Best Books for Brain Injury Survivors

While traumatic brain injury affects more than 1.7 million people each year, it is nevertheless easy for victims and their loved ones to feel alone.

The reason for this is simple: the changes taking place in your life make you feel like a stranger to yourself.

Best Books for Brain Injury Survivors

The mental and physical abilities you counted on most are now altered, limited, even impossible. The goals you set for yourself have been swept away and replaced by new challenges that are at once rudimentary and incredibly daunting. And the triumphs you experience in each stage of your recovery and rehabilitation bring exhilaration of a kind that you may never have experienced in your previous life.

When it comes to dealing with traumatic brain injury, each person’s story is undeniably unique.

But the uniqueness of these individual stories is precisely what makes them powerful.

This has been our motivation in bringing you stories that feature TBI survivors, as well as friends and families of TBI victims, who are tackling incredible odds with persistence, ingenuity and faith in themselves.

You can read these stories every month here on the BILC website. But if you’re craving more than the brief snapshots provided here, there is a wealth of personal narratives beyond this blog that will offer you even more insight, hope and inspiration.

We’ve put together a list of some of the best books on traumatic brain injury below.

The Soul Survivor — Cap. Joe Townsend and Shawn Doyle

Captain Joe Townsend was just 23 when he realized his dream of becoming a jet pilot. As a pilot for US Airways, he flew commercial airplanes all over the country, shuttling thousands of passengers safely to their destinations. But in 1996, while flying his family home to Florida from a Thanksgiving weekend in Georgia, a mechanical failure in the small aircraft caused Joe to lose control. The resulting crash killed Joe’s wife and two young daughters, and left Joe himself with several critical injuries, including TBI. The next five months were spent in surgery, hospital confinement and profound physical and emotional pain.

The story of Joe’s turnaround from not wanting to live to a new level of hope, faith and confidence in the future makes for a compelling read. This book offers gritty catharsis and is rich with authentic encouragement.


The authors have created a tapestry of ‘life stories’ which inspires, informs and deeply moves me to ask myself, ‘Have I done all that I can to create a meaningful life, and what will I do to love my wife and son fully and deeply every single day?’ Your story has changed my life and my life as a father.

Honey, I Smell Flowers — Ruth Ann Bartels

Ruth Ann Bartels had just arrived in southern California for a Valentine’s Day getaway with her husband, Larry. Having escaped the freezing February temperatures of their Nebraska hometown, they were basking in sunny skies and floral breezes when the emergency call came: their 38-year-old daughter Michelle had been involved in a tragic motor accident. She had sustained a traumatic brain injury and was in a coma.

The days and months that followed put Ruth Ann in a position where she never expected to be: shepherding her adult daughter. Throughout the recovery process, she scribbled notes—the names of all Michelle’s medications, the scales for measuring brain activity, the jargon the doctors used, every day-by-day detail. It was, she says, a way of keeping her sanity.

After shepherding her daughter through this process, Ruth Ann set out to write the book she wished she would have had at the outset. Far more than a memoir of caregiving, this book creatively combines personal narrative, facts about TBI, poetic metaphors and even notes culled from Michelle’s therapists into a vulnerable and gripping epic. The appendix at the end of the book offers helpful tools for TBI caregivers, such as a glossary of medical terms and a scale for understanding the condition and progress of TBI victim’s brain recovery.


 “This book is a valuable tool for all healthcare workers as well as family and friends confronted with TBI … Hospitals should consider distributing this book to all families.

“I was unable to put the book down once I started reading it. It is a captivating story, filled with great details of actual events and medical descriptions of TBI. This is also a story of perseverance, love, faith, and all the hard work and emotions that paved the road to a recovery that is nothing but miraculous.”

Brain Injury Rewiring — Carolyn E. Dolen

The survivor of a 1976 traumatic brain injury, Carolyn E. Dolen has parlayed her personal experience into a pair of renowned “manuals” that guide both TBI survivors and their network of caregivers and supporters through the daunting process of relearning how to live.

Both books are founded on the principle that traumatic brain injury causes damage to the entire brain, not just the focal point of injury. The entire network of connections that determine how a human will thrive are affected by an injury, and “medical healing” is only the first step in recovery.

Brain Injury Rewiring for Survivors outlines the options that TBI survivors have for pursuing physical, mental and emotional recovery. Unsurprisingly, a great focus of this guide is on physical exercise. (Carolyn Dolen herself went on to compete and win triathlons in the years following her brain injury.) The book strongly encourages survivors toward whatever level of physical activity they can manage and constantly push their boundaries as a means of therapy. Playing, learning and enjoying life helps the brain to regenerate, and studies have shown a profound gap in recovery between TBI survivors who exercise and those who refuse to.

Brain Injury Rewiring for Loved Ones goes deep into the “whys” and “hows” of traumatic brain injury, offering detailed explanations so that families can understand what is happening in their loved one’s brain and body.

Both manuals offer helpful points to track progress, and give the reader a heads-up on challenges that will occur. They offer grounded, practical advice from a holistic perspective—including traditional medicine, complementary medicine and nutrition—for all TBI victims to achieve health in every possible way from cognitive to physical, social, emotional or spiritual.


“I just finished this book and it was the 2nd book I have been able to read completely since my brain injury and surgery. This itself was a huge accomplishment. I found many parts of the book wonderful. I was able to connect with someone who had gone through what I had and had written it down. The concept that the brain will get better and be able to do what it needs to do, sometimes using slightly different pathways than previously traveled, was a huge step for me to understand.

Other Recommendations

In addition to these amazing books, we highly recommend works by Teach Believe Inspire award-winners Lyrysa Smith (A Normal Life: A Sister’s Odyssey Through Brain Injury) and Janna Leyde (He Never Liked Cake). And we at the Brain Injury Law Center have compiled several personal stories into an ebook called Breaking the Silence—download it here.

While no single story can cover the entire scope of traumatic brain injury, each unique story offers a new perspective that can offer empathy, advice and hope. When you see that there is no “formula” for dealing with traumatic brain injury, you realize that no survivor is alone. Being a survivor makes you part of a community unlike any other — a community of exceptional courage, boundless hope, authentic love and incomparable inspiration.

Who We Are

The Brain Injury Law Center is a Virginia-based personal injury law firm with a nationwide reputation for handling brain injury cases. If you need to speak with a brain injury attorney, contact us today by calling (757) 244-7000 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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