The 20 Top Psychology Books of All Time

Are you fascinated by the human mind? What are the top psychology books you should start with to learn more about the subject?

From the mysteries of the unconscious mind to the puzzling phenomenon of personality, the study of psychology offers thought-provoking insights into the human condition. Learning about psychology can help you improve your relationships, strengthen your confidence, and understand why you do the things you do. Absorbing the research of professors and authors—with the help of the top psychology books below—will benefit you in almost every area of your life. 

Keep reading for our list of top psychology books.

The Definitive List of Top Psychology Books

To help you find the books that align with your interests, we’ve put together a definitive list of the top psychology books of all time, grouped into the following categories: self-improvement, mental health, human behavior, and relationships.

Self-Improvement

Applying psychological insights for self-improvement can dramatically transform your life. If you understand how your own mind works, you can work on increasing your confidence, eliminating bad habits, mastering your emotions, and boosting your productivity. Below is a list of the top psychology books for self-improvement: 

1) Atomic Habits

What’s It About?

Are there things you wish you could do but don’t know how to begin? Do you struggle to understand how to break bad habits and start good ones? Do you wonder why you behave in certain ways even when you know you shouldn’t? Are you the person you want to be? 

The knowledge and techniques provided in Atomic Habits are geared toward helping you discover who you currently are by looking at what you currently do. By detailing the 4 Stages of Habit Formation, James Clear breaks down the psychology of behaviors, describing how actions become habits, why some habits stick and some don’t, and how to reframe your life to create new habits and maintain them over time. 

Key Psychological Insights:

  • More than 50% of your actions on any given day are automatic actions or habits.
  • How habits are formed, and how to break bad ones.
  • How you can use this knowledge to form new, positive habits to transform your life. 

2) The Chimp Paradox

What’s It About?

The Chimp Paradox is an important mention on our list of top psychology books for self-improvement. Each of us houses a psychological Chimp inside our brains, primitively reacting to the world and spurring us to act emotionally, impetuously, and irresponsibly. If you’ve ever struggled to stay in control of your urges, succumbed to temptation, or sabotaged your own success, your Chimp has probably taken the reins for a bit. Fortunately, our brains also have an inner Human who, when functioning properly, keeps our inner Chimp under control and allows us to interact with the world in a stable, positive, productive way. In The Chimp Paradox, psychiatrist Steve Peters outlines a mind management program that can help you manage your inner Chimp and lead you to happiness, success and a sense of balance between your emotional and thinking selves.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • The differences between our inner chimp and inner human.
  • Why our inner chimp often takes over, to disastrous effect. 
  • How we can use this metaphor to master our emotions. 

3) Six Thinking Hats

What’s It About?

In Six Thinking Hats, doctor and psychologist Edward de Bono takes the phrase “put your thinking cap on” to a new level. As De Bono explains, our normal thinking process is a hopeless tangle of six different types of thinking. We can improve the quality and efficiency of our decisions by untangling these six thinking types (symbolized by six hats of different colors) and deploying them more consciously.

Six Thinking Hats will teach you how to incorporate factual, emotional, critical, constructive, creative, and metacognitive information into your thinking process, along with strategies you can use to generate ideas in each of these modes. If you’re looking for ways to dramatically cut your decision-making time, calm your inner critic, or increase your team’s creativity, the Six Hats method can help.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • An in-depth look at the six different types of thinking. 
  • How to deal with different problems, like a lack of creativity, indecisiveness, or self-criticism. 
  • How to think more efficiently and productively.

4) Mindset

What’s It About?

You have powerful beliefs that affect what you want in life and whether you get it. In Mindset, psychologist and researcher Carol S. Dweck argues that your mindset can determine the course of much of your life, starting as early as your preschool years. 

You learn one of two mindsets from your parents, teachers, and coaches: that personal qualities such as intelligence and ability are innate and unchangeable (the fixed mindset) or that you and others can change and grow (the growth mindset). This view shapes your personality and helps or hinders you from reaching your potential. Understanding and adjusting your mindset can change your career, relationships, the way you raise your children, and your overall satisfaction in life.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • How our beliefs and mindset determine our lives.
  • The two types of mindset: fixed and growth. 
  • Tips for changing your mindset and transforming your life.

