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Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,355 Ratings  ·  193 Reviews
Read Stuart Brown's posts on the Penguin Blog.

From a leading expert, a groundbreaking book on the science of play, and its essential role in fueling our intelligence and happiness throughout our lives.
We’ve all seen the happiness in the face of a child while playing in the school yard. Or the blissful abandon of a golden retriever racing with glee across a lawn. This is th
Hardcover, 240 pages
Published March 5th 2009 by Avery (first published 2009)
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Play by Stuart BrownFinnegans Wake by James JoyceFree Play by Stephen NachmanovitchDeep Play by Diane Ackerman
Let Your Mind Wander
1st out of 4 books — 3 voters
Excellent Sheep by William DeresiewiczWhat's Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective ... by Martha Char LoveManufacturing Consent by Noam ChomskyAgainst the Flow by Peter AbbsThe Ecological Rift by John Bellamy Foster
Books for counselor educators
24th out of 60 books — 53 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 26, 2013 Pat rated it it was ok
The brief synopsis:
(1) Everything good about being human comes from play.
(2) If you stop playing you will hate your life, get divorced and probably become a serial killer.

O rly?

The book is an exhaustive list of claims. They are unsubstantiated. No footnotes, no journal citations. Just a whole bunch of I've been studying play for decades and I am certain it will make you enjoy your job, fornicate with your spouse more often and be more creative.

The language is laced with enough technicality to gi
Lars Guthrie
Dec 31, 2009 Lars Guthrie rated it it was ok
'Play' starts out strong, connecting animal play to that of humans and our inherited need for play. '...[T:]here is a strong positive link,' he tells us, 'between brain size and playfulness for mammals in general.' Brown quotes Robert Fagen, preeminent animal behaviorist, to get at the cause for that need: 'Play allows "pretend" rehearsal for the challenges and ambiguities of life, a rehearsal when life and death are not at stake.' And Brown's book is full of such insightful quotes, as well as h ...more
Jan 25, 2010 Dan rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by a friend who just had a baby boy last year. He told me that it was great for new parents because it teaches how play is so important to young children. However, the book was also engaging to him because it talks about how play is so important for adults as well.

He was right on the money.

This book won't win any awards for writing style, but the ideas present you with a fresh look at the everyday world. The author boils it down pretty simply: make sure to do the
May 20, 2014 Orsolya rated it did not like it
Shelves: the-brain, library-2
Confucius says: All work and no play results in cranky jerks. Okay, this isn’t true but we can all attest to the importance of ‘fun’. Playtime (and this includes hobbies, arts, etc) is hardwired in our brains and helps us improve life and build strong relationships. No one knows this better than Stuart Brown, MD who explores this field in, “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul”.

The first pages of “Play” suitably have some glue to attract the reader but s
Aug 05, 2009 Sandy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There were days at the middle school where I teach when I just wanted to fold paper with my students to see them interact with me and each other. These are inner-city toughies who really don't respond to much that passes for standard curriculum. They are angry and antsy and difficult and disrespectful. To watch them transform scraps of paper into sublime objects of beauty. To watch them as they reached outside their usual way of thinking to do something very different.

Most days, I just wanted to
Tim Kadlec
Nov 06, 2009 Tim Kadlec rated it really liked it
If I could give half star reviews , this would've gotten 3 1/2 stars instead of four. I enjoyed the concepts being discussed, and agree with the overall premise - that play is an essential and underappreciated part of life.

It just would've been nice to have more specifics about the studies he mentions, or at the very least, some footnotes so I could have a look at them in more detail.
George Martzen
Jun 22, 2013 George Martzen rated it really liked it
It's ok. Go ahead and play in the mud. This is a very readable book that gleans largely from medical research but also uses lots of stories and anecdotes. I especially like his JPL account that highlights the link between childhood manual play and adult capacity for problem-solving. I would have liked to see some sort of citations or at least a bibliography at the end.
Apr 22, 2014 Caely rated it it was ok
I picked this book based on the recommendation in Brene Brown's Gifts of Imperfection, and I was pretty disappointed. The general principles are sound, and some of the anecdotes are inspiring - I especially liked an early story about a dog and polar bear playing together in the arctic.

But overall, the book feels disorganized and half-baked. Stuart Brown's career and credentials are impressive, but it seems like his ghostwriter just piled a series of general interviews together into a book.

May 29, 2013 Emily rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Dr. Brown takes playing very seriously:

"Play is a profound biological process."

