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Lifelong learning is a blessing, and libraries encourage and facilitate it- after all, it is a core component of our mission!

At DC Public Library, we offer myriad resources for people who want to acquire new skills and strengthen old ones: We have immense digital collections for independent learning. We also offer classes in our Adult Learning Department, and access to design and crafting resources in our maker space, the LABS.

But lifelong learning is not just about acquiring new hobbies, knowledge, and skills. This is fundamentally about cultivating self-awareness, curiosity, diligence, and resilience. This selection of books explores these themes to give us a better understanding of how we engage in lifelong learning.

Some of these books are more broad and descriptive of mental processes and habit-formation, whereas others offer specific guidance and direction on how to be a more effective learner. Some books are more technical and others are more personal. The suggestion here is to find what works best for you. If you don't wish to follow the steps of a self-enrichment program, then feel free to skip those books. But if you prefer structure and measurable progress, then give them a try. Alternatively, we also included books that simply offer information about how the brain works, or inspiration from anecdotal accounts, if that is more appealing to you. At any rate, we want you to be inspired and motivated by the human ability to adapt, learn, and grow.


Book cover of Wiser. Gray field with graphic are of an eye.

Wiser, by Dilip Jeste

Dr. Jeste approaches the phenomenon of wisdom from a neuroscience perspective rather than the simple, traditional folk understanding that wisdom comes with age. This book offers a detailed survey of the literature and science behind the development of skill and intelligence. Written with cultural and historical sensitivity, the discussion of brain anatomy and function is fascinating and easy to follow- despite the thorough and detailed analysis of a complex topic.


Book cover of Beginners. Yellow field with three-part graphic of surfing.

Beginners, by Tom Vanderbilt

Inspired by his young daughter learning new things as a natural part of her childhood, veteran journalist Tom Vanderbilt embarked on a year-long quest to pursue new skills in chess, surfing, and singing to prove that it's never to late to take on new things, to be a "beginner". With flowing prose and candid humor, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and inspiring book.


Book cover of Make your brain work. Blue field with a maze graphic surrounding the title.

Make Your Brain Work, by Amy Brann 

This book approaches lifelong learning from a career coach perspective, and the author designed the book to be approachable and practical for busy professionals. Nevertheless, the insights into our brain functions, habits, and stress management are useful for anyone. If you don’t want the business examples and applications, feel free to skip them.


Book cover for Smarter Sharper thinking. Orange field with white text.

Smarter, Sharper Thinking by Jenny Brockis

Like Wiser, this book was also written by a doctor. And like Make Your Brain Work, it is aimed at a professional/business audience. The aim is to help people improve their performance at work, but the concepts and tactics are applicable to aspects of life beyond the 9-5. Dr. Brockis also promotes her "Brain Fit" app in the book, which is admirable from an entrepreneurial perspective, but feels ever so slightly mercenary.


Book cover of Concentration. White and pink pattern background.

Concentration, by Stefan Van der Sticghel

This book offers another neuroscience approach, with a robust medical literature review and discussion/debunking of important studies. It is simplified and focused on- focus. With contemporary technology giving us constant stimulation from multiple screens and sources, it is hard to concentrate, and it is imperative to concentrate when learning something new. Van der Sticghel tackles the questions: how do you recharge your mental battery? What are the perils and benefits of daydreaming? How does spending time in nature affect your ability to concentrate? He also debunks the impact of brain-training apps (they’re fun, but won’t actually improve cognitive function, sorry Dr. Brockis). A very timely and interesting read.


Book cover of Know yourself Forget Yourself. Beige background with graphic image of a person walking down a long path.

Know Yourself, Forget Yourselfby Marc Lesser

This book offers more executive coaching, but with a different approach. Again, the skills for improving your performance in the office can apply to other aspects of your life. Lesser discusses the importance of habits, satisfaction, and motivation. He purports his Zen-based system (a flexible program) of “five truths” which are paradoxes built upon each other, and this touches on self-awareness, confidence, discernment, and self-development. It is near-impossible to get anything done (let alone learning) when you suffer from executive dysfunction, so there is great value in this volume.

Looking to get personalized reading recommendations from DC Public Library staff? Fill out this form and a curated list will get sent directly to your inbox!

About the Author

Christine Goepfert is a Library Associate at DC Public Library. A lifelong bibliophile and an avid fan of libraries, she loves her job at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library. She has somewhat eclectic reading taste, but she is always down for a good biography or historical fiction, especially family sagas. In her spare time, she keeps busy with volunteering and interesting side jobs in local theater, church, and freelance research projects. She enjoys good coffee, meandering walks around DC, and practicing yoga.