The Autobiographical Dimension of Brainy Books


  • Arnaud Schmitt University of Bordeaux



brainy books, functional autobiography, anecdotes and confessions, scientific autobiography


This article purports to explore the autobiographical dimension of a recent publishing phenomenon, brainy books. It’s my contention that these books display a constant dialectic tension between their source (academic research) and their target (non-academic readers), and one way of reconciling both sides consists in resorting to rhetorical strategies in order to make their research more accessible. One of these strategies is openly autobiographical. Through two case studies—Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) and Paul Dolan’s Happiness by Design (2014)—I study the various functions of this autobiographical dimension: perlocutionary, contextualizing, illustrative and finally autobiographical beyond functionality. It’s my overall aim to demonstrate that the authors’ choice to include personal anecdotes or even confessions in books primarily meant to spread knowledge to a larger audience makes brainy books a fascinating subject for life writing studies.

Author Biography

Arnaud Schmitt, University of Bordeaux

Arnaud Schmitt is a professor at the University of Bordeaux. His field of research is American literature and he has also worked extensively on the concepts of ‘autofiction’ and ‘self-narration’. He has recently published a new book entitled The Phenomenology of Autobiography: Making it Real (Routledge, 2017) and is the corecipient (with Stefan Kjerkegaard, Aarhus University) of the 2016 Hogan Prize for an outstanding essay published in a volume of a/b: Auto/Biography Studies. He was awarded a CNRS scholarship for the academic year 2019–20 and is currently working on a new monograph on photographers who wrote memoirs.