The Reading Brain in a Digital World

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From the author of Proust and the Squid, a lively, ambitious, and deeply informative epistolary book that considers the future of the reading brain and our capacity for critical thinking, empathy, and reflection as we become increasingly dependent on digital technologies.

This book comprises a series of letters Wolf writes to us—her beloved readers—to describe her concerns and her hopes about what is happening to the reading brain as it unavoidably changes to adapt to digital mediums.

Wolf draws on neuroscience, literature, education, technology, and philosophy and blends historical, literary, and scientific facts with down-to-earth examples and warm anecdotes to illuminate complex ideas that culminate in a proposal for a biliterate reading brain. Provocative and intriguing, Reader, Come Home is a roadmap that provides a cautionary but hopeful perspective on the impact of technology on our brains and our most essential intellectual capacities—and what this could mean for our future.

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New York Times Book Review, New & Noteworthy

“The author of “Proust and the Squid” returns to the subject of technology’s effect on our brains and our reading habits. This is an even more direct plea and a lament for what we are losing, as Wolf brings in new research on the reading brain and examines how the digital realm has degraded her own concentration and focus.”

Publishers Weekly, Starred Review 2018

A decade after the publication of Proust and the Squid, neuroscientist Wolf, director of the Center for Reading and Language at Tufts University, returns with an edifying examination of the effects of digital media on the way people read and think. A “researcher of the reading brain,” Wolf draws on the perspectives of neuroscience, literature, and human development to chronicle the changes in the brain that occur when children and adults are immersed in digital media. When people process information quickly and in brief bursts, as is common today, they curtail the development of the “contemplative dimension” of the brain that provides humans with the capacity to form insight and empathy. In describing the wonders of the “deep reading circuit” of the brain, Wolf bemoans the loss of literary cultural touchstones in many readers’ internal knowledge base, complex sentence structure, and cognitive patience, but she readily acknowledges the positive features of the digitally trained mind, like improved task switching. Wolf stays firmly grounded in reality when presenting suggestions—such as digital reading tools that engage deep thinking and connection to caregivers—for how to teach young children to be competent, curious, and contemplative in a world awash in digital stimulus. This is a clarion call for parents, educators, and technology developers to work to retain the benefits of reading independent of digital media.


“This rich study by cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf tackles an urgent question: how do digital devices affect the reading brain? Wolf explores the “cognitive strata below the surface of words”, the demotivation of children saturated in on-screen stimulation, and the power of ‘deep reading’ and challenging texts in building nous and ethical responses such as empathy. She advocates “biliteracy” — teaching children first to read physical books (reinforcing the brain’s reading circuit through concrete experience), then to code and use screens effectively. An antidote for today’s critical-thinking deficit.”

Kirkus Reviews

A cognitive neuroscientist considers the effect of digital media on the brain. In this epistolary book, Wolf (Director, Center for Reading and Language Research/Tufts Univ.; Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century, 2016, etc.) draws on neuroscience, psychology, education, philosophy, physics, physiology, and literature to examine the differences between reading physical books and reading digitally. Access to written language, she asserts, is able "to change the course of an individual life" by offering encounters with worlds outside of one's experiences and generating "infinite possibilities" of thought. She is worried, however, that digital reading has altered "the quality of attention" from that required by focusing on the pages of a book. Researchers have found that "sequencing of information and memory for detail change for the worse when subjects read on a screen." Reading digitally, individuals skim through a text looking for key words, "to grasp the context, dart to the conclusions at the end, and, only if warranted, return to the body of the text to cherry-pick supporting details." This process, Wolf asserts, is unlike the deep reading of complex, dense prose that demands considerable effort but has aesthetic and cognitive rewards. Physicality, she writes, "proffers something both psychologically and tactilely tangible." The author cites Calvino, Rilke, Emily Dickinson, and T.S. Eliot, among other writers, to support her assertion that deep reading fosters empathy, imagination, critical thinking, and self-reflection. The development of "critical analytical powers and independent judgment," she argues convincingly, is vital for citizenship in a democracy, and she worries that digital reading is eroding these qualities. Borrowing a phrase from historian Robert Darnton, she calls the current challenge to reading a "hinge moment" in our culture, and she offers suggestions for raising children in a digital age: reading books, even to infants; limiting exposure to digital media for children younger than 5; and investing in teaching reading in school, including teacher training, to help children "develop habits of mind that can be used across various mediums and media." An accessible, well-researched analysis of the impact of literacy.

