- Psychology & the public
- What we do
- Member networks
- Careers, education & training
The books and journal articles all psychologists should read
Every month since January 2008 The Psychologist has featured a One-On-One interview page in which leading psychologists are asked, among other things, to name one book or journal article, either contemporary or historical, that all psychologists should read. Here's a handy link-filled list of the answers so far:
"Well, nepotism aside, my husband’s Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience (Mark Johnson: Blackwell, 2005). Even those studying adults should read it; it will make them think more dynamically," said Annette Karmiloff–Smith, Mar 08.
William James’s The Principles of Psychology (1890). "He shares his thinking and questioning with his reader so that one can enter his mind, and live with him as a friend. He combines being a superb communicator with insights of philosophy and science really worth communicating. I was struck by his breadth of mind, respecting the arts from the past as well as technologies for creating future science," said Richard Gregory, Jun 08.
"Having referred to it for many years in the context of social facilitation, I was intrigued when I finally read Norman Triplett’s original 1898 paper and realised how psychologists have misreported his methods, results and conclusions regarding the effects of coactors on performance," said Sandy Wolfson, Aug 08.
Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. "You’ll get to understand why hypocrites never see their own hypocrisy, why couples so often misremember their shared history, why many people persist in courses of action that lead straight into quicksand. It’s lucid and witty, and a delightful read," said Elizabeth Loftus, Oct 08.
"Philip Jackson’s (1968) Life in Classrooms was – and still is – an amazing read. Jackson sat in the back of primary school classrooms for over two years, observing, before putting together his notion of ‘the hidden curriculum’ – what children learn in addition to the academic content. At primary school, children learn to cope with crowds, delays, denial, power, praise and constant peer and teacher evaluation. They learn how to protect their self-worth and how to beat the system. University students do this too. We all do," said James Hartley, Nov 08.
"The series of studies by Chase and Ericsson on an individual who, during the course of the study, improved from a digit memory span of average (7) to world’s best (80). The careful long-term documentation (and explanation) of how the ordinary can develop into the extraordinary was an exemplary breakthrough for a subdiscipline (cognitive psychology) dominated by the study of static short-term processes revealed through the statistical collation of results from many closely similar individuals," said John Sloboda, Dec 08.
"Muriel Dimen’s Sexuality, Intimacy, Power, which offers one feminist’s journey from dualism to multiplicity, questioning and making more complex all the accounts we have of how you grow up to become a sexed person," said Lynne Segal, Jan 09.
"Impossible question. William James’s Principles of Psychology for writing style, prescience and insight; Elliot Aronson’s The Social Animal for its passionate, personal prose and introduction to the major concerns of social psychology; and Judith Rich Harris’s The Nurture Assumption for its brilliant, creative reassessment of the basic but incorrect assumptions of developmental psychology. Her book is a model of how psychologists need to let data supersede ideology and vested intellectual convictions, and change direction when the evidence demands," said Carol Tavris, Mar 09.
"Julian Jaynes’s 1976 cult classic The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, which makes the startling claim that subjective consciousness (in the sense of internalised mind space) arose a mere 3000 years ago through the development of metaphorical language, a process itself driven by increasing social and cultural complexity. Some of the historical and classical scholarship may be dubious and the neuropsychology is sketchy, but the book is a wonderful imaginative achievement, a pioneering attempt to fuse ancient history, psychology and neuroscience," said Pauls Broks, Apr 09.
"This has to be The Perception of People and Events (1968) by Peter Warr and Christopher Knapper. They showed how rigorous notions developed from basic research on the perception of objects could be applied to the much more difficult and challenging topic of the perception of people/events," said Ray Bull, May 09.
Attachment by John Bowlby. "We are much more likely to read critiques of Bowlby’s theories than the original work. Although his views had a negative impact on the lives of women after the Second World War by putting pressure on mothers to stay at home with their children, he writes beautifully and compellingly about the interactions between infants and their mother. This aspect of his work has been lost to those not closely involved with the study of attachment relationships," said Susan Golombok, Aug 09.
Alice Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll. "This is not a children’s book; it contains a large number of the paradoxes about meaning, perception, consciousness, logic and language that we confront in our field. Most psychologists don’t study either philosophy or the history of ideas, which is a great pity, but this book is an entertaining and painless way into asking rather fundamental questions. I used it as a core text for a final-year course; students would discuss some event in the book in relation to current theory and research. It produced some very original work," said Helen Haste, Sep 09. "Within psychology itself, I think one of the most important and brilliant recent books at least in social psychology, is Michael Billig’s Arguing and Thinking, which both demonstrates the real social nature of language and thought, and shows us how modern concepts are deeply rooted in the history of ideas. Compulsory reading for all my students."