"The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.

"Play is the vital essence of life. It is what makes life lively."

"Play is like fertilizer for brain growth."

"Play is the purest expression of love."

With statements like that, Dr. Brown seems to imbue play with some sort of supernatural power that makes you smarter, happier, pra
Jun 27, 2013 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: coaching
Stuart Brown, MD is the founder of the National Institute for Play. This book summarizes some of the research he's done over the years and it includes some interesting findings that can help make yourself and your teams more creative and effective. In short, making play a part of our daily life is the most important factor in being a fulfilled person.

We all play as children, it's part of our make-up, but something happens as we age and many adults start to feel guilty for playing. What does rema
Mar 14, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it
What is not to like about a book that encourages me to do what I naturally enjoy doing?

This was a light, enjoyable read, that gave good reminders of the importance of play, both for proper childhood development and for happiness throughout life. I found most interesting the research about brain development and play (and sleep, another thing which I love and have long believed is necessary to growth and healing). Brown shares research in both animals and people which shows that the role of such
Mar 16, 2009 Monika rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Great Great Great! This is a book that I plan to re-read many times in my life, as a refresher on how Play shapes life, and how it is the center of how we progress as we grow.
It was so inspirational and made me see things in a new light. I kept picturing how I can adapt his advice to all aspects of my life, and how easy it really is....we just live in a society where we work work work, and burn ourselves out...we need to make time for ourselves, or life is going to pass us by completely.

David Waldock
I can't begin to say how useful I found this book in thinking about how to facilitate growth and development at the personal and organisational levels. It's an exploration of what play is, what it does, and how you can use it to make your life better. I've been using play at work for some time, particularly for solving large complex problems, but this really opened my eyes to some of the psychology behind it.

Recommended for everyone.
Cynthia  Scott
Apr 06, 2011 Cynthia Scott rated it it was amazing
I bought this book two years ago having read great reviews of it, read a couple chapters and let it sit. Recently came across extenive quotes from it an essay and began a serious read. It is delightful, informative, and a good self-study.

It explains the importance of play behavior to evolution (of all animals), the place of play in human maturing, and is positive about a lot of behaviors commonly thought to be worthless or worse.

Play is not the opposite of work, it is the opposite of depression!
Lauren Sheil
Apr 17, 2014 Lauren Sheil rated it liked it
It wasn't exactly what I was looking for. It it a good example of the psychology and anthropology of play but it only scratches the surface of the development of social interaction, morality and ethics, which is my preferred area of study. The best moment in the book is actually a quote from James Michener.

"The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his
Dec 31, 2015 Shirley rated it really liked it
A wonderful book! Brown lays out his scientific findings in such clear engaging terms, one can hardly take exception. Fair warning... serious hard work precedes reaching play nirvana. Even so I say, let's do it!
Jun 07, 2014 Annie rated it liked it
Play is a recent topic of interest. Didn't have a lot of expectations, and found this to be an fair articulation of something most of us observe; play is more than simple diversion, it is a foundation for communication, skill acquisition, bonding, on & on. Like sleep, it is best for our lifelong mental health not to neglect a regular daily dose, regardless of age or 'maturity'.

Here's what irked; most of the support for the emotional and physical health claims of play was anecdotal; 'once my
Sarah Eiseman
Aug 01, 2014 Sarah Eiseman rated it really liked it
Originally posted on

Today’s book was written by Stuart Brown, MD, the founder of the National Institute For Play. In this fascinating book, Brown walks us through the importance of play in our development, society, and our overall life.

Brown demonstrates how play, itself thought to be useless, is actually crucial for the development of social skills, as well as many other skills in our lives that we often take for granted. He shares stories of businesses that have had hiring
Jacquelyn Fusco
Sep 13, 2015 Jacquelyn Fusco rated it it was amazing
A joyous read. I think we all need this book. I have always been a playful person, but I am renewing my intentions to make my life more playful.
Last year, I was very depressed. I became very anxious about how to use my time. I was unemployed, with lots of time, which was what I always dreamed I wanted when I was in school. After an inciting event sparked the depression and it stuck around, I began to despair that life was just a choice between working for a weekend that was not all that great o
Krista Stevens
Feb 20, 2014 Krista Stevens rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
"All work and no play make sea squirt a brain-eating zombie" (48).
"In this larval form, it has a primitive spinal cord and bundle of ganglia that act as a functional brain. this tiny brain helps it move selectively toward nutrients and away from harm. Like most oceanic creatures, juvenile sea squirts spend their time growing and exploring the sea." Once it grows to adulthood, it attaches itself to anything permanent and from there catches its nutrients from the currents. "In a surprisingly macab
Mar 24, 2016 Shawn rated it really liked it
This book is paean for play. Brown says of himself that he is unabashed play advocate and he points to the various ways that play is important for development, physical and mental health, and even the existence of all civilization. I think of myself of as a kind of play advocate as well; I think most people—adult and children alike—need more (or better) play in their lives. Yet I think Brown’s enthusiasm about the importance of play probably outstrips the evidence. In some ways, he is overly bro ...more
Rosa Frei
Jan 30, 2016 Rosa Frei rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology, health
"Play is a state of mind, rather than an activity."