Library Journal (starred review)

“Wolf (Tufts, Proust and the Squid) provides a mix of reassurance and caution in this latest look at how we read today.  . . . A hopeful look at the future of reading that will resonate with those who worry that we are losing our ability to think in the digital age. Accessible to general readers and experts alike.” 

San Francisco Chronicle

“Wolf is a lovely prose writer who draws not only on research but also on a broad range of literary references, historical examples, and personal anecdotes. The strongest parts ofReader, Come Homeare her moving accounts of why reading matters, and her deeply detailed exploration of how the reading brain is being changed by screens…. Wolf makes a strong case for what we lose when we lose reading.”

The Wall Street Journal

“The digital age is effectively reshaping the reading circuits in our brains, argues Ms. Wolf. But there's hope: Sustained, close reading is vital to redeveloping attention and maintaining critical thinking, empathy and myriad other skills in danger of extinction. Luckily, her book isn't difficult to pay attention to.”


"In this profound and well-researched study of our changing reading patterns, Wolf presents lucid arguments for teaching our brain to become all-embracing in the age of electronic technology. If you call yourself a reader and want to keep on being one, this extraordinary book is for you".  Alberto Manguel, Author of A History of Reading, The Library at Night, A Reader on Reading, Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions

"This is a book for all of us who love reading and fear that what we love most about it seems to slip away in the distractions and interruptions of the digital world. Here we are challenged us to take the steps to ensure that what we cherish most about reading —the experience of reading deeply—is passed on to new generations.  Wolf is sober, realistic, and hopeful, an impressive trifecta. Her core message: We can’t take reading too seriously. And for us, today, how seriously we take it, will mark of the measure of our lives. " Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science, MIT; author, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital AgeAlone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other

"Our best research tells us that deep reading is an essential skill for the development of intellectual, social, and emotional intelligence in today’s children. In our increasingly digital world – where many children spend more time on social media and gaming than just about any other activity – do children have any hope of becoming deep readers? In her must-read READER COME HOME, a game-changer for parents and educators,  Maryanne Wolf teaches us about the complex workings of the brain and shows us when - and when not - to use technology." Catherine Steiner-Adair, Author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age

Scholar, storyteller, and humanist, Wolf brings her laser sharp eye to the science of reading in a seminal book about what it means to be literate in our digital and global age.  Informed by a review of research from neuroscience to Socratic philosophy, and wittily crafted with true affection for her audience, Reader Come Home charts a compelling case for a new approach to lifelong literacy that could truly affect the course of human history. From the science of reading to the threats and opportunities posed by ubiquitous technologies for the modern preschooler, Reader Come Home reminds us that deep literacy is essential for progress and the future of our democracy.  Bolstered by her remarkably deft distillation of the scientific evidence and her fully accessible analysis of the road ahead, Wolf refuses to wring her hands.  With rigor and humility she creates a brilliant blueprint for action that sparks fresh hope for humanity in the Information and Fake News Age. Reader Come Home is this generation’s equivalent of Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message.  Maryanne Wolf has written a seminal book that will soon be considered a must read classic in the fields of literacy, learning and digital media.”  Michael Levine, Sesame Street, Joan Cooney Research Center, Co-Author of Tap, Click, and Read:   Growing Readers in a World of Screens.

