25 Pop Psychology Books Everyone Should Read

Psychology drives the ins and outs of everyday existence on a spectrum, from the most miniscule of movements to the most grave of mental illness diagnoses. It’s a universal umbrella, so of course the field attracts a diverse readership. But not everyone possesses a Ph.D. in the subject. Distilling academic research into more populist forms provides a solid groundwork for further inquiry, leading more and more individuals toward scientific enlightenment.

Please note that the term “pop psychology” is used here to denote psychology-related reads accessible to popular, rather than exclusively professional, audiences. It is not meant in the pejorative sense often aimed at the self-help industry. Whether published by those working and shaping the field, patients themselves, or authors with sharp research skills, all of them further the discussion of how the mind works and the ways in which its serious issues must be addressed.

  1. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie:

    One of the classic self-help guides ever published offers up timeless advice about how listening and considering what others have to say nurtures the best relationships. The key is to actually care about their input rather than twisting them into a means to an end, so try to keep that in mind.
  2. Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America by Barbara Ehrenreich:

    “Think positive” is a pretty decent manifesto, but inherently problematic when applied to very real medical conditions like clinical depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and more. Unfortunately, pushing it as the be-all, end-all solution has led to exacerbated stigmas against mental illness, healthcare, and nursing, as well as a culture terrified of failing and growing.

  3. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip Zimbardo:

    Transitioning from perfectly sweet to a selfish monster of Randian proportions is a sadly common phenomenon, and there exists behind it a logical (and rather sad) psychological framework. Philip Zimbardo, one of the most decorated and respected names in the industry, dissects things from a comparatively contemporary angle to illustrate the tenets of turning to the dark side from a general perspective.

  4. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl:

    Man’s Search for Meaning blends memoir with deep philosophical inquiry accessible to readers of most experiences and backgrounds. After surviving Auschwitz and other concentrations camps (his family, tragically, did not prove so fortunate), heavily influential psychologist and neurologist Viktor Frankl applied his prodigious talents to exploring how to move forward and find your purpose when all seems lost.

  5. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks:

    Read provocative stories of the most severe cases of neurological conditions the author encountered in his career and hopefully garner a broader understanding of how critical mental illnesses manifest themselves. Despite the somewhat humorous leanings of the title, the anecdotes contained within come relayed with the deepest sympathy and dignity owed to all persons.
  6. The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout:

    Shocking estimates believe one out of every four Americans meets the diagnostic criteria for sociopathy, but the reality is they aren’t all Patrick Batemans on the inside. Rather, their behavior takes the form of more subtle, but still damaging, behaviors like lying, manipulating, shaming, guilt-tripping, and other dysfunctions.

  7. Mistakes were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Harmful Acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson:

    Denial, shutting down, and refusing to take responsibility for poor behavior all plague human relationships and communication; worse, most people don’t even notice when they themselves engage in harmful behaviors. Sharpening those empathy and self-awareness skills will hopefully alleviate much of the dysfunctions and disrupts caused by cluelessness and improve interpersonal connections.

  8. The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson:

    In some ways, Jon Ronson notes, the psychology industry almost seems as if the inmates run the asylum (maybe not the most politically correct terminology). The author also delves into the psychotic behaviors displayed by politicians, doctors, and executives mirror many of those harbored by individuals in treatment facilities and outpatient care.

  9. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison:

    Kay Redfield Jamison dissects the myth-laden realities of bipolar disorder from a unique perspective, as she both treats patients and lives with the diagnosis. Her personal struggles mirror those of her patients, and she shares what all the condition entails with the hopes of clearing up the mass misunderstandings associated with it.

  10. The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in an Age of Entitlement by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell:

    Americans live in a society pushing self-centeredness as the ultimate virtue (Ayn Rand would be proud), but what this might bode poorly for its overall sustainability. Here, readers learn all about how to combat the migraines associated with constant exposure to, “It’s all about me!”
  11. You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Facebook Friends, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself by David McRaney:

    Kick that narcissism in the pants and soak up some lessons regarding the legion of Jedi mind tricks your own brain plays on you. It’s a sobering look at the brain’s unique quirks that have come to impact the world on both the micro and the macro levels.