Mental Health

We are currently facing a mental health epidemic. It’s unclear what causes mental illness exactly, but the relevant literature points to anything from chemical imbalances in the brain to life experiences and societal problems. 

Living with a mental illness can be excruciatingly difficult, but some books can provide insight into this experience and solace for people who are experiencing it themselves. 

Take a look at our recommended top psychology books about mental illness if you want to better understand mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia:

5) Lost Connections

What’s It About?

A list of the top psychology books about mental health would be incomplete without mentioning Lost Connections. You may have learned that a chemical imbalance in the brain causes depression, but that’s only part of the story. Biology lays the foundation, but trusted sources like the World Health Organization agree that your life experiences and the society you live in are the biggest causes of depression. 

In Lost Connections, journalist Johann Hari investigates the psychological and social factors that contribute to mental illness (which he calls “disconnections”), as well as innovative social and environmental treatments for depression (or “reconnections”). 

Key Psychological Insights:

  • The history of antidepressants and the questionable science behind them
  • Why Amish people hardly ever get depressed.
  • How a guaranteed income, doctor-prescribed volunteer work, and magic mushrooms could be the antidepressants of the future.

6) Maybe You Should Talk to Someone 

What’s It About?

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is a memoir by psychotherapist and author Lori Gottlieb. She discusses a difficult time in her life following a sudden breakup with her long-term boyfriend. The incident upset her so badly that it drove her to seek therapy herself. 

This book is the story of Lori’s time in therapy, interwoven with stories about Lori’s own patients. Though each of their situations is different, their shared struggles and how they overcome them reflect common experiences that all people share—in fact, Lori says that the reason therapists can be effective is precisely because they have those same struggles. As Lori and her patients work together toward health and understanding, they reflect on their pasts—how they got to be where they are now—and the futures they’d like to have. 

Key Psychological Insights:

  • The psychological impact of a tough breakup.
  • How therapy can be incredibly beneficial—even for other therapists.
  • What makes a good therapist. 

7) Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond

What’s It About?

Do you ever find yourself in stressful situations, rationally knowing you shouldn’t be stressed? Have you stopped wishing you’d think self-defeating thoughts, mustering more courage to do the things you’ve wanted to do? You might find elements of Cognitive-Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond to be useful.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a standard first line of treatment for improving mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. CBT has been found to be as effective as medication in treating many mental disorders. This CBT basics summary covers the principles of mental disorders and treatment, as well as tactics that are broadly applicable to your daily life, helping you overcome anxiety, sadness, anger, frustration, and stress.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • An in-depth look at cognitive-behavioral therapy and how it works.
  • CBT exercises to try at home. 
  • Best practices and advice for therapists. 

8) The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

What’s It About?

By studying the brain, the science of neurology brings the empiricism of science together with mankind’s deepest philosophical questions. What makes us human? What is the true nature of the self, memory, knowing, or action? The late neurologist Oliver Sacks dedicated his life to studying the mysteries and extraordinary powers of the human brain. In The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, Sacks presents the case histories of some of his patients. Each story is a profoundly human narrative of struggle, survival, and, in some cases, hope.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • A look at the mysteries of the human mind.
  • Case studies of patients with mental health problems. 
  • How the brain has a remarkable ability to compensate for neurological shortcomings. 
  • Why the psychological profession often misunderstands mental health disorders. 

9) An Unquiet Mind

What’s It About?

Mental health disorders affect millions of people and often lead to the tragic loss of life through suicide. The pain and suffering that accompany mental illness are difficult for those unafflicted to understand. Kay Redfield Jamison, a clinical psychologist living with manic-depressive disorder, has attempted to bring awareness to those experiences in her memoir An Unquiet Mind. By divulging the violent, frenzied, and dangerous aspects of her disease, Jamison hopes to create more understanding about mental illness and more empathy for those who struggle to exist in the normal world. 

Key Psychological Insights:

  • What it’s like to live with manic-depressive disorder.
  • How mental illness can make every area of your life more difficult, from your relationships to your career.
  • Why there is hope for people living with manic-depressive disorder.

Personality and Human Behavior

Why are some people the life of the party and others are wallflowers? Why do some people love to travel and others are afraid to step out of their comfort zone? 

