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Despite being a relatively new scientific field, psychology is one of the most written-about subjects, as humans strive to understand our minds and behaviors.
For students considering or currently enrolled in a psychology degree program, it can be challenging to know where to find essential psychology texts. That’s why we scoured bestseller lists and asked professional psychologists for their recommendations to compile this list of the best psychology books. Our picks cover topics including the psychology behind motivation, making and breaking habits, interpersonal relationships, happiness, and more.
Whether they are required or supplemental reading, these books introduce students to a variety of psychology theories and practices, opening doors to further study and specialization.
The 19 Best Psychology Books to Read
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel KahnemanBuy Now
As the title suggests, this book argues that we have two primary modes of thinking: one is fast and emotional, whereas the other is slow and logical. These systems help us make sense of human behavior and decision-making. Published to great acclaim, the book was named best book of the year by many publications.
Graham Byers, founder at Best Choices For Seniors, notes: “Perfect for those wishing to know more about the function of our minds and how we can control them efficiently. A Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman interacts excellently with the reader in this text!”
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape our Decisions by Dan ArielyBuy Now
Professor Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape our Decisions sets out to overturn many of our assumptions about decision-making, especially our assumption that decision-making is rational. Using entertaining anecdotes and studies, Ariely points out the most common mistakes people make repeatedly — and how to avoid them. NBC is currently producing a television series based on the book.
Emotional Intelligence: Discover why it can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel GolemanBuy Now
Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence: Discover why it can Matter More Than IQ argues that in nearly every dimension of life, emotional intelligence matters as much, if not more, than IQ. Goleman says that, unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be learned and nurtured, and argues that it should be taught in schools and workplaces. A longtime New York Times bestseller, the book has been translated into over 40 languages.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. CialdiniBuy Now
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion lays out the psychology of how persuasion works and how people and businesses can apply these psychological insights in ethical ways. Caldini details his Universal Principles of Influence, which can help you hone your persuasion skills and defend against others’ unethical persuasion attempts. This international bestseller has sold over 5 million copies.
Gail Rudolph, bestselling author of Power Up, Power Down: How to Reclaim Control and Make Every Situation a Win/Win, recommends this title. One of only 13 people in the world credentialed to teach Dr. Cialdini’s method, Rudolph says, “Ethical and effective use of power dynamics is essential to success. This book builds that foundation for future leaders in the field.”
Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships by Eric BerneBuy Now
Published in 1964, Eric Berne’s classic Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships is as relevant today as it was 60 years ago. The book takes a transactional approach to social interaction and discusses specific types of social games, such as marital games, party games, and sexual games.
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan HeathBuy Now
Chip and Dan Heath’s bestseller Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard explores why it’s so hard to make lasting changes. The authors argue that two different systems, the emotional and the rational, rule our minds, which inevitably leads to perpetual conflict. This story-driven book illuminates the pattern behind transformational change and teaches you to apply that pattern in your own life — whether you want to change the world or lose ten pounds.
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan HaidtBuy Now
In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, psychologist Jonathan Haidt takes several “great ideas” on happiness from influential thinkers of the past — including Plato, Buddha, and Jesus — and grounds them in contemporary psychology and neuroscience. Published to stellar reviews, this book has been credited with linking ancient thought and modern science in an engaging, approachable, and witty way.
Rudolf Probst, a medical doctor who specializes in immunology, psychology, and audiology (among other fields), says about this book, “A great read that combines critical theory and history with contemporary science!”
The Power of Habit: Why we do What we do in Life and Business by Charles DuhiggBuy Now
Charles Duhigg’s bestseller The Power of Habit: Why we do What we do in Life and Business examines the science behind how we form, maintain, and reform habits. The book argues that habits are central to everything we do and teaches you how to create or change habits that can positively affect your personal, professional, and social life. This was a New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon.com bestseller and was nominated for a host of prestigious awards.
Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. PinkBuy Now
Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us uses psychology to answer the question, “Why do we do what we do?” Unlike some other scholars, Pink argues that motivation is primarily intrinsic. We are motivated by a desire for autonomy, mastery, and/or purpose rather than a desire for extrinsic rewards, such as status and money.
