Though her interests encompass a broad range of periods, cultures and disciplines, she initially focused on life sciences in early modern Europe, coming to the Warburg Institute in 1997, where she earned an MA in the early modern history of ideas and wrote her PhD thesis on the mind-body relation in the late 17th century (the full text is here). From 2002 to 2011, she lived in New York. She was an "Arts and Neuroscience" Fellow at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America, at Columbia University, and Visiting Assistant Professor in the Humanities at Bard College and at the Bard Graduate Center. She lived in Paris from 2011, where she has been a Research Associate at the Institut Jean Nicod. In Spring 2021, she moved to Florence. She is currently a Visiting Fellow at the European University Institute (Fiesole).
Her critically acclaimed latest book, The Ceiling Outside: The Science and Experience of the Disrupted Mind, is an exploration of brain, self, dementia and medicine based on the stories of neuropsychiatric patients, published by Basic Books (UK and US) in Spring 2022.
Her first book, Passions and Tempers: A History of the Humours, published in the US by Ecco (HarperCollins) and in Italy by Bompiani, was a New York Times Review Editor’s Choice for July 2007 and one of the Washington Post Best Non-Fiction Books for 2007. Her second book, a biography of Lucien Bonaparte co-authored with her husband Marcello Simonetta, was Napoleon and the Rebel: A Story of Brotherhood, Passion, and Power, published in the US/UK by Palgrave Macmillan and in Italy by Bompiani.
She is currently writing a biography of anthropologist Franz Boas for the “Jewish Lives” series of Yale University Press.