16 books that will change the way you understand human behaviour

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Human beings are pretty vain creatures, so what could be more interesting than a book about ourselves?

We asked Lynn Lobash, manager of the Reader Services department at the New York Public Library, to recommend the books on human behaviour that she considers required reading. We also selected a few of our favourites to add.

Here are 16 of the most compelling reads.

'Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges' by Amy Cuddy

Known for her mega-successful TED talk on power posing, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy argues in 'Presence' that behaviour can influence our thoughts.

If we want to be more present in the room, be it with a boss or a spouse, we should look to make ourselves more expansive and maybe even stand like Wonder Woman for a few minutes.

Buy the book here »

'The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business' by Charles Duhigg

Instead of relying on our fickle willpower to reach goals, Charles Duhigg suggests we embrace the science of habit formation.

He presents examples from the NFL, Procter & Gamble boardrooms, and the civil rights movement that illustrate a key insight: Our habits define us, but it's ultimately up to us to control how and when those habits get formed.

Buy the book here »

'Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age' by Sherry Turkle

Texting is taking over our lives, and Sherry Turkle presents strong evidence that it's destroying our abilities to empathise with others and think creatively.

Not only are we torpedoing our relationships with others, but Turkle says we're ruining our abilities to be alone with our thoughts -- to just be. Simply talking may be the most humanising thing we can do.

Buy the book here »

'The Professor in the Cage: Why Men Fight and Why We Like to Watch' by Jonathan Gottschall

The science and history of violence is on full display as Gottschall recounts his training as a mixed-martial arts fighter and investigates why fighting is such a popular spectator sport.

We learn about the so-called 'monkey dance' that occurs when humans want to minimise risk and social disorder but seek to establish hierarchies -- all while Gottschall gets thrown around the ring, just for our entertainment.

Buy the book here »

'The Road to Character' by David Brooks

In 'The Road to Character,' Brooks tries to reconcile the external pressures that define success with internal markers of success, a distinction he draws as 'résumé virtues' versus 'eulogy virtues.'

Is a fulfilling life one of moral integrity, financial might, or a mix of both?

Buy the book here »

'Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less' by Greg McKeown

Bogged down by endless amounts of stuff, life can be hard to declutter. 'Essentialism' seeks to help people understand what aspects of their lives are marked by excess, whether it's their workload or walk-in closet.

Readers are asked to confront head-on what it is they really need to live a better life.

Buy the book here »

'The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising' by Marie Kondo


Cleaning consultant Marie Kondo believes tidying up isn't just a weekend ritual; if done right, it could be a life-changing experience.

Kondo's system helps you categorise the things in your home to determine what can go and what should stay. For example, if items don't 'spark joy' the second you grab ahold of them, it's best to part ways.

Buy the book here »

'The Art of Thinking Clearly' by Rolf Dobelli

We humans fall victim to cognitive errors every day: biases, fallacies, and other illogical forms of thinking.

Rolf Dobelli guides readers through these destructive thought patterns so they can identify them when they pop up. The book makes the case that thinking should be intentional, not reactionary.

Buy the book here »

'Drunk Tank Pink' by Adam Alter

Our world is far more influential than we give it credit for.

We may think we behave in certain ways because of some larger free will, but Adam Alter argues seemingly inane things -- like the colour of a prison cell wall -- can push our decision making process in unforeseen directions.

Buy the book here »

'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' by Susan Cain


'Quiet' makes the compelling case that the Western world over-values extroverts when a great deal of research says introverts also have a wealth of virtues to offer.

Cain reassures her quieter readers that their preference for intimate conversation and crossword puzzles is totally normal. There really is value in speaking softly and carrying a big stick.

Buy the book here »

'Thinking, Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman


World-famous behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman has found there are two general modes of thinking, a fast mode and slow mode.

We often make our decisions based on the error-prone fast mode, which relies on pre-held assumptions about what's right. But sometimes it's only by slowing down that we can realise our judgments are actually quite flawed.

Buy the book here »

'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us' by Daniel H. Pink

According to Dan Pink, there are three big things that motivate people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

If we're expected to excel in our jobs or relationships, we need to feel like we can act alone, work toward improving ourselves at the task, and move toward a bigger meaning outside the task itself.

Pink's book totally rethinks the old carrot-and-stick approach to motivation.

Buy the book here »

'Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by' Malcolm Gladwell

Our snap judgments hold a great deal of power in how we live our lives, from who we choose to date to how police officers know when to draw their guns.

Gladwell reveals the startling science on these micro-second decisions, which can sometimes be a great help but can also backfire in potentially lethal ways.

Buy the book here »

'Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour' by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman

We can have all the facts in front of us and still make the wrong choice.

Whether it's faulty logic or emotionally-driven decisions, Ori and Rom Brafman find a host of moments in daily life that leave people in a state where they're drawn to act against their own interests.

That applies to how the NBA selects future players, how hiring managers select candidates, and how the Supreme Court weighs the most important cases the country will ever see.

Buy the book here »

'Predictably Irrational' by Dan Ariely


Duke University behavioural economist Dan Ariely reviews some of his most illuminating experiments, which reveal why we make certain decisions and how our feelings are shaped by them.

Ariely has found, among many other things, that humans are predictably fooled by the concept of 'free' stuff, that people frequently overpay, and that procrastination is common in some contexts but not others. 'Predictably Irrational' is a guidebook for avoiding land mines in everyday life.

Buy the book here »

'The Invisible Gorilla' by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons

Even when humans try their best to focus, they inevitably still end up averting their gaze from something else. In 'The Invisible Gorilla,' Chabris and Simons reveal just how often inattention gets the best of us.

They explain how police officers can pass by obvious cases of assault without noticing, Hollywood films can be rife with editing mistakes, and rare, childhood diseases can suddenly make a comeback.

Buy the book here »

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