Karl Deisseroth

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Projections : reviews and commentary 

Projections ­­is a work of literary nonfiction, telling a story in which the protagonist is the human mind. 

Each individual thread in Projections arises from the author's emergency-room experience as a psychiatrist– with the language in every story adapted to evoke inner states unique to the disorder: the exuberance of mania, the weight of grief, the fragmentation of psychosis. 

At the heart of Projections are these experiences of individuals in altered mental states– each in a moment of intense crisis– but every experience is entwined with the larger story of the human family: across the globe, spanning evolutionary time, and enfolding ideas from literature, modern neuroscience, and imagination.

Critically acclaimed around the world, both by literary reviewers and in the scientific community, Projections is an internationally-published bestseller with editions in Dutch, English, German, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Turkish, Korean, French, Hungarian, Romanian, Spanish, Russian, Serbian, Portuguese, and many more.

 Penguin Random House (2021)

“a stunning work… [Deisseroth] produces Joycean flights of language… [T]he bedrock of his work is the personal encounter, with all its messy cultural baggage, but he has the imagination and literary gift to make it speak to all of us.” – Literary Review

"A revelatory book.... casually blowing apart any crude arts-science dichotomies..."The Guardian

"A book that is beautiful to read..." –The Observer

"Karl Deisseroth’s imaginative narrative flows effortlessly... There is a first love of reading and writing and hints of a literary imagination that draws on James Joyce and Toni Morrison... Deisseroth endeavors to find an emotive language for the psychiatric patients he meets. He accomplishes this by weaving together… psychiatric knowledge, technology, and imagination. These together free him to write poetically... His narratives are always sensitive… an admixture of fact and fiction, reality and imagination, damage and desire." –Science

“[A] scintillating and moving analysis of the human brain and emotions . . . A great read.”Nature

“Sets itself apart with Deisseroth’s lyrical writing and the empathy of his storytelling.”Library Journal (starred)

"Karl Deisseroth is a Master Storyteller. Armed with an abundance of compassion and curiosity, he takes us on a spellbinding tour of the mysteries of the human mind through a series of fascinating case studies. His graceful prose weaves a tapestry of complex ideas into memorable stories, each illuminated by cutting-edge science. A delight from the opening paragraph to the stunning conclusion, this book is an invitation to reverence for the complexity of the human brain and its relationship to the mind: a ticket to a state of wonder at the essence of our selves."

–Kathryn Mannix, author of With the End in Mind

"I find myself at a loss for how to describe this remarkable work. Just as Karl has, through his laboratory, reimagined, and literally redefined how we view the human brain, he has reimagined and redefined what literary non-fiction can be, with great elegance. For all of us who write about science for the public, this will be a tough act to follow. It’s poetic, mind-stretching, and through it all, deeply human.

I am driven to the brink of despair: whether to chuck my writing career altogether, or double down, and work like a madman to try and write something half this good."

–Dan Levitin, New York Times bestselling author of The Organized Mind

“Karl Deisseroth is already known around the world as a groundbreaking scientist who has pioneered dazzling new techniques for investigating the brain. In this enthralling masterpiece of a book, he demonstrates that he is also a perceptive psychiatrist, as well as a spellbinding writer who beautifully connects the inner feelings within all human beings to deep insights from modern psychiatry and neuroscience.”

—Robert Lefkowitz, Nobel Laureate and author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm


"Karl Deisseroth intertwines neuroscience and human stories in a way that is altogether new: technical, lyrical, and deeply compassionate all at once. Through sharing what he's learned as a groundbreaking scientist and a psychiatrist caring for patients with severe illness, he reveals a glimmer of what makes us human. This is a crucial book for anyone who loves science, anyone who loves someone suffering from a disorder of the brain, or anyone who, like so many of us, loves both." —Lucy Kalanithi


Projections asks probing questions about some of our most fundamental human traits, to shed light on the origins of our emotions. Deisseroth writes of heartbreaking and desperate medical cases with a doctor’s knowledge, and a novelist’s skill for narrative. I could not put this book down.”  

—May-Britt Moser, Nobel Laureate 


“In this magisterial work, Karl Deisseroth shows that he is not only one of our leading scientists, he is also a gifted writer and storyteller. With precise, yet luminous prose, he merges stories of cutting-edge neuroscience with a deep reverence for his patients’ humanity.”

—Neil Shubin, author of Some Assembly Required


“Unique and utterly riveting, Projections braids together three skeins from Karl Deisseroth’s life: his painstaking clinical experience as a psychiatrist, dedicated to helping patients; his ingenious inventions in biotechnology; and his life as a humble and caring social human being with a gift for crafting a spellbinding chronicle. This is a masterpiece written for each and every one of us.”

—Patricia Churchland, author of Conscience


“I’ve known Karl as a colleague, a scientist whose discoveries in the lab have been breathtaking and revolutionary. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised to discover he’s also a stunning writer, his words guiding us to a profound understanding of the nature of human emotions, seamlessly invoking Ovid and optogenetics, Borges and basal ganglia as he takes on this journey. Projections is a tour de force.

—Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone

Blogs and updates

More good conversation, launching from Projections: with Lex Fridman

A thoughtful conversation with Lex Fridman... spanning so much, beginning with the book, but also bridging neuroscience, psychiatry, literature, cinema, Borges, the Brothers…

Six months in...

Reflecting on the half-year milestone, since the early days of our June publication. As a humble scientist, who just likes words, I feel incredibly fortunate to have written and…

The Lasker Public Lecture

One reason to be a little preoccupied-- in September the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research was awarded to my friends and colleagues Peter Hegemann and Dieter Oesterhelt,…

Book clubs with the community

Great book club at Northwestern with Drs. Talia Lerner, Herbert Meltzer, & Sachin Patel (new chair of psychiatry) https://twitter.com/SachinPatelLab/status/1466218353421426690…

Conversations with readers!

A few months in,  teaching begins to wind down for fall quarter, and now with the holidays coming I finally have some breathing space, and a chance to reach out to the public and…

The first two weeks

I've been so heartened by all the responses to Projections over the first two weeks since launch. As one example, in Science: https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6549/1401…

Media and appearances

Contact (literary)

karl <at> deisseroth.org

Penguin Random House

Editor: Andy Ward, Publisher of Random House

Literary agent: Jeff Silberman, Interfolio (jsilberman <at> foliolit.com)

other writing (scientific)

Karl Deisseroth, MD PhD is  Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Karl is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the National Academy of Engineering.

He treats patients in the Psychiatry Department, and teaches undergraduate classes in the Bioengineering Department at Stanford, where he also runs his neuroscience laboratory

The Deisseroth lab:   


explores how individual cells, working together, can give rise to some of the mysterious and wonderful properties of the brain.

Several of Karl's reviews describing the science and technology are linked below.

Channelrhodopsins (structure, discovery, and function):

1.   https://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/media/papers/deisserothCell2021.pdf

2.   https://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/media/papers/deisserothScience2017.pdf

1.   https://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/media/papers/deisserothNatNeurosciCommentary2015.pdf

2.   https://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/media/papers/kimNatureReviews2017.pdf

Hydrogel-tissue chemistry:

1.   https://web.stanford.edu/group/dlab/media/papers/sciAm2016.pdf

2.   http://clarityresourcecenter.org/pdfs/AnnuRevBiophysics_2018.pdf