The Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read

A couple of years ago I wrote a blog post about my favorite psychology and usability books. Since then there have been more great psychology books to hit the bookstores, so I thought it was time to update the list.I’ve also decided to split the list, so this one is just psychology books. I’ll do another post on UX and Design books.

I do have an Amazon affiliate account, so I’ve included a link to each book after the description if you are interested in purchasing or just getting more info.

1. Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, 2011 – If you want to understand how people think and how and why they react, then this is a must read. Daniel Kahneman is a Nobel prize winner in Economics, but this book is all about how people think and react. It’s very well written, but I will warn you, it’s not an easy read. Plan to spend time reading this one. But it will be worth it for the understanding you get into why we do the things we do.

 

2. Redirect, by Timothy Wilson, 2011 – This is the second book of Timothy Wilson’s on my list. If you want to know how to make permanent and lasting change in your behavior, or the behavior of someone you know, then this is the book to read. Wilson covers the recent and often very surprising research on interventions and therapies that result in people actually changing. Permanent behavior change is hard to come by. This book tells you what does and doesn’t work based on research.

 

3. Drive, by Daniel Pink, 2011 – What really motivates people? This book covers the research on human motivation in the last few years. It’s well written, and an easy read, and will explode some long-standing beliefs.

 

4, The Invisible Gorilla by Chabris and Simon, 2011 – Chabris and Simon explain their research that shows how what we think we are seeing and experiencing is not really what’s out there. A fun book about how we deceive ourselves.

 

5. Strangers to Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy Wilson, 2004 – This is the book that actually got me started seriously on the topic of the unconscious. I had read Blink (Malcolm Gladwell) and although that was an interesting book, I wanted more depth and detail. Gladwell referenced Wilson’s book so I started reading it and light bulbs went off for me. This one is a bit more academic and psychological, especially the first few chapters, but all in all, a great book with lots of interesting insights and strong research.

 

6. Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert, 2007 – This is a fun read. I don’t think it’s really about Happiness, so I don’t totally understand the title. To me it’s mainly about memory of the past, and anticipation about the future, and the research on how accurate or inaccurate we are about both past and future. It’s full of fascinating research, but is written in a very readable way.

 

7. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert Cialdini, 2006 – This is a newer version of the original book that came out several years ago. This book is the “granddaddy” of all the other books on the topic of persuasion. A very worthwhile read. Interesting too, because at the time he originally wrote this book each chapter had a section on how to RESIST the persuasive techniques. He wasn’t a proponent of using them; he wanted you to know about them so you wouldn’t fall prey. He did a turn-around on that mindset for his later work and writing.

 

8. Brain Rules: 12 Principles For Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School, by John Medina, 2009 – This is a somewhat misleading book. From the way it’s described you would think it’s a very practical book, for everyone, not academic or research oriented. But actually it’s quite a treasure trove of research, which I think is a good thing. He has this weird section at the end of each chapter where he tells you how to apply the principles in that chapter to your everyday life. I think those sections are the weakest, actually. But the material in the body of each chapter is solid, well referenced and well written. If you want a basic book that explains some basic brain functioning I would definitely read this book.

 

9. Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely, 2008. There is some great content in this book, but I have a basic disagreement with the premise. If you have read my blog posts or books you know that I believe that it is not that our decision-making or mental processing is “irrational”.  It’s unconscious, but that doesn’t mean irrational or bad. Our unconscious mental processing works most of the time. Ariely’s view is that we are irrational and irrational means bad, and that we should learn how to counteract our mental processing. I don’t agree. But the research in the book is still good (it’s his interpretations and recommendations I take issue with).

 

10. And please forgive me if I put one of my books on the list! — my latest: How To Get People To Do Stuff

Do you agree with my list? Do you have some favorites that I’ve failed to mention?

 

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Posted in book, psychology
15 comments on “The Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read
  1. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer is one of my favourite books of all time. I really feel for him in terms of what he’s going through right now. He made a dumb mistake — likely the result of his lack of training as a journalist — and now he’s paying a pretty hefty price. So sad!

    Another book I really liked that you didn’t mention is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. Really well written and really interesting. I work with writers and I now use some of his techniques to help them deal with writer’s block.

    And, yet another good one: The Now Habit by Neil Fiore. This one will really help procrastinators!

    • Susan says:

      Daphne – I agree about Jonah Lehrer. I do like the Charles Duhigg book.. I think the appendix is the best part. Maybe I should make it the top 12 books? I don’t know The Now Habit. I will have to check it out. Thanks!

    • Dave says:

      “He made a dumb mistake — likely the result of his lack of training as a journalist — and now he’s paying a pretty hefty price. ”

      Really? Lying and making stuff up and deceiving others is just a “dumb mistake” to you? People need to go to a school to learn that? Really?!

      I cannot believe that an adult, and I assume you’re an adult based on your profile pic, would say something that silly!

      Mr. Lehrer is a liar and a cheat. He also plagiarized some facts. Also, he made some serious errors in this book that even a neuroscience undergrad would not make (Lehrer doesn’t seem to know where the basic pars of a brain are for example).

      So yes, if you don’t know the subject, his books might seem interesting to you but if you have a clue about the subject, they’re flat out wrong in many areas.

    • Rotkapchen says:

      I’ve not read “How We Decide”, but the fundamentals of the premise are sound — so sound that it specifically leads to a topic that is oft missed in fundamentals for experience design: economics — the science of choice.