The study of personality and human behavior is perhaps one of the most fascinating facets of psychology. If you want to understand what makes you the way you are, the following top psychology books about personality can help:

10) Quiet: The Power of Introverts

What’s It About?

The first book on our list of top psychology books about personality includes Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain. A third to a half of Americans are introverts, according to Cain, but they’re often marginalized. In Quiet, Cain contends that Western society is designed around an “extrovert ideal” that celebrates those who are bold and charismatic. However, unbridled extroversion can lead to disasters, such as the fall of Enron and the 2008 financial crisis. By overvaluing extroverts and treating introverts as misfits, society loses out on introverts’ unique strengths—for instance, they’re highly creative, astute observers, and adept at solving complex problems. Cain argues for a balance in society, school, and work that lets introverts be true to themselves and where the two personality types complement each other.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • The key differences between introverts and extroverts. 
  • Why there is an “extrovert ideal.”
  • The incredible value introverts have to offer to their loved ones and society in general.

11) The Confidence Code

What’s It About?

In this guide for women (men can learn something too), journalists and authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman examine the art and science of confidence—what it is, why it matters, why women have more trouble accessing it than men, and how this shortage affects professional success, personal achievement, and even happiness. Biology plays a role, and so do systemic inequalities, but confidence is also largely a choice. Learn how to make it in The Confidence Code.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • 25-50% of our confidence comes from our genes.
  • The biological, psychological, and societal reasons women are less likely to be confident.
  • How you can rewire your brain to increase your confidence.

12) Outliers

What’s It About?

No one starts with nothing. Rags-to-riches stories fool us because although they may be factually true—you may start your life poor and finish it rich—they leave out all the advantages of circumstances that contribute to success. Further, they make us believe that success is an individual achievement. But no one succeeds alone. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell shows us that where you’re from and the opportunities you’re given matter as much as personal advantages such as talent and intelligence.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • The key personality traits that make someone great.
  • How your background and upbringing can contribute to your chances of success. 
  • What the most successful business people, creatives, and innovators all have in common.

13) The Willpower Instinct

What’s It About?

Most people think of willpower as a virtue, an admirable trait that we strive for but don’t always achieve. But science tells a different story. Willpower—the ability to exercise self-control when you need it—is an instinct that’s wired into our brains. 

Yet it seems like willpower vanishes at crucial moments, like when your coworker shows up with a box of donuts. To harness your innate willpower, you need to understand what factors make you give up your self-control. In The Willpower Instinct, Stanford University psychology professor Kelly McGonigal details how our natural willpower gets compromised by stress, distraction, lack of sleep and exercise, and a host of other factors. Using the latest psychology and neuroscience research, she offers strategies to help us defeat procrastination, control cravings, and achieve our goals. 

Key Psychological Insights:

  • The biological and psychological basis of willpower.
  • Factors that compromise your willpower. 
  • How you can improve your willpower.

14) Hooked 

What’s It About?

Modern technology has us addicted to its use. While you might be aware that you’re addicted to your phone or favorite apps, you might not know exactly how you got addicted. It just happened without your noticing it. 

Hooked provides a useful framework on how tech products build lasting habits in their users. Understanding this is useful for product designers and users alike. The core of the Hooked model is the 4-step feedback loop: Trigger, Action, Reward, and Investment.

Key psychological insights:

  • How people have become addicted to modern technology.
  • The insidious tactics companies have used to build lasting habits in their users. 
  • The most effective triggers to get users to voluntarily return to your product.
  • What all humans want to do and feel, at the end of the day.

15) Predictably Irrational

What’s It About?

Predictably Irrational is another well-deserved mention on our list of top psychology books. This book takes a close look at the common pitfalls of human logic and explores the forces that are really driving your everyday actions. You’ll learn why keeping your options open may actually diminish opportunities, why you’re more likely to be satisfied with your meal if you order first, and how your real estate agent might be making your decisions for you. 

This dive into the discrepancy between how we should act and how we do act will arm you with the knowledge necessary to notice your irrational behaviors and make conscious efforts to improve your decision-making skills.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • How to influence customers’ emotions for effective marketing.
  • The psychological reason you’re more likely to enjoy your meal if you order first.
  • Why people have different ideas about what a “fair price” is.
  • Why the word “free” is one of the most powerful words in marketing.

