The best books to understand how we make decisions (and make better ones)

The Books I Picked & Why

Thinking, Fast and Slow

By Daniel Kahneman

Book cover of Thinking, Fast and Slow

Why this book?

This book made me leave a career in consulting and become a professor. Kahneman not only won the Nobel prize in economics without being an economist, he also has a gift for making you feel you understand psychological research even if you're not a psychologist. Thinking, Fast and Slow, the book that made "bias" a term everyone recognizes, is unquestionably the first book anyone with an interest in behavioral science and decision-making should read, and perhaps the last one, too. I re-read it at least once a year and always find something I had not paid enough attention to.


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Nudge

By Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein

Book cover of Nudge

Why this book?

After "bias," what is the second-most-popular behavioral science buzzword? Nudge, of course. Some think nudges are a brilliant invention; others claim they're a tool for cynical manipulation. Whether you are in one camp or in the other, the place to start is the book that made the case for "libertarian paternalism," now in a new, "final" edition. If you think you already know what nudges are, you may be surprised to find that "choice architecture," as Thaler and Sunstein call it, is a much more subtle art than you think.


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How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

By Katy Milkman

Book cover of How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

Why this book?

Katy Milkman's 2021 book tackles the question that every self-help book since the invention of the genre has attempted to answer: how to (really, finally, durably) start doing what you want to do and stop doing what you don't. So, what is Milkman's secret weapon? Behavioral science, of course. In her view, whether a strategy for change works or not is not a matter of belief or personal experience – it is an empirical question to be tested by research. Personally, I think How to Change is the last self-help book I will ever need.


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The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

By Julia Galef

Book cover of The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don't

Why this book?

Even if you don't know anything about behavioral science, you know about confirmation bias, arguably the most insidious of our cognitive limitations. Simply put, people ignore or discount information that contradicts their beliefs, threatens their interests, or challenges their loyalties. Sure, we often spot this problem in others. But we also need to become aware of it – and to address it – in ourselves. In this book, Galef shows you, with practical, inspiring examples, how you can become a better, clearer, more rational thinker. This is the first book on thinking that I recommend to my students.


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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert B. Cialdini

Book cover of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Why this book?

Cialdini's classic has sometimes been described as a "manipulation textbook." Indeed, the persuasion techniques it presents (with a treasure trove of examples and fascinating stories) are astoundingly powerful. The first time I read it, I often thought: "I hope this book does not end up in the wrong hands." With over 5 million copies in print, however, that ship has sailed: anyone who has not read Influence is at risk of being manipulated by a cunning salesman who has. Just as importantly, anyone who reads it will find many ethical applications of the book's insights.


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