How Musical is Man by John Blacking. "Concise, accessible and way ahead of its time in terms of the assertions regarding the innate capacities of humans for musical communication and the stifling influence of Western constructions of musical ability. We now have the evidence he lacked to support his assertions," said Raymond MacDonald, Dec 09.
"Margaret Donaldson’s Children’s Minds, which I read in the late 1970s. I was bowled over by the creative approach of her team within the experimental tradition. The book is so respectful of the child’s perspective. It fuelled my passion for watching what children actually do and listening to what they want to say," said Jennie Lindon, Feb 10.
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin by David Nobbs. "If there was one book that made me fascinated by the psychology of the workplace (and not necessarily in a good way), that was the one," said George Sik, Mar 10.
"I would recommend Change: Principles of Problem Formation and Problem Resolution by Watzlawick, Weakland and Fisch (New York: Norton, 1974)," said James Bray, Apr 10.
"One I have returned to many times is Young and Cullen’s 1996 book A Good Death: Conversations with East Londoners, a richly evocative account of narratives of loss and death from traditional East Enders. It shows that we are not all equal in death. Instead our deaths are largely determined by how and where we have lived, and that end-of-life rituals and mourning behaviours are socially constructed," said Sheila Payne, May 10.
Semrad: The Heart of a Therapist. "This book is a collection of quotes and anecdotes from Elvin Semrad, a psychiatrist who practised in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. He consistently emphasised that the first and most important task of the trainee practitioner is to learn to sit with the patient, listen to and hear them, and help to stand the pain they could not bear alone. Semrad wouldn’t have agreed with my choice here as he believed ‘the patient is the only textbook we need’," said David Lavallee, Jun 10.
Beyond Counselling and Therapy by Carkhuff and Berenson (1969). "It showed me that it was possible to draw upon a range of traditions in working with clients and pointed the way to my own development of approaches to individualised case formulation," said David Lane, Jul 10.
"I am currently reading Beyond Happiness: Deepening the Dialogue between Buddhism, Psychotherapy and the Mind Sciences (Gay Watson, 2008). It encourages us to integrate and synthesise mind–body approaches, drawing on Eastern contemplative approaches. As Watson argues, psychological and psychotherapy theories and models can be traced back as variants of Buddhist psychology dating back 2500 years: I find that phenomenal," said Gill Aitken, Aug 10.
Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. "It’s fiction, but it describes in psychological detail, with wonderful humour, how people behave in the workplace. It is frighteningly close to what the science of occupational psychology tells us about work," said Cary Cooper, Sep 10.
Howitt and Owusu-Bempah’s 1994 book The Racism of Psychology: Time for a Change (said Jeune Guishard-Pine, Oct 10).
"Kurt Danziger’s Naming the Mind shows us how modern psychology’s basic vocabulary of intelligence, behaviour, attitude, motivation, etc does not represent timeless ‘natural kinds’ but are, instead, categories that were constructed for particular purposes at certain points in our history. Taking that message to heart, we can see that these older aims eventually fail to serve our present needs, and the categories we created in their wake may become obstacles to future progress. Be open to the possibility of radical change (but be wary of most individual radical proposals)," said Christopher Green, Dec 10.
"Milner and Goodale’s The Visual Brain in Action shows that much can still be learnt from single cases in neuropsychology when viewed with a fresh eye. It also illustrates how progress can be greatly accelerated when human neuropsychology is placed within the much wider context of cognitive neuroscience, neuroanatomy, and related animal work. Although one can quibble with details of their particular theory, I think that the more general point about combining different strands of evidence will serve neuropsychology well for many decades," said Jon Driver, Jan 11.
The Republic, Plato. "It covers so many aspects of social organisation, reminding us that the fundamental questions have been addressed, just as we go on addressing them," said Margaret McAllister, Feb 11.
The SPSS Survival Manual by Julie Pallant. "The author is a genius at explaining how to analyse data. I am living proof of the fact that you can do publishable research simply by following her advice," said Ruth Mann, Mar 11.
"B.F. Skinner’s The operational analysis of psychological terms (Psychological Review 52, 270–277, 1945) is rarely read and even less often understood. Contrary to some misrepresentations of his position, Skinner never doubted that we can describe internal states such as thoughts or emotions, but he wondered how we are able to do this. His answer was surprising, relevant to the practice of psychotherapy, and a challenge to all those who (like some unsophisticated therapists) assume that we can know our own feelings by a simple process of self-inspection," said Richard Bentall, Apr 11.