Date of Publication: 08 March 2021
Psychology is a deeply interesting subject, exploring the scientific study of the human brain and its behavioural functions. As such, it’s also one of those subjects which many people have an interest in learning more about, regardless of whether they’re studying the subject or not.
To understand the depth behind the human brain, there are plenty of psychology books that dissect, persuade, point to facts, and help us to understand human behaviour in a much more logical way than we may understand it ourselves.
Whether you’re an aspiring psychologist or just want to expand your knowledge outside of your A-Level studies, reading about psychology can introduce you to both classical and contemporary areas of the subject for further learning, as well as present self-help guidance and advice for your own personal fulfilment and success.
What are the best Psychology books to read?
While you may already have set reading lists for school or university, there are some great additional psychology books for students that can supplement your studies and help you enhance your understanding of your subject.
From personal accounts of professionals who share their decades’ of experience, to pocket-sized guides to help introduce you to some of the key concepts of the subject, there are plenty of insights to be gained from reading our list of recommended books.
Keep reading to view our list of the best psychology books for students below.
14 Books Psychology Students Should be Reading
Ready to delve further into the study of psychology? Psychology books can offer great insight into the work of professional clinicians, opening your eyes into the world of a psychologist at work – preparing you for the future.
Take a look at our list of 14 of the top psychology books for students to read in 2021 and prepare to be inspired.
1. Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole, by Dr Allan H. Ropper & Brian David Burrell
“To become a good clinical neurologist, you have to be intensely interested by what the brain does, how it works, how it breaks down.”
What’s it like to try and heal a body when the mind is under attack? The phrase “tell the doctor where it hurts” seems simple enough, but Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole shows us exactly what happens when the very organ that produces awareness is damaged.
This psychology book recounts patient stories from a clinician’s perspective (Dr Ropper) as he tries to help his patients understand and heal themselves. Very much a distorted play on the Alice in Wonderland world which the title refers to, the book examines the lives of those who find themselves trapped in their own minds.
Some of these stories can seem rather absurd, but ultimately highlight the incredibly overpowering effect that the brain has on our physical and mental well-being. For example, one story seeks to help a gentleman who is found driving around his city in circles after forgetting where he lives, while one story very sadly reflects on a lady who is diagnosed with ALS (a rare neurological disease) as she contemplates a life within what she calls a ‘dead’ body whilst her mind is still very much alive and alert.
Written in an engaging storytelling format, students can learn all about the different symptoms of brain disease without feeling as though they are reading a textbook. It’s both compassionate and informative, while teaching us the complexity of the role of a neurologist.
2. The Happiness Hypothesis, by Johnathan Haidt
“The final moment of success is often no more thrilling than taking off a heavy backpack at the end of a long hike. If you went on the hike only to feel that pleasure, you are a fool. Yet people sometimes do just this. They work hard at a task and expect some special euphoria at the end.
But when they achieve success and find only moderate and short-lived pleasure, they ask is that all there is? They devalue their accomplishments as a striving after wind. We can call this the progress principle: Pleasure comes more from making progress toward goals than from achieving them.”
Written by the award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis looks at the ancient ideals that people believed were necessary for living a meaningful, happy life – but testing them under the lens of modern science and the pressures of 21st century living.
Blending philosophy with psychology, Haidt explores beliefs in religion, morality and consciousness, as well as our own behavioural biases. He then compares these against psychological studies and scientific data to dissect and understand their potential or limitations for us to live a happy life today.
Praised for its originality, the book is split into ten different chapters – or, ten different Great Ideas which have been discovered by some of history’s most empowering civilisations. Lessons are extracted from each to educate us on how to construct a life of virtue, fulfilment and meaning – as opposed to material goods or superficiality.
3. The Little Book of Psychology, by Emily Ralls and Caroline Riggs
“A hundred billion neurons are taking care of you, while simultaneously being you.”