      That said, you have to be very careful. There are few champions of the true fundamentals of economics as the science of choice. It was only years later that I figured out why I saw economics entirely differently than others — I’d been taught by one of the masters: Paul Heyne http://www.economicthinking.org/paulheyne/

      Several editions of his book have been published AFTER his death. The first of these includes a wonderful tribute by the man who hired him to the University of Washington (himself a winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics) http://econfaculty.gmu.edu/pboettke/pubs/1%20Books%20and%20Monographs/EWOT/ewot.html (search for ‘tribute’)

      In one of his books there’s a quote from a PhD in Economics who stated that he realized that “he” hadn’t truly understood economics until he read Paul Heyne’s “The Economic Way of Thinking”. Indeed, as a method ‘of’ thinking it is fundamental for experience design — designing for choice.

      Ok, so I realize that the topic suggested psychology — but at the end of the day — isn’t all of our behaviors grounded in personal economics?

  2. Phi Le says:

    Very nice list! I’ve read a couple of these and I’ve discovered all of them through my subscription to Psychology Today magazine. I just finished “What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.” I recommend it for the ease of reading and the enlightening material, but it doesn’t completely deliver on the titles promise. A lot of insightful research and meaningful real-world examples, but I felt like I’ve read them all elsewhere before. There’s also a helpful list of “Self-help” tips at the end to help you recognize when your brain is acting wonky. Also, the Malcolm Gladwell books are excellent reads as well, even if you don’t always agree with what he says.

    Thanks again for the post!

    • Susan says:

      Good suggestions, Phi. I’ll check out the books you mention. I like Gladwell’s books too… very thought provoking. His book Blink was the start of my checking out unconscious mental processing.

  3. Susan Temer says:

    Thanks for the list, I have read some and will check out the others. Also, I have a short list of great psychology books to add to your list:
    1. “Spark”, effects of exercise on the brain- scientific evidence ; written by Harvard psychiatrist, John j Rate
    2. “Positive Psychology”, Chris Peterson was a professor in the MAPP program, and not only is he a funny guy and great teacher, he has a gift for writing and explaining the basics of Positive Psychology and what we all should know about it.
    3. “What’s Behind Your Belly Button? A Psychological Perspective of the Intelligence of Human Nature and Gut Instinct”, by Martha Love and Robert Sterling is a comprehensive book about getting in touch with your gut instincts and a new gut psychology. Well-researched and good read for psychology students and as a self-help for anyone interested in their gut instincts, covers neurological and biological research as related to body-mind consciousness, as well as giving techniques for improving gut awareness and intuitional intelligence.
    4. “On Becoming a Person” by Carl Rogers, not new but a must read for anyone in psychology.
    5. “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” by C. G. Jung. In the spring of 1957, when he was eighty-one years old, C. G. Jung undertook the telling of his life story. If you only read one book by Carl Jung (or only one psychology book period), this is the one! It is his easiest to understand in narrative style and will give you an understanding of the development of his theories in depth psychology from his personal life journey.

  4. Tyler says:

    Thanks for the list! Where’s the list of psychology and usability books you wrote earlier?

  5. Amy Avergun says:

    If you are looking for a very engaging, understandable and comprehensive book on cognitive biases, then check out “On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits” by Wray Herbert. If you only have time for one book on this topic, this might be a good choice.

  6. lalissa says:

    love it

  7. Farshid Fitzpatrick says:

    Hello dear Susan, thanks for recommending the books
    I bought book #6 and #1
    I had a question as well, it might be sounds quite weird too but since I was a child I could get a lot of informations about how people think and their personality just by listen to them speaking or how they shake hands or even the way they walk
    Of course I’m not always right and the informations I get are not huge, I mean for example yesterday there was a brief speech between me and my cousin and the way she was speaking I figured out she has broken up with a boy lately and that was true, but I couldn’t figure out why, or what I was suppose to tell and react
    So dear Susan, I hoped you could show me the right direction, I wanna understand people’s behavior in advanced but i dunno the right category and books
    Thank you very much, I hope I hear from you shortly

    • Susan Weinschenk says:

      There is a lot of information we process unconsciously. Perhaps that is what you are doing. I would recommend you read Timothy Wilson’s Strangers To Ourselves: The Adaptive Unconscious for more information.

  8. Ananda Pradhan says:

    Susan Madam…..I thought The 7Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey choose to be in your list…after all you help a lot by blogging this list……thank you thank you thank you for your information……

  9. Dibben Nandakishor says:

    The social animal by Elliot Aronson surely must be there

3 Pings/Trackbacks for "The Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read"
  1. [...] NOTE: This blog post was written in 2009. I have a new list of books at a newer blog post. [...]

  2. [...] Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for illuminating the motivations behind risky decision-making. Before Gladwell and Levitt made it fashionable, Kahneman was enthralling readers with insight into the biases that drive human decision-making. In his new book, Kahneman summarises these cognitive biases and their effect on our view of the world. He highlights the difference between our experience and our memory of events, and the real components of happiness. It’s no surprise that Dr. Susan Weinschenk recently placed it at the top of her list Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read. [...]

  3. [...] Daniel Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for illuminating the motivations behind risky decision-making. Before Gladwell and Levitt made it fashionable, Kahneman was enthralling readers with insight into the biases that drive human decision-making. In his new book, Kahneman summarises these cognitive biases and their effect on our view of the world. He highlights the difference between our experience and our memory of events, and the real components of happiness. It’s no surprise that Dr. Susan Weinschenk recently placed it at the top of her list Top 10 Psychology Books You Should Read. [...]

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I'm a Ph.D. psychologist and I write and videoblog about how to apply psychology and brain science research to understand how people think, work, and behave. For more information about me and about the Weinschenk Institute, check out the the Team W website.

Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.
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