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

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  3,270 ratings  ·  375 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
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Average rating 3.87  · 
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 ·  3,270 ratings  ·  375 reviews

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Start your review of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Jul 27, 2012 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
Jul 29, 2009 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
Jan 19, 2010 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
Lars Guthrie
Dec 31, 2009 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
Tim Kadlec
Nov 01, 2009 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.
Dec 17, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: library-2, the-brain
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
Feb 01, 2022 added it
A fun and interesting read with good practical advice for implementing healthy play. Like much writing about psychology, there are many points stated in absolute terms that are slightly reductive at times. The anecdotes seem to focus heavily on white middle class americans and corporate america in particular. I would be very interested to see how this book is updated over time. For instance, the research on the impact of exercise on depression glosses over the fact that it's not viable for many ...more
George Martzen
Jun 21, 2013 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. ...more
Jul 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
I read this for work whilst in the midst of writing a client presentation about toys and... that’s right... play. Didn’t get much out of it. So if I didn’t under those circumstances, who will? Maybe I just already knew the information he was sharing given my line of work in the toy industry, and people outside the profession will find more to learn here.
Varina Denman
Sep 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I love my work (writing), but I've become a workaholic. This book has reminded me of the value of playing. I think this will be a life-changer for me. I hope so! ...more
Nov 26, 2022 rated it liked it
Finished during my 24 hr. readathon during Thanksgiving break.

This book was good, but it had a lot of repetitious sections to give it a proper length. I will definitely be adding some of the things to my life. I feel like it could have also been a really great article than a longer book.
Dan Connors
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-books

I was not aware of a National Institute of Play, but it sounds like a good idea. This book came out in 2008 and didn't hit any best-seller lists, but the author is an expert in the power of play and he makes many good points.

From an evolutionary standpoint, there doesn't seem to be any good reason for play to exist. It doesn't make you stronger, bring in food, or help with reproduction, so there seems to be little biological advantage for those species that engage in play while avoiding the surv
Jacquelyn Fusco
Sep 07, 2015 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
C.J. Darlington
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Who would've thought play would be so important in our lives? This book brings to light something I think many of us know on a subconscious level but need to remind ourselves over and over again. After reading this book I believe play is a missing puzzle piece not only in my own life but probably in many of the lives of people I know. Scientific yet still readable, Brown explains why he believes play is the cornerstone to happiness. A few sections were a little dull, but for the most part PLAY i ...more
David Crowe
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.
Herve Tunga
Mar 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Good read. I liked that the author looks at games from a broad perspective. It can be useful to break ice, encourage people to engage through an invitation to play.
Daniel Schulte
Jul 08, 2021 rated it did not like it
Wow... This book was absolutely not what I was looking for. I was interested in a book that talked about play and the positive benefits produces in human beings emotionally and physically. Maybe throw in a couple of studies where people introduce play into their lives? Maybe look at historical events where play was noticeable absent and talk about the impact it had on society as a whole, such as economically or politically. Did this book have that? Nope.

This book really should just be called "A
Michael Burnam-Fink
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: games, non-fiction, 2018
Play is a real treasure of a popular science book. Based on Brown's work as a clinician and deep familiarity with the literature, it moves through the deep important of play to all animals, and especially human beings. Far from being frivolous, play and a playful attitude is associated with learning, with success, and with a longer and healthier life. Imaginative play, exuberant play, and play free from consequence or adult supervision, is what makes us human, and what makes life worth living.

May 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It was really fascinating to read what happens in our brains when we play. I found it especially relevant in how play is essential to creativity, but as any great nonfiction book, it was full of surprising and wonderful connections and stories across many disciplines: parenting, social connection, innovation, business, health. Loved it and will refer to it again.
Colin Henderson
Jul 12, 2021 rated it really liked it
As a primary school teacher, this book is great for justifying the importance of play at a young age, despite the majority of the book focussing on the benefits of play for adults. I will definitely be playing sports with friends and goofing off in work more often now!
Joel D
Jun 03, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: finished-2021
Way too long and just didn't really say anything interesting or worthwhile beyond "play is good". Maybe for some people this book would change their life, for me it just felt painfully empty.

Also the author comes across as quite old fashioned and smug in some ways.
Jun 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 stars for this interesting audio book on Play and the research and examples of how it effects your life. I loved the narrator's voice and found the information helpful. ...more
Catherine Blass
Although the lack of citations/sources was a confusing move for a professional researcher, this gave me a lot to think about and provided some helpful language for thinking about intentionally pursuing what is most life-giving.
Apr 26, 2013 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
Mar 09, 2011 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
Feb 23, 2013 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
Apr 22, 2014 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 27, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned-books
Here's a problem I don't have very often these days...I read this book too fast. Lol. I read it on two short flights this week and while I thoroughly enjoyed devouring it this way, I am afraid I missed some things.

That said, this was a good book. It's written well and I appreciate how the author skirts the line between defining the science with keeping this a light-hearted book for laymen. It's an easy read, but with structure! A lot of the things he talks about I already knew, some I was happy
Feb 23, 2009 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.

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  As dedicated readers already know, some of the best and most innovative stories on the shelves come from the constantly evolving realm of...
20 likes · 1 comments
“Stepping out of a normal routine, finding novelty, being open to serendipity, enjoying the unexpected, embracing a little risk, and finding pleasure in the heightened vividness of life. These are all qualities of a state of play.” 8 likes
“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.” 7 likes
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