The author, Stuart Brown, has spent his whole career studying play and communicating the science of play to the public, and consulting for Fortune 500 companies on how to incorporate it into business. This book is a testimony of his effort in encouraging everybody to be more playful. Based on numerous scientific researches, the author emphasises the importance of play for every individual at any age and most importantly for corporations. "Many
Matt Lydon
Nov 25, 2013 Matt Lydon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Stuart Brown's book was a really interesting and very readable introduction to the "state of play" and its importance in our lives. I did wish it was longer and went a bit more in depth, but Brown did mention several colleagues who have written other books to seek out. But hey, for 25 cents at a goodwill? I'll take it!
Feb 12, 2010 Michael rated it really liked it
READ THIS BOOK!!! There are some minor weaknesses in its craft, but the overall impact is stupendous. This stuff might shake up the world, and I hope it does. I'd place Play among my top five most highly-recommended books. It's that important.
Alex Camilleri
The book is quite nice and easy to read. The most interesting part is the first part in which the author explore play in a very broad way starting from animal play and providing interesting stories. After that, the author claims the importance of play in everyone's life bit without providing solid data (only anectodes). I personally agree with many of his claims, but there are no references or citations, which is a pity. On top of this (probably because of his age) he assumes a very conservative ...more
May 27, 2015 April rated it really liked it
This was very encouraging to me - as an adult who values play and fun - to find that play IS valuable, even more so than I would have guessed. There is a lot of research cited, some interesting stories, and some great quotes.

”...the most significant aspect of play is that it allows us to express our joy and connect most deeply with the best in ourselves, and in others. If your life has become barren, play brings it to life again. Yes, as Freud said, life is about love and work. Yet play transce
This is a great quick read that puts something as abstract and diverse as play into concrete terms.
Apr 28, 2014 Jen rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-ve-loved
It might be more the subject matter, than this actual book, but I loved this book. It was inspiring and made me want to relax and just play. Especially now that I have young kids, I definitely want to add more play in my life. Only thing I thought needed more clarity is the authors talk about play histories. I wish he would have directed the reader to a website or wrote out a sort of quiz for one to take to understand their play history. It was fun thinking and discussing all my favorite play mo ...more
Laurel Marlantes
Mar 24, 2015 Laurel Marlantes rated it really liked it
The act of PLAY as a field of study and the neurological, physiological and psychological benefits is still relatively new, and Stuart's book helps bring light and awareness to the need to study this innate human behavior and instinct more. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend checking out his TEDtalk "Play is More than just Fun". He is pretty much the leading author who has published a book recently on this subject, most other writings are scholarly papers which you can find in the ...more
Gail Ross
Jul 31, 2015 Gail Ross rated it really liked it
I enjoyed reading this and thinking about my own play personality. I know that some people are very bothered by the lack of citations (and that would definitely have been an improvement to the book). As a teacher, however, I see the danger in losing play in our lives too soon and I love that this book encourages us to think about and act upon that. "Play helps us regain the mind of the child, and better deal with the major problems and challenges we all face." That is what I choose to take away ...more
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.
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“The truth is that play seems to be one of the most advanced methods nature has invented to allow a complex brain to create itself.” 1 likes
“What Laurel discovered through experience, the JPL managers discovered through research: there is a kind of magic in play. What might seem like a frivolous or even childish pursuit is ultimately beneficial. It’s paradoxical that a little bit of “nonproductive” activity can make one enormously more productive and invigorated in other aspects of life. When an activity speaks to one’s deepest truth, as horseback riding did for Laurel, it is a catalyst, enlivening everything else.” 1 likes
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