The best psychology books to understand people and clarify human behavior.
I almost dreaded starting this post as I knew it would not be easy.
But it’s a fundamental reading list for this website (and for our lives).
Indeed to get better with people (and to get what you want in life) you first have to understand people and human behavior (including your own).
This list of best psychology books focuses on how people think, what makes them tick and what makes them do what they do.
Great Psychology Books
People are not the simplest creatures and it takes more than one theory, science or book to answer for our behavior.
That means that a TOP 10 of best psychology books would not be enough. We need a few more titles to fully understand human psychology and human behavior.
So make sure you take a look at these great psychology books as well:
- Predictably Irrational: debunks the “homo economicus” theories, showing how our irrational side often trumps the rational one
- Games People Play: very Freudian, but you will better understand some behavioral patterns of dysfunctional relationships
- Influence: Cialdini’s big classic, lists 6 key principles that influence human’s behavior
- The Mask of Masculinity: good for a better grasp of male psychology (and the image they try to portray)
- The Man’s Guide to Women: this a great book to gain a better understanding of both women and relationships in one go
- Date-onomics: how supply and demand affects dating and behavior. You can’t really understanding dating without this book
- Fooled by Randomness: this book will change the way you will look at poor research and fake science. The induction fallacy has become a staple with which a analyze (and criticize) all the books I review
- The Brain that Changes Itself: the staple of brain plasticity. It explains how our brain can change and develop through effort, repetition and time
- The Definite Book of Body Language: there is a connection between mind and body. Learning what the body says is also a great way to understand the mind
- The Selfish Gene : a great primer on evolutionary psychology
- Incognito: how our subconscious controls us more than we think
- 48 Laws of Power: focus on the darker side of human nature and the games people play (bit over-hyped but good)
- 12 Rules for Life: helps you understand the issues of people bottling up anger and darkest drives (we must channel them positively, not repress them)
- Man’s Search for Meaning: while not strictly a psychology book, in a way Man’s Search for Meaning says all that there is to know about human beings:
Man is that being who invented the gas chambers (..). And also that being who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread.
I always get misty eyed reading that. Let’s all try to be the change for more of the latter.
10. Eliminating Passive Aggressiveness
Not only there are probably more passive aggressive people than we think, but most of us do behave passive-aggressively at least some of the times.
Once you understand passive aggression, you will also understand people better.
“Passive aggression stems from a failure to set personal boundaries”
9. Mindset: Psychology of Success
Mindset was the N.1 of the best self-help books list.
But it’s also a wonderful book to understand all-around human psychology.
You will understand why some people always feel the need to make excuses and why they are afraid of trying new things (hint: personal identity and social identity are at stake before you develop a growth mindset)
With Mindset, suddenly, human behavior will make much more sense to you.
“Talent isn’t passed in the genes; it’s passed in the mindsets“
8. Thinking Fast and Slow
Thinking Fast and Slow explains that most of our decisions happen quickly, without our rational part of the brain ever getting involved. However those decisions are often based simplistic (and often incorrect) heuristics.
This was also the first popular book to systematically list our cognitive biases, which will give you a great overview of all the limitations and imperfections of our brain.
“Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance“
7. The Prince
The Prince, heralded as the first treatise of political philosophy and realpolitik, is a classic. It’s possibly the best book to understand how the upper echelons of power often work.
And that is to “do what you gotta do to keep and increase power, and then say what you gotta say to look good”.
I gushed a bit in my review where I wrote that The Prince contains the keys to save the world.
It’s this website’s belief indeed that we desperately need enlightened, ultimately good people who know how to be bad (otherwise the real bad ones will run slipshod).
“Everyone sees what you appear to be, but few experience who you really are“
6. Why Does He Do That?
Why Does He Do That focuses on abusive men and the dynamics of abusive relationship.
Albeit it might seem a very specific topic, I believe that’s not the case. First of all, I’m afraid that are more men with abusive tendencies than we’d care to admit.
And second, abusive relationships are all about power dynamics, which will help you understand power relationships in general. Especially watch out for gaslighting and the way abusive men seek to lower their victims’ self esteem.
“In reality, to remain neutral is to collude with the abusive man, whether or not that is your goal”
Is it true that some men (and more rarely women) “need” to pull away when relationships get too intimate? And is it true that some people crave intimacy more than others while needing constant reassurance from their partners?
And what’s this all this intimacy stuff, do we all even need intimacy?
The answers are yes, yes and yes for all the three of them.
Attached fleshes out both how intimacy allows us to lead more empowered lives and how different personality relate to intimacy.
It’s eye opening stuff if you are not already familiar with attachment styles.
“To be independent, find the right person to be dependent to”
4. Not Just Friends
Not Just Friends is about infidelity.
Some might think this is too narrow of a scope to understand general truths about human beings and psychology. But that’s not the case. Just think about this: what is infidelity really about?
Infidelity goes at the core of what really matters to us:
- Security (counting on the people closest to us to support us, not hurt us)
Why do even good people sometimes stray, how does it happen and what are the consequences? These are the questions that Not Just Friends will help provide an answer for.
It’s a rather long book, but if you’re serious about learning psychology, people and human nature, you can’t skip it.
“The unfaithful says they are protecting their partner; they are really protecting themselves to continue their double life”
3. The Art of Seduction
Obviously the book cover of The Art of Seduction wants to mimic a vagina.
However, The Art of Seduction is much more than “just” sexual seduction.
This is a deep voyage in the meanders of social seduction, social power and human psychology.
“People are more complicated than the mask they wear in society”
Drive stands huge among the psychology books that will explain and clarify human behavior to you.
Similarly to how psychology undermined the idea of the rational human beings doing rational economic decisions, Drive undermines the idea that we are motivated to do only what’s in our rational self interest.
Indeed it’s not more money that drive us. And it’s not material incentives that lead to more work and better engagement.
Material incentives can actually be counterproductive.
Especially when people could instead tap into our deeper drives to do help, to belong and to do work that matters.
“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”
1. The Moral Animal
All books in this list are fundamental pieces of the human mind puzzle. And no puzzle is complete without all the pieces.
But The Moral Animal is that keystone big piece.
I doubt anyone can fully understand dating, relationships and human behavior without fully understanding the concepts beyond this incredible book.
I first read The Moral Animal around a decade ago. Back then I felt like I had acquired the keys to understand the world (or at least the people in it). I have read many more equally important books since then, but this is still up there in the Olympus.
Just one note: evolutionary psychology has been abused to lend (false) credibility to all personal opinions and bro-science theories. Always take evolutionary psychology with a grain of salt: as a non-falsifiable science it’s often not an actual science.
“We are built to be effective animals, not happy ones”
Best Psychology Books: a Note
Albeit lists are inherently seductive to the human mind, try not to make too much of the “order”.
What adds the most value for you depends on your background and what you already know. But if you are serious about understanding people, then every single one of the books in this reading list is mandatory.
And if you are really serious about understanding people, then this is only your starting list.