The best books about genetics and psychology

Who am I?

During my undergraduate studies in psychology, we were never exposed to genetics. In 1970, I began graduate training in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, which was one of the few universities that had a course about genetics in psychology. The course floored me, and I knew right away that I wanted to study genetic influences in psychology. At that time, psychology was generally hostile to the notion of genetic influence. Now, 50 years later, most psychologists recognize the importance of genetics. The DNA revolution is changing everything by making it possible to predict psychological traits using DNA alone. 


I wrote...

Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

By Robert Plomin,

Book cover of Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are

What is my book about?

What made you the way you are? – your personality, your mental health, and your cognitive abilities. Professor Plomin’s book, Blueprint, is the culmination of his 45 years of research trying to understand the genetic and environmental influences that make us different, our nature and nurture. He is one of the world's top behavioral geneticists who offers a unique, insider's view of the exciting synergies that came from combining genetics and psychology.

In Blueprint, he concludes that inherited DNA differences are the major systematic force, the blueprint, that makes us who we are as individuals. The power to read our DNA blueprint will transform science, society, and how we understand ourselves.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Robert Plomin Why did I love this book?

First published 20 years ago by one of our best science writers, this book shattered the blank slate myth which dominated thinking at that time. The Blank Slate is a landmark against which I hope you will see how far we have come in recognizing the importance of genetics in psychology. The 2002 edition is still an excellent read but I recommend the updated 2016 edition with its new Afterword.

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blank Slate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant inquiry into the origins of human nature from the author of Rationality, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Enlightenment Now.

"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read..also highly persuasive." --Time

Updated with a new afterword

One of the world's leading experts on language and the mind explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses…


Book cover of The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World

Robert Plomin Why did I love this book?

Genetics, meritocracy, and social mobility are often conflated. I was in awe of the breadth and clarity of this historical overview of how meritocracy overturned millennia of inheritance and patronage. The last half of the book diagnoses what’s gone wrong with meritocracy and suggests how it can be fixed. Adrian Wooldridge is The Economist’s political editor, which shows in the book’s brilliant and entertaining style.  

By Adrian Wooldridge,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Aristocracy of Talent as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE TIMES BOOK OF THE YEAR

'This unique and fascinating history explains why the blame now being piled upon meritocracy for many social ills is misplaced-and that assigning responsibilities to the people best able to discharge them really is better than the time-honoured customs of corruption, patronage, nepotism and hereditary castes. Wooldridge upends many common assumptions and provides an indispensable back story to this fraught and pressing issue.' Steven Pinker

'The Aristocracy of Talent provides an important and needed corrective to contemporary critiques of meritocracy. It puts meritocracy in an illuminating historical and cross-cultural perspective that shows how crucial the…


Book cover of Bewilderment

Robert Plomin Why did I love this book?

This novel was short-listed for the UK Booker prize and should have won. It isn’t directly about genetics, but it is about autistic spectrum disorder, which is one of the most highly heritable developmental disorders. It’s a touching story of a somewhat autistic astrobiologist, recently widowed, who is learning to live with and love his 9-year-old son who is autistic. The father takes his son on imaginary trips to other planets with weird and wonderful life forms.   

By Richard Powers,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Bewilderment as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He's also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin's emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother's brain...

With its soaring descriptions of the…


Book cover of Being You: A New Science of Consciousness

Robert Plomin Why did I love this book?

I have been suspicious about the construct of consciousness, thinking that it was not scientifically tractable. This book changed my mind. It is written by a hard-core neuroscientist who turned my mental world upside down by showing that perception, both external and internal, is not an inner representation of reality. Perception relies on Bayesian predictions (best guesses) leading to ‘controlled hallucinations’ (including your sense of self!) rather than recreating reality. Consciousness is the ‘red pill’ that allows us to break out of the Matrix. Check out his TED talk with 12 million views.

By Anil Seth,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Being You as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A BOOK OF THE YEAR
GUARDIAN, THE ECONOMIST, NEW STATESMAN, FINANCIAL TIMES, BLOOMBERG

Anil Seth's radical new theory of consciousness challenges our understanding of perception and reality, doing for brain science what Dawkins did for evolutionary biology.

'A brilliant beast of a book.' DAVID BYRNE

'Hugely important.' JIM AL-KHALILI

'Masterly . . . An exhilarating book: a vast-ranging, phenomenal achievement that will undoubtedly become a seminal text.'
GAIA VINCE, GUARDIAN

Being You is not as simple as it sounds. Somehow, within each of our brains, billions of neurons work to create our conscious experience. How does this happen? Why do…


Book cover of Science Fictions: Exposing Fraud, Bias, Negligence and Hype in Science

Robert Plomin Why did I love this book?

“Why most published research findings are false” was a 2005 paper that kicked off a crisis in science about failures to replicate, creating gaping cracks in the bedrock of science. Science Fictions explains this replication crisis and prescribes remedies. The book is written in an entertaining style, which led to its inclusion in the shortlist of the Royal Society Science Book Prize for 2021. Psychology is the poster child for the replication crisis. One of the things I like about genetics is that its findings consistently replicate, beginning with the fundamental finding that about half of the differences between people on psychological traits can be explained by inherited DNA differences.

By Stuart Ritchie,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Science Fictions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Required reading for everyone' Adam Rutherford

Shortlisted for the Royal Society Science Book Prize 2021

Medicine, education, psychology, economics - wherever it really matters, we look to science for guidance. But what if science itself can't always be relied on?

In this vital investigation, Stuart Ritchie reveals the disturbing flaws in today's science that undermine our understanding of the world and threaten human lives. With bias, careless mistakes and even outright forgery influencing everything from austerity economics to the anti-vaccination movement, he proposes vital remedies to save and protect science - this most valuable of human endeavours - from itself.…


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Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

Book cover of Off Season

Randy Kraft Author Of Off Season

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Introspective Observant Bookish Friendly

Randy's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, and they get on well. She will be on sabbatical fine-tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off-season?

Soothed by sea breezes, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late artist partner, Red is befriended by a flirty neighbor and her surfer husband, and Sharon shares her literary passions with a sexy retiree. When the winds of the pandemic blow, they have to confront their past within a daunting future.

Is off-season an opportunity for renewal or a glimpse of what might have been?

Off Season

By Randy Kraft,

What is this book about?

When Sharon's ex-husband, Red, invites her to join him for a winter retreat, she agrees. After all, they've moved past what ails them, she will be on sabbatical fine tuning a PhD dissertation, and he needs a respite from an illness. Why not enjoy the charms of a southern California beach town off season? On the other hand, what else might he have in mind and what will she face if she lets her guard down? Soothed by sea breezes and ocean views, they become fascinated with their mysterious landlord and her late partner, a Fauvist painter. Then, Red is…


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