New to the study of psychology? The Little Book of Psychology offers a comprehensive overview of the subject, teaching students about the key theories and ideas. At just 128 pages long, it’s a great place to start if you’re just starting your Psychology A-Level or undergraduate degree.
If you need to know your Maslow from your Milgram, then fear not, as this little book will cover all the highlights of the subject that you need to know. You’ll cover chapters on some of the most famous psychologists, theories and psychological studies, as well as some of the key themes which tend to arise in your first year of studies about ethics and cyber psychology.
You’ll easily finish from start to cover within an hour or two, but will leave with a comprehensive understanding of the basics of the subject as well as a frame for the topics you next want to delve into.
4. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks
“If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.”
Again, for students with an interest in understanding the often bizarre neurological disorders of the brain after trauma, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, explores the real-life patient cases of neurosurgeon, Dr Oliver Sacks.
Cases vary from the mildly amusing, such as those who no longer recognise common objects or have uncanny artistic and mathematical abilities, to the traumatic – including those who have lost some of their greatest memories and recollection of loved ones. Sacks writes in an incredibly sympathetic way, exploring the deeply human study of life and its effects from medical trauma.
Students with an interest in high-level, clinical psychology will enjoy learning about the relationship between the psychological and physical; giving you insightful topics to talk about and dissect with your tutors or, in a university interview, should you be asked to attend prior to receiving a university offer.
5. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfilment, by Martin E. P. Seligman
“While the theory that happiness cannot be lastingly increased is one obstacle to scientific research on the subject, there is another, more profound obstacle: the belief that happiness (an even more generally, any positive human motivation) is inauthentic. I call this pervasive view about human nature, which recurs across many cultures, the rotten-to-the-core dogma. If there is any doctrine this book seeks to overthrow, it is this one.”
What would you say if someone told you that happiness could be learned? Seligman’s ground-breaking book, which soon became a bestseller after its publication in 2004, addresses the very nature of happiness through the evolution of Positive Psychology.
Using his expertise as a professional psychologist, Seligman lays out 24 strengths and virtues within the human psyche, and encourages you to identify the ones you possess. By knowing your own strengths, Seligman advises that you’ll be able to create natural buffers against negative emotions, but also improve the world around you, helping to achieve new and sustainable contentment.
For aspiring psychologists – especially aspiring cognitive behavioural therapists – Seligman’s psychology book who is hugely beneficial, providing you with a practical, accessible overview of this versatile intervention and its application to help individuals lead happier, more fulfilled lives.
6. The Lucifer Effect, by Philip G. Zimbardo
“If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples.”
Many students have heard or been recommended The Lucifer Effect before, especially as it formed the basis of the award-winning movie The Stanford Prison Experiment. Written by widely-renowned psychology Philip G. Zimbardo, it explores the blurring of the line between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and how seemingly ‘good’ people can be misled to behave in an evil manner.
Zimbardo was the social psychologist who led the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, in which a group of students were placed into a mock prison environment and either assigned the role of ‘prisoner’ or ‘guard.’ However, after a week the experiment had to stop to protect the wellbeing of the participants, especially as some guards began to incite physical violence on the prisoners.
Although the experiment has been heavily criticised, the book offers excellent insight into the power of identity and roles, and how humans can separate themselves from their ‘personal’ ethics and the ethics that their ‘job’ demands of them – a fundamental module you’ll be studying either in your A-Level or undergraduate degree in Psychology.
7. Neuropsychological Assessment, by Muriel Deutsch Lezak, Diane B. Howieson, Erin D. Bigler & Daniel Tranel
“[Clinical psychology] owes its primordial – and often fanciful – concepts to those who, since earliest historic times, puzzled about what made people do what they did and how. These were the philosophers, physicians, scientists, artists, tinkerers, and dreams who first called attention to what seemed to be linkages between body – not necessarily brain – structures and people’s common responses to common situations.”