"A love song to the written word, a brilliant introduction to the science of the reading brain and a powerful call to action. With each page, Wolf brilliantly shows us why we must preserve deep reading for ourselves and sow desire for it within our kids.  Otherwise we risk losing the critical benefits for humanity that come with reading deeply to understand our world.”—Lisa Guernsey, Director, Director, Learning Technologies, New America,  co-author of Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in A World of Screens

“Maryanne Wolf has done it again. She has written another seminal book destined to become a dog-eared, well-thumbed, often-referenced treasure on your bookshelf.... Reader Come Home conveys a cautionary message, but it also will rekindle your heart and help illuminate promising paths ahead.”—International Dyslexia Association

“Wolf wields her pen with equal parts wisdom and wonder. The result is a joy to read and reread, a love letter to literature, literacy, and progress.”—Shelf Awareness, Reader, Come Home

“Timely and important.... if you love reading and the ways it has enriched your life and our world, Reader, Come Homeis essential, arriving at a crucial juncture in history.”—BookPage, Well Read: Are you reading this?, Robert Weibezahl

 “MaryAnne Wolf’s Reader, Come Home:  The Reading Brain in a Digital World (2018) returns after 10 years to map a cognitive landscape that was only beginning to take shape in her earlier book, Proust and the Squid:  The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (2008). In Reader Come Home Wolf is looking to understand how our brains might be adapting to a new type of reading, and the implications for individuals and societies. The book is a combination of engaging synthesis of neuroscience and educational research, with reflection on literature and literary reading.” The Scholarly Kitchen

“Wolf is a serious scholar genuinely trying to make the world a better place. Reader, Come Home is full of sound….advice for parents.”Slate Book Review

“The book is a rewarding read, not only because of the ideas Wolf presents us with but also because of her warm writing style and rich allusion to literary and philosophical thinkers, infused with such a breadth of authors that only a true lover of reading could have written this book. It is a necessary volume for everyone who wants to understand the current state of reading in America.”—Stanford Daily

 “I’ve just finished reading this extraordinary new book… This book is essential reading for anyone who has the privilege of introducing young people to the wonders of language, and especially those who work with children under the age of 10.” —Englewood Review of Books

 “Reader, Come Home provides us with intimate details of brain function, vision, language, and neuroplasticity. Wolf has endeavoured to make something extremely complicated more accessible and for the most part she succeeds. The book is written as a series of letters to you, the reader. If you are a parent, it will probably be the most important book you read this year.” —Bookshelf (Also published at

“How often do you read in a deep and sustained way fully immersed, even transformed, by entering another person’s world?  Maryanne Wolf cautions that the way our engagement with digital technologies alters our reading and cognitive processes could cause our empathic, critical thinking, and reflective abilities to atrophy.  This in turn could undermine our democratic, civil society.” —Learning & the Brain


“ In her new book, Wolf…frames our growing incapacity for deep reading. She…explains how our ability to be “good readers” is intimately connected to our ability to reflect, weigh the credibility of information that we are bombarded with across platforms, form our own opinions, and ultimately strengthen democracy.”The Hindu 

“Wolf raises a clarion call for us to mend our ways before our digital forays colonise our minds completely.” Deccan Herald


“Maryanne Wolf goes to the heart of the problem: reading is a political act and the speed of information  can decrease our critical thought.”Corriere della Sera, Pier Luigi Vercesi

 “Neuroscience-based advice to parents of digital natives: the last book of Maryanne Wolf explains how to maintain focus and navigate a constant bombardment of information.”La Repubblica, Elena Dusi

 “Are we able to truly read any longer? This is the question that Maryanne Wolf asks herself and our world.”—Anderse, Germana Paraboschi

 “This last beautiful book of Maryanne Wolf both suggests that we protect children from screen dependency and also that we…. need to give back the joy of the reading experience to our children!”—Corriere della Sera, Alessandro D’Avenia

 “The heart of this book brings us to our own “deep reading” processes--- the ability to enter into the text, to feel that we are part of it.” —Il Sole 24 Ore, Carlo Ossola