Relationships

It’s important to understand how your own mind works—but it’s equally as important to understand how your loved ones think. A lack of psychological know-how can lead to a love life fraught with unnecessary arguments, poor communication, and destructive habits. 

From learning about your attachment style to discovering the best tips for keeping the romantic spark alive, your relationship will thank you for reading the following top psychology books: 

16) Emotional Intelligence

What’s It About?

Do you constantly get swept away by your emotions? Would you like to learn how to control your emotional reactions at home or at work? Or maybe you’re uncomfortable with emotions, and don’t understand why you or anyone else feels them? Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman is a comprehensive look at what emotions are and why we have them, how we can get better at managing them, and why the well-being of humanity might depend on us doing so. It deserves a mention on our list of top psychology books about relationships because it offers invaluable advice about how to understand your partner better.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • What emotional intelligence is. 
  • The importance of understanding your own emotions and the emotions of others.
  • How your romantic relationships can benefit from emotional intelligence. 

17) Attached

What’s It About?

Have you ever wondered why your partner behaves in ways you cannot understand? Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller offers practical, science-based wisdom that will help you gain insights into yourself, your beloved, and your partnership. The key is identifying and understanding which of three attachment styles—avoidant, secure, or anxious—is wired into your brain, driving the way you interact in romantic relationships. 

Whether you’re searching for a new companion or trying to reignite the spark in a 40-year marriage, the authors distill the psychology of attachment into practical tools for finding an emotionally fulfilling relationship or improving the one you already have. Attached also delivers advice on communicating effectively, resolving conflict, and how to distance yourself from unhealthy relationships. 

Key Psychological Insights:

  • How attachment styles are formed in childhood.
  • The impact your attachment style has on adult relationships.
  • How to overcome an insecure attachment style to improve your relationships.

18) The Five Love Languages

What’s It About?

Our list of top psychology books about relationships unsurprisingly includes The Five Love Languages. Maintaining emotional love and connection in a relationship can be hard. Often, the problem is in the way you are communicating love to your partner, and vice versa. Have you ever demonstrated a gesture of affection, only to not have it appreciated? Does your partner ever say they don’t feel loved enough?

These conflicts happen because every person receives and experiences love differently. The way you experience love dictates your love language. There are 5 love languages: Word of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Learning to speak your partner’s love language can help you understand how to make them feel loved. And learning your own love language helps you understand what makes you fulfilled in a relationship.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • An explanation of the five love languages and how each one operates.
  • Psychological reasons why communication is difficult. 
  • How to speak your partner’s language.

19) Mating in Captivity

What’s It About?

Love and desire aren’t driven by the same things. In fact, sometimes their ingredients are polar opposites. The ingredients for a loving, stable relationship are commitment, intimacy, and egalitarianism, while the ingredients for desire are mystery, distance, risk, and playfulness. Throw in some external pressures such as cultural messages and parenthood, and it might seem impossible to have a good erotic life within a long-term relationship. However, couples therapist and relationship expert Esther Perel believes desire can survive in long-term relationships.

Mating in Captivity looks at what makes up our individual sense of desire and our desire for our partners. Although desire and love may have some fundamental contradictions, there are ways to balance the clashes, and ways to manage extra-relationship stresses.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • Why desire often fades as relationships get past the honeymoon stage.
  • The opposing psychological ingredients for love and desire.  
  • How to use psychology to keep the spark alive in your relationship.

20) Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus

What’s It About?

Imagine that men and women come from two different planets. When you think that way, it’s suddenly easier to understand why men and women tend to communicate differently, behave differently, and have different emotional needs.

In this Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus author John Gray breaks down the primary differences between men and women and gives comprehensive advice for dealing with miscommunication, showing support to your partner in the way they crave, and being more fulfilled with your relationship. Find out why your husband pulls away just when you need him most, and why your wife needs to talk relentlessly about her feelings.

Key Psychological Insights:

  • How men and women think, feel, act, and communicate differently—and why. 
  • An in-depth look at common relationship problems.
  • How to avoid arguments using psychology. 
  • What men and women need to be happy in relationships.

Whether you’re an expert or a beginner, our list of top psychology books has everything you need to improve your understanding of psychology. There’s a lot to delve into, but these recommended reads are a great place to start.

The 20 Top Psychology Books of All Time

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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