Welcome to my comprehensive list of the 16 best psychology books on human behavior. I made sure to get a little bit of everything and cover a wide range of books, so let’s dive in.
I like to read a lot. That’s probably no surprise to anyone who reads my work. And I tend to read a lot of psychology books to help me write characters.
Well, I’ve got a big list of them for ya.
You might be wondering why I need such a long list if I’m trying to only identify the best. Well, each item on this list covers a different aspect of psychology, so it’s hard to really pin it down to 4-5 and say they’re the best, because they really only cover one aspect of psychology, which is an infinitely complex subject.
Here’s a quick list of everything I’ve included here, and you can continue reading for my typical breakdown of each item on this list.
I thought I’d start out with a book for beginners. Because honestly, we all have to start somewhere, and given that human behavior is such a multi-faceted concept, we need something that can dumb it down a bit when starting out.
For me, The Psychology Book does all of that for me. I love this book because it takes a lot of key concepts and breaks them down so they’re easy to understand. Plus it’s produced by a team of experts and published by DK, which is known for making a lot of complex topics simple. It flows well and is definitely my preferred recommendation if you’re new to psychology.
If you already have a basic grasp on general psychology principles, then keep on reading.
This is a book that is considered a classic, as it was originally published in 1964. But since then it has sold millions of copies and continues to do so.
It covers what I believe to be one of the most important aspects of human nature: social psychology and relationships. After all, that’s really what we’re all about, right? We do so much of what we do because of other people, whether it’s for selfish or selfless reasons, it usually involves others in some way.
That’s why this is my top recommendation for people who want to dive deeper into psychology and need a good starting place.
Whether we know it or not, we are constantly making decisions, and we’re doing it all at the…blink of an eye. That is the topic of this book. Blink goes into depth on our inner psychology of decision making, and how it’s not as simple as we think. Malcolm Gladwell is also an amazing author, and one that I definitely recommend you check out if you want to learn more about human behavior.
Speaking of decision making, Predictably Irrational is a book that also goes into depth of the abnormal psychology of decisions, all of which tend to be irrational, but predictably so.
I honestly found this book enlightening, but also a little depressing, because it goes to show that not everything we do is completely rational. Instead, we make a lot of decisions based on emotions and environmental factors, which are worth knowing about if we want to understand everyday life.
For the psychology student who wants to learn more about why people are so mean sometimes, when they think they’re being good and right, then I highly recommend Blindspot. It’s a book that goes into detail about why we often develop biases against certain people, groups, ideas, etc.
In today’s age, I think this is one of the more important topics that can be discussed, especially if we want to improve how we tackle issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia. So while it can get into some dark psychology, it’s one of those things that will ultimately lead to a better society and our own improved mental health.
Daniel Kahneman has two systems that he says most of us use in our own cognitive psychology. One is fast, intuitive, and emotional. The second is slower, more deliberative, and logical. In other words, they’re Kirk and Spock. This kind of goes along with some of the other decision-making books on this list, but focuses more on why we do what we do, and the supposedly conflicting forces behind it.
Have you ever struggled with motivation? I know I have. I’ve come up with these grand ideas, get really excited about them, think that excitement will last forever…and then it doesn’t.
Well Daniel H. Pink goes into a lot of the study of these things, and how motivation is not linked to rewards or punishments, like we think it might be.
Did you know that over a third of all humans are introverts? I certainly didn’t before I read this book, but it’s true. If you are an introvert, or regularly associate with them, you might want to read this book, which dives deep into the psychology of introversion, and tells us how introverts can thrive.
Because let’s face it. Our society isn’t really set up to help introverts succeed, so books like this are very helpful.
We’ve all heard about IQs, right? We know that intelligence is something that not everyone has in the same quantity. But did you know that it might not actually be the key factor in success?
Turns out, emotional intelligence, meaning the ability to empathize and build up self-discipline and the like, are far more important to success as a whole.
I like this book because it’s kind of a blend of a psychology book and a self-help book, meaning that I felt like I was really learning things that would actively help me in my own life while I was reading it.
This was one of the first psychology books that really wowed me. It’s also a bit of a combination between a psychology book and a self-help book, because if you can master your habits, it really goes a long way towards your self improvement.
But this one leans more on the psychological aspects, and it’s fascinating stuff. Did you know that people with no short-term memory can still develop habits? Even if they don’t know where they developed those habits? Yeah, pretty mind blowing.
Have you ever had one of those times when you were working, and things just started to line up for you. You were able to keep hyper focused, time flew by, and you were enjoying what you were doing?
That’s called the flow state, and it’s the centerpiece of this book by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (I’m very glad I only have to write that down and not pronounce it).
This book is the definitive psychology book about flow, which is something I think we all wish we had a little more of. Check it out!
This is a book that honestly got a little uncomfortable for me, because power is a tool that human beings have used for good and evil. This book doesn’t discriminate, but just tells us the psychology and “rules” behind what makes powerful people what they are.
It’s interesting reading, but can get a little scary sometimes. Still, better to know and understand these things than to be ignorantly fooled by someone using these principles for evil.
Psychologist Paul Ekman is another must read author if you want to understand the psychology of emotion. Because our human brain is full of them, from anger to happiness and everything in-between.
I love this book because it goes into depth about what is actually happening in our brain with these emotions, as well as our being able to detect it in others, especially those closest to us.
Not every book on this list is light. The Road to Jonestown is actually a harrowing story of a group of people who followed Jim Jones to the largest murder-suicide in our history.
This book examines exactly what happened to make so many people follow a charismatic leader to take their own lives, and it’s chilling. At the same time, it’s fascinating information, and a story that I think we should also keep in mind so we can guard against it in the future.
So far I’ve presented books that are generally meant to be read and understood by the general public. But I had to get something closer to a psychology textbook on the list. This book delves into the very interesting field of neuro-linguistic programming, which is a way of “reprogramming” our brains to be whatever we want them to be.
Last but not least, Triggers is a book that is meant for sales people to learn more about what makes people tick, so they can have more influence in sales. That sounds a little slimy, but all the principles are sound, and based in real science.
In fact, I would recommend that everyone read this so you understand what makes you want to buy something, because that can be super valuable information.
Being mindful of how you think is the first step to controlling it.
It’s great to read a book like these and learn some fun facts, but you have to take it to the next level.
What you will do depends on who you are and what you want to be.
Do you want to make more sales? Start practicing the principles you learn.
Do you want to understand your weird uncle and not blow up at them on thanksgiving dinner? You should study emotional intelligence and learn what you can do, then put that into practice.
Ultimately, you want to take action, because knowledge is not power, it’s only potential power. So get to work reading, and then applying what you learn!