  12. Games People Play: The Basic Handbook of Transactional Analysis by Eric Berne:

    Calm down, non-psychology professionals “” “transactional analysis” isn’t a fancy term you’ll need a master’s degree to conquer; in the broadest possible terms, it really just helps readers better understand interpersonal communication and relationship-building. Behind every one of these “games” sits a complex network of unconscious desires and quirks that eventually bubble to the surface.

  13. Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen:

    Get a glimpse at what the mental healthcare system involved during the late 1960s straight from a former patient who landed in such care after surviving a suicide attempt. Not only does it shed light on the experiences many mentally ill individuals encounter even today (though things have changed somewhat during the past half-century), it also provides insight into the oft-overlooked, oft-misunderstood borderline personality disorder.

  14. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert:

    Both the psychology and the physiology behind complacency, and how imagination distorts perceptions of positives and negatives. In addition, peoples’ desire to predict the future and make decisions accordingly also plays a major role in their approaches towards the present.

  15. Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely:

    We’re not nearly as in control of our choices as we so smugly assume, as numerous internal and external factors guide where we ultimately go. Even deceptively simple stimuli such as small price changes hold surprising resonance over the decision-making process.
  16. The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons:

    Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons bring their actually-kind-of-fun cognitive research to mass audiences, challenging what we think we know about our own intuitions and perceptions. No matter how sharp our senses, we always end up missing at least one detail of our surroundings and, as a result, cannot form a full view of reality.

  17. Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman:

    People seem doomed to always pull themselves toward self-destruction, dismissing the head in favor of the heart and gut. The results, obviously, can prove physically and emotionally devastating in the long run, but understanding why irrationality holds such clout helps reverse the risk.

  18. The Man Who Mistook His Job for a Life: A Chronic Overachiever Finds His Way Home by Jonathon Lazear:

    Society frowns upon substance abuse but lauds the workaholic, despite the fact that such behaviors stand as equally destructive from both a psychological and a physiological viewpoint. Witness the destruction from the perspective of a man who lived it and use it as a springboard to analyze personal and broader ideas about what really constitutes success.

  19. The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say about Us by James W. Pennebaker:

    Even the words we choose hold bearing over our own psychology, and listening to what other people say oftentimes speaks just as much as how they say it. James W. Pennebaker peruses famous, game-changing documents and everyday reads to highlight his groundbreaking computational linguistics research.

  20. How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer:

    Sometimes, we choose what we choose thanks to a heady brew of logic and emotion “” the process isn’t really the sole domain of one or the other. There exists, in fact, an intricate neurology behind how we process the options before us and ultimately make our selection … for good or for ill.
  21. The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin:

    Psychology piles up with popular science, politics, and medicine for a contemporary look at how bad research leads to panic and panic leads to widespread danger. Mainly, he focuses on the anti-vaccine movement and the psychology behind their paranoia, which could very well lead to even more deaths if they continue pressing an agenda based on falsehoods.

  22. What Every BODY is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People by Joe Navarro with Marvin Karlins:

    Pick up some pointers on how to interpret body language from a former fed who wants you to know whether to trust someone. It’s easy to follow and a great resource for anyone wanting to forge a greater understanding of what others say without actually ever saying anything.

  23. The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz:

    Strangely enough, the more options one encounters, the more likely he or she will respond to picking between them with depression and anxiety; it’s a phenomenon we all notice, know, and tolerate rather than love. At once a social criticism and a psychological inquiry, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less undeniably serves up some provocative insight into how quantity doesn’t always indicate quality.

  24. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker:

    From a psychological and linguistic perspective, Harvard’s Steven Pinker analyzes the ancient concept of tabula rasa and whether or not many of humanity’s own ideologies pop into being inherently. It’s a fascinating inquiry into the often fiery nature vs. nurture debate, raising some deep questions about what it means to be a person.

  25. 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology: Shattering Widespread Misconceptions about Human Behavior by Scott O. Lilienfeld, Steven Jay Lynn, John Ruscio, and Barry L. Beyerstein:

    Obviously, this book doesn’t discredit the rest of our listings! We did our research! Rather, its main goal revolves around overturning woefully common misconceptions people perpetuate about psychology “” like how humans only use 10% of their brains (they don’t) or that positive thinking can alleviate clinical depression (it can’t).

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