The best books on thinking

Why am I passionate about this?

Richard Nisbett is one of the world’s preeminent psychologists. His thinking is primarily about thought, but it is extremely wide-ranging – from biopsychology to social psychology to criminology to philosophy. His influence on philosophy has been compared to that of Freud and Skinner.


I wrote...

Thinking: A Memoir

By Richard E. Nisbett,

Book cover of Thinking: A Memoir

What is my book about?

Nisbett is one of the leaders of the cognitive revolution in psychology. He showed that conscious thought is less capable of solving some kinds of problems than unconscious thought. He showed some of the ways people’s approach to everyday problems in life goes awry and was the first to show that highly general rules of inference can be taught in such a way that they can solve unlimited numbers of problems having very different content. He showed that Eastern and Western thought – and even actual perception – are drastically different. All of this, and the sum of his 50 years of research, are presented in his highly readable book, which includes vignettes from his early life that are entertaining and that helped to prepare him for his career in psychology.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Primer of Freudian Psychology

Richard E. Nisbett Why did I love this book?

This book gives an excellent overview of Freud’s thoughts about human psychology, and also shows the way he thought. Freud’s brilliance shines through. I hasten to say most, though not by any means all of his hypotheses are wrong. I read this book at 15 and knew when I finished it I was going to be a psychologist. Some of my work gives strong support to a few of his hypotheses about the unconscious. Ironically, Freud himself didn’t believe his ideas could be tested by psychology experiments.

By Calvin S. Hall,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Primer of Freudian Psychology as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Culled from forty years of writing by the founder of psychoanalysis, A Primer Of Freudian Psychology introduces Freud's theories on the dynamics and development of the human mind. Hall also provides a brief biography of Sigmund Freud and examines how he arrived at his groundbreaking conclusions. In discussing the elements that form personality, the author explains the pioneer thinker's ideas on defense mechanisms, the channeling of instinctual drives, and the role of sex in male and female maturation. Lucid, illuminating, and instructive, this is an important book for all who seek to understand human behavior, in themselves and others.


Book cover of The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations

Richard E. Nisbett Why did I love this book?

The book, written in mid-century, has some of the most powerful hypotheses of social psychology, which, along with the ideas of fellow émigré from Germany, Kurt Lewin, gave birth to the field of social psychology. Read Chapter 4 at least. I do every 5 years or so. The chapter gave rise to both dissonance theory and attribution theory, two of the major accomplishments of social psychology.

By Fritz Heider,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1982. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.


Book cover of Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science

Richard E. Nisbett Why did I love this book?

A remarkably charming book by a physicist who was a student of Hans Bethe. It shows the power and elegance of a scientific approach to matters that one might think would not be susceptible to scientific research.

By Alan Cromer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Uncommon Sense is an innovative and lively examination of science and its historical development as an "unnatural" mode of thought. This book looks at why science developed in the West and what its implications have been for our society. This book will also challenge many assumptions about the nature and role of science in our world. Professor of Physics, Alan Cromer, examines not only the history of science and its unique mode of thought but also the way
that science is taught and suggests ways of restructuring the curriculum.

Uncommon Sense is an illuminating look at science, filled with provocative…


Book cover of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Richard E. Nisbett Why did I love this book?

The book shows that scientific progress is only sometimes rational and incremental. Sometimes it proceeds like an unanticipated avalanche, wiping out much of what went before and utterly altering the landscape. The book preceded the success of the cognitive revolution in psychology, which was a perfect example of its ideas. One day the behaviorists such as Pavlov and Skinner were the unchallenged rulers of the roost. The next day the cognitive revolution, begun by people who were knowledgeable about artificial intelligence, research on visual perception, and epistemology, showed that much of their work was wrong. More importantly, it suggested fresh hypotheses that could never have come from a behaviorist framework. The early workers could hardly believe their luck at picking the “low-hanging fruit.”

By Thomas S. Kuhn,

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A good book may have the power to change the way we see the world, but a great book actually becomes part of our daily consciousness, pervading our thinking to the point that we take it for granted, and we forget how provocative and challenging its ideas once were-and still are. "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" is that kind of book. When it was first published in 1962, it was a landmark event in the history and philosophy of science. And fifty years later, it still has many lessons to teach. With "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions", Kuhn challenged long-standing…


Book cover of Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan

Richard E. Nisbett Why did I love this book?

The book shows some of the remarkable ways that Eastern and Western thought differs. I read the book 10 years before a brilliant Chinese student named Kaiping Peng came to work with me and told me right off the bat that I thought linearly and logically and he thought non-linearly and dialectically. That sounded like an exaggeration, but Nakamura’s book encouraged me to take Peng seriously. Our research together showed he was absolutely right. East Asian thought was shown by our experiments to be radically different in many ways from Western thought.

By Hajime Nakamura,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

First published in 1997. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.


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Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

Book cover of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

Rebecca Wellington Author Of Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am adopted. For most of my life, I didn’t identify as adopted. I shoved that away because of the shame I felt about being adopted and not truly fitting into my family. But then two things happened: I had my own biological children, the only two people I know to date to whom I am biologically related, and then shortly after my second daughter was born, my older sister, also an adoptee, died of a drug overdose. These sequential births and death put my life on a new trajectory, and I started writing, out of grief, the history of adoption and motherhood in America. 

Rebecca's book list on straight up, real memoirs on motherhood and adoption

What is my book about?

I grew up thinking that being adopted didn’t matter. I was wrong. This book is my journey uncovering the significance and true history of adoption practices in America. Now, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women’s reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, I am uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption.

The history of adoption, reframed through the voices of adoptees like me, and mothers who have been forced to relinquish their babies, blows apart old narratives about adoption, exposing the fallacy that adoption is always good.

In this story, I reckon with the pain and unanswered questions of my own experience and explore broader issues surrounding adoption in the United States, including changing legal policies, sterilization, and compulsory relinquishment programs, forced assimilation of babies of color and Indigenous babies adopted into white families, and other liabilities affecting women, mothers, and children. Now is the moment we must all hear these stories.

Who Is a Worthy Mother?: An Intimate History of Adoption

By Rebecca Wellington,

What is this book about?

Nearly every person in the United States is affected by adoption. Adoption practices are woven into the fabric of American society and reflect how our nation values human beings, particularly mothers. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, the renewed debate over women's reproductive rights places an even greater emphasis on adoption. As a mother, historian, and adoptee, Rebecca C. Wellington is uniquely qualified to uncover the policies and practices of adoption. Wellington's timely-and deeply researched-account amplifies previously marginalized voices and exposes the social and racial biases embedded in the United States' adoption industry.…


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Interested in social psychology, Eastern philosophy, and psychoanalysis?

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