. Choosing between this and Kandel’s (in case you need an all-purpose text book), go for whichever one has the most recent version.

4. Theoretical Neuroscience: Computational and Mathematical Modeling of Neural Systems by Peter Dayan

This book was the first to really bring together theoretical, computational neuroscience with the empirical neurosciences. Since its publication this link between theory and empiricism has gotten more relevant to the field, and this book provides a great albeit challenging introduction. Expect to suffer (a little) if you lack a quantitative background. Although not covered separately, if you’re looking for an introduction to behavioral neuroscience, try this general book on computational modelling of behavior, or this book specifically on Reinforcement Learning.

5. Principles of Neural Development by Dale Purves

This book covers the field of developmental neurobiology, from general development to specific details, from simple functions to complicated ones, from systematic to cellular to molecular level. For a beginner in the field this book provides you with a thorough background of the field and will provide inspiration. For the professionals, this book provides a thorough review whilst never getting stuck in unnecessary detail. Although I’d recommend Dale Purves’ more general Neuroscience textbook if you want to learn about the brain in general, if developmental neuroscience is your field then go for this textbook.

6. Fundamental Neuroscience by Michael J. Zigmond

This textbook is a very detailed and very up-to-date exposition of Neuroscience, and in my view, for the more advanced student it is one of the best books out there. Avoid this book if you’re just getting into neuroscience though, and go for Purves or Kandel (see above). If you are taking an entry-level Neuroscience course you are likely to be overwhelmed by the amount of detail. However, if you’re at the late-undergraduate or post-graduate level, this book will provide you with some highlights, in particular in the vision neuroscience parts of the book.

7. Concise Text of Neuroscience by Robert E. Kingsley

Concise Text of Neuroscience aims to provide the medical student with a relevant knowledge of the main topics in neuroscience, linked to clinical neuroscience. The neuroanatomy is described with the aid of illustrations which are crystal clear. Clinical sections consider case histories which help the reader to apply the acquired knowledge to realistic situations. The appendices cover neuro-embryology, neurological examination, neurological imaging, and a simple MRI atlas. Though not as thorough as Kandel, Purves, or especially Zigmond, this book honors its name: it is concise, and ideal for the (medical) student who’s short on time and rich in topics they need to know about.

8. Neurons and Networks: An Introduction to Neuroscience by John E. Dowling

This book is many a student’s favorite thanks to the excellent drawings and clear explanatory writing. However, I would recommend going for Kandel or Purves unless you can’t get your hands on those, or if you find Dowling as a bargain somewhere.