My curiosity about how we work and what we are like, has led me to two levels. For the scientific understanding, my first academic love, before medicine, was and is physiological and cognitive science. But, at another level, the arts and particularly literature explore other’s lives, with great insight and understanding.

The eternal question was whether and how these approaches might coexist. As a medical student I read Oliver Sacks’ Awakenings and was so intrigued that I went to study with him. Subsequently he was generous in his encouragement as I sought my own voice, attempting through the written world to explain the situation of others in extraordinary situations because of various neurological conditions.

Extended, deep accounts seem necessary to reflect not only what it is like to love with a condition, but also through this reflection allow us to understand ourselves in new ways too. How we are defined by and exist in our faces becomes clearer when we realise the lives of those with facial disfigurement. Movement and position sense is so embedded within us that we can only know it by asking those forced to live without it.

Pride and a Daily Marathon. 1991, London: Duckworth, 1995, Cambridge, MA, The MIT Press.

The biography of Ian Waterman who, at the age of 19, lost all sense of touch and movement perception below the neck. It follows his initial devastation to his extraordinary recovery, replacing automaticity of action with intense, disguised cognitive effort. Scientific detail and a moving narrative are combined in a work which inspired a BBC Documentary and was featured in two plays by Peter Brook.

‘A story at once terrifying and inspiring….It is a remarkable human document, a neurological epic. A case-history, a physiological investigation, a detective story and a romance.’

Oliver Sacks

‘Dramatises the gap between unpredictable life and icy scientific reasoning with vivid observation and deep compassion. An astonishing tale.’

Peter Brook

‘Will join a number of classic case studies in a genre which includes Freud, Luria, Brodal and Sacks. A painstaking intricate account mingling biography, science and philosophy. Concise, lucid and entertaining…It will become a classic.’

(Professor) Nigel Leigh. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry

‘Touching and extraordinary.’

AC Grayling. A Financial Times Book of the Year.

‘A clear and compassionate narrative. It nails the old lie that rigorous science and humane attitude to illness do not go together. Educative and inspiring.’

(Professor) Ray Tallis, TLS

‘A near-perfect example of the doctor as unseen biographer. You will be moved to tears.’

Michael Loudon, The Lancet

‘A model of popular scientific writing. A tribute to what Waterman describes as his ‘pride, bloody pride’.

(Professor) John Marshall, Nature

About Face. 1998. London and Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

An exploration of the relations between face and self, unfolding through narratives of those who live without face, due to blindness or autism, or with facial disfigurement or immobility. It approaches what the face does through the experiences of those for whom it is problematic.

Honourable Mention in the category of Psychology in the Professional/Scholarly Publishing Annual Awards Competition presented by the Association of American Publishers, Inc.

‘A great piece of art will often invite you to see the world in a new way. Cole’s book will do this. As a work of Art it is almost Proust-like, with its emphasis on the specific: or like a work of Magic Realism in which a small segment of life is drawn in exquisite detail. …beautifully written…It is a wonderful read, provocative (and) moving.’ 

Albert Katz, Applied Cognitive Psychology, 1998

‘A truly important book. A splendid mix of philosophy, anthropology and human biology, all lightly carried on moving narratives… A compassionate contribution to understanding the embodiment of self.’

John Cornwell, The Sunday Times (UK)

‘About Face’ should be required reading for students of clinical neurology.’ 

DW  Mulder, Journal of the American Medical Association, Aug 5, 1998

‘A fascinating work. (It) reaches into some of the deepest and most perplexing problems of human communication. The magic of this book is that it does so with an extraordinarily light and entertaining way. It should become a classic.’

Professor Nigel Leigh, Institute of Psychiatry

‘Cole has a remarkable ability to be objective and scholarly and at the same time personal and caring. Cole manages to dig deeply, to explore important implications, and to raise profound questions.

