My Top 20 Psychology Books (15-11)

If you missed out on the first post (20-16), I have decided to share my top 20 popular Psychology books of all time.

To keep each blog post short, and also to build up a little bit of suspense, I have decided to break up the countdown into four separate posts.

To qualify, each book has been personally read and enjoyed. I will not include books that I have covered in detail in previous articles, nor will I include more than one title from each author.

To avoid personal bias in the rankings, I will rank them from lowest star rating to highest. If there is a tie in regards to the star rating, I will discuss the most recent title (based on year of publication of the version I am reviewing) first. Hopefully, some of them can be useful to you.

Here are the titles that have been included so far:

20. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQDaniel Goleman (2005). star rating = 4.1/5

19. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You – Elaine Aron (1997). star rating = 4.3/5

18. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone-Especially Ourselves – Dan Ariely (2013). star rating = 4.4/5

17. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live – and How You Can Change Them – Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley (2012). star rating = 4.4/5

16. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – Roy Baumeister and John Tierney (2012). star rating = 4.4/5

Please check out the first post (20-16) if you’d like to see why these books are good or who they are recommended for.


Now for numbers 15-11…


15. Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell (2011) star rating = 4.4/541h5QL0vVEL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s good: Gladwell looks into the various facets of life that can increase our chances of success. He explains that many people do not just succeed because they have the talent, but are also in the right place at the right time, and put in an incredible amount of work to obtain their success. He states that it can take up to 10,000 hours before we truly become a genius at something, and describes the backstory of The Beatles and Bill Gates, and how much work and hours they put in to reach their levels of success. Any “overnight sensation” that has sustainable success has usually put in much groundwork before they “make it” too, even though the media doesn’t tend to show this part.

Gladwell also shows how children who are born in certain months of the year (depending on when the cut-off dates are for various sports) are much more likely to make representative teams when they are younger, mainly because they are older than the other children. Developmentally, an 8-year-old is expected to be more coordinated and physically stronger than a 7-year-old who is 364 days younger but playing in the same age group as them, so it makes sense why they get picked first. Although this may not seem like a problem, it does tend to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, because the older kids then get the best coaching and the most encouragement, and are much more likely to make a state or national team in that sport when they are older.

Outliers is the main reason why I will now recommend for children to start primary or elementary school later rather than earlier. Younger kids are more likely to be restless in class and display signs of ADHD, whereas older kids are seen as smarter with more leadership qualities, mainly because they are older. These early perceptions by teachers, other children, parents and even the children themselves can also become self-fulfilling prophecies. It is therefore much better to have your child as one of the older rather than younger students in a class. It could give them an advantage from the beginning that helps them to be more successful in the long run.

Read it if: You liked any of the Freakonomics books or if you are interested in learning some unique perspectives about what leads to success in various aspects of life, such as why Chinese students are likely to be better than American students at Mathematics.


14. Games People Play: The Psychology of Human Relationships – Eric Berne (1967) star rating = 4.4/54147QOr6BGL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s goodBerne is known as the father of Transactional Analysis. Although the book seems a little outdated now, it is quite an insightful read into various interpersonal interactions, such as rituals, pastimes, and games. It is based on the idea that each of us has within us an inner parent, adult and child ego-state. As long as we are relating to people in the way that they are relating to us, then everything will run smoothly. If instead, we are trying to relate to the other person like a parent to a child, whereas the other person is trying to relate to us as an adult to another adult, then we are likely to have miscommunication and potential conflict (as depicted by the crossed lines in the book cover). This is why teens and parents have so much conflict, as the adolescent wants to be seen as an adult, but their parents still treat them like a child. It is also why unwarranted advice so often goes wrong, especially among peers.

Games are much more complicated than rituals or pastimes, and consist of two separate messages being sent at the same time. What person A says to person B is the clear message or overt behaviour, but the underlying intention of person A is different. This is done to obtain a specific result or reaction from person B. Berne covers all the possible games that people play, with the idea that if you know what these games are, you will be more adept at dealing with deceitful, indirect, or passive aggressive people. A game is typically won by the person who returns to the adult ego-state the quickest, so if you can understand what someone is trying to do, but not be trapped by it, you are successfully not being pulled into the mind game that they are trying to play, and you win.

Read it if: You are interested in why people always talk about sports or the weather. Or you have a tendency to rub people the wrong way and want to know why. Or you are interested in learning about the rules of the various games, including “See What You Made Me Do,” “Why Don’t You – Yes But,” “Ain’t It Awful,” and “Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch!”


13. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business – Charles Duhigg (2014) star rating = 4.5/5 51Ml+jD9l3L._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s good: Firstly, this book taught me about how amazing the product Febreze is, and why habits inform even which products become top-sellers. To begin with, they had this amazing product which literally did what no other product at the time could do. Febreze could eliminate all odours in an environment rather than just mask the smell with another smell, as a lot of other air fresheners do. They were even able to remove all stinky smells with a lady who handled skunks during the day, so that her friends may actually want to get into a car with her or come over to her house again. Yet no one was buying it, because it wasn’t built into any of our pre-existing habits! It wasn’t until they put a pleasant smell into it and encouraged people to spray it at the end of their household clean that it started to fly off the shelves. I want the initial odourless product minus the fake “fresh” smell, please.

