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The 11 Best Psychology, Persuasion, and Usability Books You Should Read



NOTE: This blog post was written in 2009. I have a new list of books at a newer blog post.

I love to read. I read fiction and history and psychology… I’m an avid reader. Which means when I give talks on psychology, usability, user experience, or my book, Neuro Web Design,  I often say, “Oh, there’s this great book…” and people then ask me for my “favorite books” list. I always tell them I’ll put one together, and then I never do. Well, here’s a start. Some of these are my favorites, and others I take issue with, but I still think you might want to read. 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.

How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, 2009 – This is my favorite book on the topic of decision-making. It came out after I wrote my book (Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?) or I would have quoted him many times in my book. It’s a small book, and has lots of research in it, but it is quite readable. Highly recommended if you want to understand the how and why of human decision-making.

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.

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.

Neuro Marketing:  Understanding the Buy Buttons in Your Customer’s Brain, by Patrick Renvoise and Christophe Morin – This book is short and easy to read. It applies some of the latest neuro psychology work specifically to marketing and sales. A good book to give to someone who wants an overview without all the research details. A nice concise and quick read that will orient you to the neuro marketing mindset, and give you some quick tips about more effective marketing and selling.

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. 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 subsequent book that I talk about next.

Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Effective, by Robert Cialdini, N.J. Goldstien and S.J. Martin, 2008 – Somewhere along the line I think Dr. Cialdini realized he could probably make a lot of money counseling people and business on how to use the persuasion techniques, instead of teaching people how to resist them! This book is a summary and update of the concepts and research in the previous book. You may not have to read both. I like the original, but this one is a little bit more up to date on the research.

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. I’m also a little jealous… he has 84 reviews in Amazon. Why can’t I get past 12 reviews for Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? People write me emails and send me twitter messages all the time about how much they love my book, and I write back and say, “Please write a review on Amazon”. But they don’t!

Don’t Make Me Think, by Steve Krug, 2005. This is the second edition. The book originally came out in 2000 but it’s really one of those timeless books. Steve is as funny and down to earth and just himself in this book as he is in person. If you are designing a website or a blog or anything on the web you should read this book. It’s short and to the point, and has some great concepts presented in thought provoking ways.

Institutionalization of Usability: A Step by Step Guide, Eric Schaffer, 2004 – I know many of you reading this may not be usability practitioners, but if you are, then this book is THE book to read for (as it says) step by step guide as to how to get usability practices and perspectives to spread throughout your organization.

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 book 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. And for good reasons. And it 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, he has 252 reviews at Amazon and is interviewed by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal! (I still disagree with him).

Well, that’s a start at a book list. (Don’t forget to read my book! Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?)

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


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11 responses to “The 11 Best Psychology, Persuasion, and Usability Books You Should Read”

  1. David Avatar

    Thanks for this collection Susan, I will have a look at some of them.

    Related to these topics I think it is interesting to mention the “body language” topic (Barbara Pease and Allan Pease are probably the most relevant authors). Very useful for professional and personal use.

  2. admin Avatar

    Body language — yes, great idea. I’ll check out those authors you suggest. Thanks!

  3. Richard Sedley Avatar

    Nice overview list Susan. May I offer a couple of other books?

    BJ Fogg’s ‘Persuasive Technology’ defined the discipline of Captology (Computers As Persuasive Technology)

    Like the Ariely book you recommend Sunstein and Thaler’s ‘Nudge’ hails from the field of Behavioural Economics and has some nice case studies

    Finally can I recommend a friend of mine, Dan Lockton. Dan’s ‘Design with Intent’ blog is excellent and provides access to the tool kit he has developed with techniques for persuasion.

    I hope these are useful

    Best wishes


  4. Susan Weinschenk Avatar
    Susan Weinschenk

    Great suggestions Richard. BJ Fogg’s book and the Nudge book I know, but Dan’s blog is new to me, so I’ll have to check it out.

  5. Tiziano Avatar

    Thanks Susan for this booklist.

    Made to Stick

    The Culture Code

  6. […] The 11 Best Psychology, Persuasion, and Usability Books You Should Read […]

  7. LEFLYTIZ Avatar

    added to my rss reader

  8. research paper Avatar

    I’ve read almost half of that list, yeah, some books a really great, but when you read you need to divide what is useful for you and what is not.It’s my advice to you

  9. […] Boeken: The 11 Best Psychology, Persuasion, and Usability Books You Should Read – Applying Psy… […]

  10. Counselling Brisbane Avatar

    Thanks for sharing these all books about psychology. It will help me in the graduation.

  11. Sarah Avatar

    This seems like a great collection. I love to read books, too. Communication, good grammar, and vocabulary is improved when you read.

    Effective Communication

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