Often referred to as “the bible” for the study of clinical neuropsychology, this book offers an in-depth overview of the central neuro-behavioural disorders, which are typically associated with brain injury and dysfunction.
By virtue of the contributions made by top psychologists in the field, this book provides a broad but in-depth overview of each topic, making it highly regarded as a reference for academic study. It encompasses both theory and practice in an easily digestible way, using clinical anecdotes and case studies to explain and support their points-of-view.
Recently updated with the most updated coverage of current research, clinical practice, including assessment techniques and treatment, it’s an invaluable reference book for students during your training and beyond into your professional career.
8. Pioneers of Psychology, by Raymond E Fancher & Alexandra Rutherford
“After 1905 psychoanalysis became a movement that attracted both supporters and influential dissidents. … As psychoanalysis became increasingly well known and popular, academic psychologists, after initially treating it with contempt, gradually began to test some of its concepts in laboratory situations. This outcome helped lay the groundwork for a new subdiscipline of personality psychology.”
Ever thought about how Psychology established itself as a subject? Fancher and Rutherford offer an engaging look at the history of psychology and those who shaped it, from its philosophical origins to the modern day.
Exploring over 400 years of history, you’ll learn about what positive contributions psychology has made to the medical field, but also the major controversies in the subject’s history though carefully crafted stories of real people and their personal journeys. You’ll learn about some of the greatest thinkers to have influenced psychology, including Descartes, Locke, Darwin, Freud, and Skinner.
The book proves that psychology is a hotly debated subject, with different approaches and biases affecting the way everyone observes it. It’s great for those studying the subject at A-Level or further, who need to approach essays and examinations with a balanced debate of different opinions.
9. How to Think Straight About Psychology, by Keith E. Stanovich
“Stop 100 people on the street and ask them to name a psychologist, either living or dead. Record their responses. Of course, Dr. Phil Wayne Dyer, and other “media psychologists” would certainly be named. If we leave out the media and pop psychologists, however, and consider only those who have made a recognised contribution to psychological knowledge, there would be no question about the outcome of this informal survey. Sigmund Freud would be the winner hands down.”
For students at the beginning of their Psychology studies, Stanovich’s How to Think Straight About Psychology is a great companion, providing in-depth detail on research methods and how to conduct a ‘fair test.’
The book is highly-acclaimed and covers everything you need to know about conducting experiments, including control, correlational and experimental study methods. You’ll learn how to think critically and objectively about your results, as well as how to identify pseudoscience.
After reading, you should be able to scrutinise academic work more effectively – both your own and other academics. You’ll appreciate the difficulty in making experiments wholly unbiased and ‘fair,’ and approach yours in a far more balanced way than you may ever have considered before.
10. Career Paths in Psychology: Where Your Degree Can Take You, by Robert J. Sternberg
“Few fields of study offer more career opportunities than does psychology. This book is about those career opportunities and how you can take advantage of them. The opportunities are diverse, challenging, and fun.”
Thinking about where your psychology degree could take you in the future? Psychology is a broad and diverse subject, with so many different career paths available to choose from – many of which you probably don’t even know about!
This book from Robert Sternberg offers a comprehensive overview of all the career paths available to students and adults looking for a career change. Explore some of the options available to you, discover what academic training you may need, and gain advice on the next steps you should be taking towards your dream career.
There are over 30 different career paths discussed in the book, over three different areas: academia, clinical and counselling psychology, as well as using psychology in specialised settings such as within the military, schools or businesses. You’ll learn about the typical daily activities involved, including some of the advantages and disadvantages to the job roles.
11. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain
“Yet today we make room for a remarkably narrow range of personality styles. We’re told that to be great is to be bold, to be happy is to be sociable. We see ourselves as a nation of extroverts – which means that we’ve lost sight of who we really are.”
Did you know that apparently one third of the entire population considers themselves to be introverts?