Professor Shaun Gallagher

Still Lives. 2004. London and Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Follows the lived experience of twelve people who, in an instant, lost all movement, sensation and continence. The candid and powerful narratives reveal the creativity and imaginative adjustments those with spinal cord injuries often experience.

“Jonathan Cole examines spinal cord injury with the compassion of both a first-rate doctor and a caring human being. This is a truly distinguished work.’

Christopher Reeve

‘The stories are remarkable and compelling. This book is a ‘must read’ for anyone with a personal or professional interest in disabilities.’

Gerald Golden, National Board of Medical Examiners in SB and F. July/August 2004

‘In exploring the creative and imaginative adjustments required to construct a ‘still life’ it makes a plea for the able bodied to adjust their view of this most profound of impairments.’

Disabled and Supportive Carer, April 2004

‘a compassionate and probing look… an unabashed and candid account of the complex medical, psychological, and social environment… Cole powerfully portrays life as truly seen through the eyes of a person with SCI. Often overlooked is the ‘human’ side of caring… books like Still Lives provide a refreshing and much needed new perspective.’ 

Mark Young, JAMA, 2004, 293, 497

Kapur, (with Pascual-Leone, Ramachandran, Cole, Della Sala, Manly and Mayes). The Paradoxical Brain, 2011. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

A collection of phenomena in clinical and cognitive neuroscience which are counter-intuitive, including superior performance after brain lesions, and talents in disorders.

‘… of fundamental importance and deserve(s) close attention from all who deal with disorders of brain function, so that we may focus on the uniqueness of the individual and their positive potentials, rather than thinking solely in terms of disorder.’

Oliver Sacks, Columbia University Medical Center

‘Kapur and colleagues present a refreshingly thoughtful, informative and provocative view of neuroscience that challenges the reader to consider and appreciate the brain in novel ways. It is a truly fascinating read.’

Eleanor A. Maguire, University College London

‘A fascinating tour of the unexpected – the disorders, anomalies and paradoxes that are part of the human condition and that yield insights about the abnormal brain and normal brain function. … novel, informative and absorbing.’

Larry R. Squire, University of California, San Diego

The Invisible Smile; living without facial expression. 2008. With Henrietta Spalding. UK: Oxford University Press.

The cardinal feature of Mobius Syndrome is that the face cannot move. In this work, those with the condition tell their stories, revealing much about the relations between the face, identity, and emotional expression and experience, and about the alternative and creative ways of living those with condition develop. 

Highly Commended, BMA Book Awards in Popular Medicine, 2009.

‘… what if a rare congenital malady deprives a child of the power to smile or frown, to have any facial expression whatever? Dr Cole is an expert on this condition, and, along with Henrietta Spalding, who grew up with Möbius Syndrome herself, he presents the life stories of people with this neurological condition and the varied ways in which they cope and adapt. Cole writes vividly, but with delicacy and sympathy, combining deeply personal portraits with pioneering scientific insight.’

Oliver Sacks

‘Jonathan Cole, who is the medical authority on Möbius, and Henrietta Spalding, who knows Möbius first-hand, provide the best guide yet to the problem in a direct and readable text.’

Antonio Damasio

Losing Touch; a man without his body. 2016. UK: Oxford University Press.

In Pride and a Daily Marathon, Ian Waterman, who lives without touch or movement sensation, fought hard to triumph over his condition. Now, nearly 40 years on, this book portrays his mature reflections, revealing how some scientific studies were done, and his own views on science and scientists. A human account and a neurological epic.

‘Weaves together personal and scientific stories of the man who continues to teach neuroscientists so much about the relationship between brain and body.’

David Eagleman, Stanford

‘Complete, compassionate and clear, Cole illuminates the neuroscience and personal consequences of losing touch and proprioception. The complex world of this patient and his doctor reveals and medical – and human – imperative to understand how our body and senses actually work.’

Simon Gandevia, Sydney

‘A wonderfully written book… Cole once more combines scientific rigour with human sympathy. A must read.’

Vittorio Gallese. Parma