Apart from the wonders of Febreze, Duhigg teaches us that every habit follows the same loop:

  1. Our urge or craving to do a particular thing is always triggered by something, whether it is a specific emotion, thought, sensation, time or place.
    • It is why I always crave popcorn when I go to the cinemas, and yet never crave it in any other place or at any other time.
  2. We then engage in a set routine that we engage in when we get the urge or craving.
    • As much as I try to resist, I usually buy the extremely overpriced, over-salted and over-buttered movie popcorn.
  3. We then experience a reward or payoff for engaging in the routine.
    • I keep engaged in the movie more, get to crunch on something loud and annoying for the people around me, and enjoy the overall experience.

As long as there is a reward, the loop is complete, and the next time we encounter the same trigger, our urge or craving increases, and we feel more pressure to engage in the habitual routine. Over time as we participate in the habit more, we also tend to get less and less of a reward, which only strengthens the urge or craving further.

If we want to break a habit, the easiest way is to find an alternative, hopefully, a healthy routine that we can engage in when the urge or craving arises that gives us the same reward. If it gets rid of the urges and desire, you will know that the alternative routine has worked, and you can then repeat this the next time the craving is triggered.

Read it if: You are interested in learning more about how habits work, how marketers and casinos use our habits for their benefit, or if you would like more detailed step-by-step instructions for how to best break or change a habit.


12. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Revised Edition – Robert Cialdini (2006) star rating = 4.5/5 512-B-1yXuL._AC_US320_QL65_

Why it’s good: To write this book, Cialdini actually infiltrated various sales industries and went through their training programs to learn the tricks of the trade. What he came up with, alongside the research he did, was six universal principles of persuasion, which are tools that can be used to get people to change their behaviour. When used in ethical ways, they can assist people in ways that are consistent with who they would like to be. Marketers know these principles all too well though, and if they are not concerned with ethics or the customers best interests, they will only do what is best for them – selling more products. If we don’t know what these principles of persuasion are, we will be influenced by them without even realising. Even if we do know these principles, we are not immune to being influenced by them, but understanding them and discouraging others from using these tactics (or making them illegal) is our best defence against them.

The six principles are:

  1. Reciprocation – Be wary of people who try to give you things for free. We often feel indebted to them and try to repay the favour. If you take something that is free, make sure that you actually want it.
  2. Social Proof – When uncertain, we look to others for what is the right thing to do and follow suit. This is why testimonials are so compelling, even if they are fake, and why Psychologists are not allowed to use them when marketing their services.
  3. Commitment and Consistency – Nobody likes to be seen as a flake or a hypocrite. We want to be seen as consistent in regards to our values and attitudes, and committed in regards to our actions, especially once we have publicly declared what they will be. I am more likely to stick to my goals as soon as I put them out there for the world to see.
  4. Liking – If we like someone, we are more likely to say yes to whatever they ask of us. We are also more likely to favour people that we feel that we know, people that are similar to us, people that are more physically attractive, and people that give us lovely compliments. Be wary of a complimentary salesperson, even if it has nothing to do with what they are trying to sell.
  5. Authority – People respect and are typically obedient to authority, as was shown in the now infamous Stanley Milgram experiment. The results were so shocking that the researchers and Psychiatrists failed to predict by a large margin just how compliant people would be in inflicting pain on others when they are told to do so by an authority figure. Even actors posing as dentists can be very useful in selling toothpaste, so make sure that someone’s authority is legitimate before listening to what they have to say.
  6. Scarcity – This is related to supply and demand. The more scarce people think a commodity is, the more they want it. Manipulative people will use our tendency to be more sensitive to possible losses when they give us an ultimatum or trick us into believing that something is a “last chance opportunity” when it really isn’t.

Read it if: You’d like to learn more about the six universal principles of persuasion, how to use them to ethically persuade other people, and how to defend yourself against them when they are used by marketers, salespeople and other manipulative people in your life.


11. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things From Taking Over Your Life – Richard Carlson (1996) star rating = 4.5/5


Why it’s goodIt’s 100 simple, easy-to-grasp recommendations for how not to worry too much about the little things in life. This is most things that we worry about, especially if we can put them into a broader perspective. Some of my favourites are:

  • Make peace with imperfection
  • Be aware of the snowball effect of your thinking
  • Develop your compassion
  • Choose being kind over being right
  • Learn to live in the present moment
  • Surrender to the fact that life isn’t fair
  • Practice patience
  • Breathe before you speak
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Set aside quiet time each day
  • Choose your battles wisely
  • Seek first to understand
  • Become a better listener
  • Practice humility
  • Be flexible with changes in your plans
  • Think of what you have instead of what you want
  • Cut yourself some slack
  • Listen to your feelings
  • Give up on the idea that more is better
  • Look for the extraordinary in the ordinary
  • When in doubt about whose turn it is to take out the trash, go ahead and take it out
  • Do something nice for someone else – and don’t tell anyone about it

Read it if: You’d like to learn more about any of the recommendations that I have mentioned, or if you want to check out what the other recommendations are.


The third part of the countdown (#10-6) is now up…

Published by Dr Damon Ashworth

I am a Clinical Psychologist. I completed a Doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Monash University and a Bachelor of Behavioural Sciences and a Bachelor of Psychological Sciences with Honours at La Trobe University. I am passionate about the field of Psychology, and apply the latest empirical findings to best help individuals meet their psychological and emotional needs.

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