In fact, some of the world’s greatest thinkers in the world are introverts – without them we wouldn’t have access to things like the Apple Mac or even Van Gogh’s sunflowers. And yet, what this book seeks out to attest is that so many of introverts are often undervalued for not ‘speaking up’ and their work (and names) get lost in the noise of everyone else.
Looking at some of the world’s most successful ‘introverts,’ the book shines a light on the incredible strengths that having different personalities in the world can have, and the need for diversity in creating the modern world. For psychology students, Cain’s book offers a unique take on how different personalities perceive and react to situations – giving you invaluable insight for your future work with people of all different backgrounds and personalities.
12. Thinking, Fast And Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
“The psychologist, Paul Rozin, an expert on disgust, observed that a single cockroach will completely wreck the appeal of a bowl of cherries, but a cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches.”
Written by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast And Slow explores how our minds are often tripped and ignore rationality when making judgment and decisions. This, he explains, is down to the two ways we make decisions: fast, intuitive thinking, and slow, rationalised thinking.
For those studying psychology, you’ll pick up on intuitive ideas which you may have often missed when thinking about how or why people react to certain scenarios in the way that they do – offering unrivalled insights to help you develop your understanding of human psychology for future work.
You’ll also learn practical techniques to help you become a slower, smarter thinking – allowing you to make better decisions at school or work, in your home life, and in everything else you do.
13. The Social Animal, by Elliot Aronson
“Aronson’s first law: People who do crazy things are not necessarily crazy.”
Have an interest or specialising in social psychology? Elliot Aronson’s The Social Animal probes the patterns and motives behind the way we as humans behave, making it an essential read for anyone interested in studying or pursuing social psychology in the future.
Covering a diverse but important range of topics including terrorism, conformity, obedience, politics, race, religion, and war, Aronson explores these ideas vividly, using intriguing examples and important research to explain his insights.
Recently revised and updated by the help of Aronson’s son and social psychologist, Joshua Aronson, the newest addition is filled with divides in modern society and how our thoughts and actions affect our perceptions and roles as members of communities. You’ll learn about what it means to conform, how we fall in love, and the ways in which we self-justify all our actions.
14. Strangers To Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious, by Timothy D. Wilson
“In recent years there has been an explosion of scientific research on self-knowledge that paints a different portrait from the one presented by Freud and his followers. People possess a powerful, sophisticated, adaptive unconscious that is crucial for survival in the world. Because this unconscious operates so efficiently out of view, however, and is largely inaccessible, there is a price to pay in self-knowledge.”
In an eye-opening dissection of our unconscious minds, Timothy D. Wilson uses his psychology book to encourage us to ask ourselves; Is introspection the best path to self-knowledge? And what is it we want to discover anyway?
The ‘adaptive unconscious’ as he calls it, is explained in a way which is much more than just primitive drives and ‘conflict-ridden memories.’ It is instead a set of sophisticated processes that evaluate our lives against our goals and initiate actions – all while consciously thinking about other things. If you want to know who you are or what you feel, Wilson advises in his book, that we pay attention to our actions and how other people react to us – it’s far more insightful.
For students, it won’t only make you far more intuitive with your own behaviours and actions, but you’ll also empathise with how and why others behave the way they do. Again, another great book for those with an interest to pursue the study of social psychology in the future.
Attend a Psychology Summer Course
As effective as reading all these psychology books could be for your learning, they’ll only take your knowledge so far. If you have aspirations to become a psychologist one day, or just want to gain a deeper understanding of how the subject affects your daily lives, then you should consider attending a Psychology summer course.
As an award-winning short course provider, we are committed to delivering the very best education to our students. Drawing on teaching practices from the world-renowned universities of Oxford and Cambridge, we work with some of the world’s best tutors and industry leaders to provide a truly authentic and high-quality learning experience.
Available to students aged 13-24, our two-week long courses will enable you to enhance your understanding of the subject and delve deeper into the topics which fascinate you the most.