Influence: Science and Practice by Robert CialdiniBuy Now
Influence: Science and Practice is a thorough analysis of the psychology behind decision-making in a world where consumers are inundated by information and choice. Psychologist Robert Cialdini exposes the seven key “influence weapons” compliance professionals (from salespeople to religious leaders) use to influence people and helps you guard against their traps.
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry SchwartzBuy Now
Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less claims that eliminating or limiting consumer choices can reduce stress and anxiety in shoppers, making them more likely to make a purchase. The book argues that, from the standpoint of human psychology, more choice often leads to less action owing to stress and overwhelm.
The Social Animal by Elliot AronsonBuy Now
This APA medal–winning book approaches human behavior from the perspective of modern social psychology. Through this lens, Aronson analyzes everything from terrorism and race relations to advertising, interpersonal attraction, and the power of religious cults. Often used as assigned reading in university courses, this is a landmark text for anyone interested in social psychology. .
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help you Find — and Keep — Love by Amir LevineBuy Now
Dr. Amir Levine’s Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it can Help you Find — and Keep — Love is a practical relationship guide rooted in psychological theory. Using the science of psychology, the book explains why some people seem to succeed at relationships while others fail, and it details how the psychology of adult attachment can help you find and nourish lasting, healthy, and loving relationships.
Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment by Martin E. P. SeligmanBuy Now
Martin E. P. Seligman’s national bestseller Authentic Happiness: Using the new Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment introduced the field of positive psychology to the public. Seligman argues that true, sustainable happiness comes from focusing on your strengths, not your weaknesses, and using those strengths to better your life. The book is full of practical exercises and engaging assessments.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm GladwellBuy Now
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking presents a popular science approach to the concept of the adaptive unconscious. The book considers the benefits and drawbacks of our automatic mental processes, or, as Gladwell calls it, “thin-slicing.” The book includes examples drawn from fields as diverse as science and medicine, tennis, and pop music, to name a few.
Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of the Mind by David BussBuy Now
David Buss’s textbook Evolutionary Psychology: The Science of the Mind is designed to help students understand evolutionary psychology and how to apply theory to real-world situations. Buss’s text breaks down this intersection of psychology and evolutionary biology into manageable chunks for students and the public. He is one of the founding scholars of the field.
Man's Search for Meaning: The Classic Tribute to Hope From the Holocaust by Viktor E. FranklBuy Now
Man’s Search for Meaning: The Classic Tribute to Hope from the Holocaust is the memoir of psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl. The book pairs vivid recounting of Frankl’s harrowing experiences as a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp with the therapy that emerged from his search for meaning. This is one of the most influential books in America, not just for those interested in psychology but for anyone who cares about the human condition.
Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol DweckBuy Now
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success explores the role of mindset in success in every area of life. Dweck breaks mindset into two types, fixed and growth, and discusses the implications of each. The newest edition of the book adds a third type of mindset, “false growth mindset,” and provides practical steps for deepening your commitment to growth.
Recommended by Rick Ornelas, Ultimate Success Coach™ and founder of I Spark Change, he says, “For anyone starting their careers, this book can help them elevate their social impact and spread positive change.”
Mistakes Were Made (but not by Me), Third Edition by Caroll TavrisBuy Now
Caroll Tavris’s Mistakes Were Made (but not by Me) explains the tactics we use to self-justify beliefs, decisions, and actions we know to be wrong, and provides solutions for how to combat that process. She also discusses sociocultural and political phenomena, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and current political division, from the standpoint of psychological theory.
How We Picked the Best Human Psychology Books
To create our list of the best psychology books, we started with a list of 136 psychology books gathered using bestseller lists from publications such as The New York Times and other “best of” lists published on the internet by industry leaders.
Then, we put out a call to professional psychologists and other leaders across the country and asked them to recommend their favorite books. After that, we were able to narrow our list of recommendations down to these 19 books. Important criteria for inclusion on this list included a broad audience of intended readers and a consensus on the book’s balance of science and accessibility. Our goal was to provide you a list of books that will provide you with a new or interesting insight into the human mind.
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