The best books on understanding and shaping reality

Who am I?

Steven C. Hayes is Nevada Foundation Professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. An author of 47 books and nearly 675 scientific articles. He is the developer of Relational Frame Theory, and has guided its extension to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) a popular evidence-based form of psychotherapy that is now practiced by tens of thousands of clinicians all around the world.


I wrote...

A Liberated Mind: The essential guide to ACT

By Steven C. Hayes,

Book cover of A Liberated Mind: The essential guide to ACT

What is my book about?

Over the last 35 years, Steven C. Hayes and his colleagues have developed Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) with many hundreds of studies supporting the impact of his approach on everything from chronic pain to weight loss to prejudice and bigotry.

A Liberated Mind is the summary of Steven's life's work which will teach readers how to live better, happier, and more fulfilled lives by applying the six key processes of ACT. Put together these processes teach us to pivot: to "defuse" rather than fuse with our thoughts; to see life from a new perspective; and to discover our chosen values, those qualities of being that fuel meaning. Steve shares fascinating research results like how ACT techniques decreased typing errors on a clerical test or showed that positive affirmations actually increase negative emotion. And he weaves them with stories of clients and colleagues as well as his own riveting story of healing himself of a severe panic disorder, which is how the idea of psychological flexibility was born.

The books I picked & why

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World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence

By Stephen C. Pepper,

Book cover of World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence

Why this book?

Stephen Pepper’s central insight is that philosophical systems cluster around a few core models, or "world hypotheses," drawn from common sense. He ignores details and personalities, and uses very little quotes and citations. Instead, he presents the central tenets of each world view using his own terms. His style permits an understanding of the grand scheme of philosophy, abstracted from the details of particular positions. The book is like a series of colored spotlights cast on a complicated scene. Irrelevant details of various philosophical positions disappear like so many shades of blue under a blue spotlight. Fundamental differences leap out, now from one angle, now from another.

World Hypotheses: A Study in Evidence

By Stephen C. Pepper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"World hypotheses" correspond to metaphysical systems, and they may be systematically judged by the canons of evidence and corroboration. In setting forth his root-metaphor theory and examining six such hypotheses - animism, mysticism, formism, mechanism, contextualism, and organicism - Pepper surveys the whole field of metaphysics. Because this book is an analytical study, it stresses issues rather than men. It seeks to exhibit the sources of these issues and to show that some are unnecessary; that the rest gather into clusters and are interconnected in systems corresponding closely to the traditional schools of philosophy.The virtue of the root-metaphor method is…


Walden Two

By B.F. Skinner,

Book cover of Walden Two

Why this book?

An intellectual hero to many thousands of people (including myself), B. F. Skinner took weeks out of his schedule as a young academic to write a novel. But it wasn’t just any novel – it was a story that showed why he believed that highly precise work with nonhuman animals about how environmental contingencies altered action, might be used as a means of producing human progress and well-being.

At the time this book was written, basic behavioral principles were still not yet used frequently to improve people’s lives. There was no such area as evidence-based psychotherapy, nor a robust field of organizational behavior change. This book was an aspirational answer from a man who would one day, about 20 years from the publication of this book, be the best-known scientist on the planet. Skinner said that if behavioral science keeps its eyes on the prize, one day soon it might be used by the public to foster human prosperity.

Walden Two

By B.F. Skinner,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A reprint of the 1976 Macmillan edition. This fictional outline of a modern utopia has been a center of controversy ever since its publication in 1948. Set in the United States, it pictures a society in which human problems are solved by a scientific technology of human conduct.


Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

By Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb, Anna Zeligowski

Book cover of Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

Why this book?

In a highly influential volume, Jablonka and Lamb divided the process of evolution into four dimensions: genetic, epigenetic, behavioral, and symbolic. These dimensions are useful analytic tools that help us understand more of how to predict and influence behavior. By thinking of evolution in multidimensional terms, we can better appreciate its systemic and interactive nature. Especially the epigenetic dimension is rapidly coming to be widely known. Epigenetics refers to biological processes other than the sequence of DNA nucleotides, that regulate gene activity, expression, transcription, and function. Almost every day an important new study appears showing that experience alters genetic expression, often in long lasting ways, through epigenetic processes. Jablonka and Lamb disassemble this process, and show what really matters in heredity.

Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life

By Eva Jablonka, Marion J. Lamb, Anna Zeligowski

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Evolution in Four Dimensions as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ideas about heredity and evolution are undergoing a revolutionary change. New findings in molecular biology challenge the gene-centered version of Darwinian theory according to which adaptation occurs only through natural selection of chance DNA variations. In Evolution in Four Dimensions, Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb argue that there is more to heredity than genes. They trace four "dimensions" in evolution -- four inheritance systems that play a role in evolution: genetic, epigenetic (or non-DNA cellular transmission of traits), behavioral, and symbolic (transmission through language and other forms of symbolic communication). These systems, they argue, can all provide variations on which…


Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives

By David Sloan Wilson,

Book cover of Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives

Why this book?

We can’t understand ourselves, unless we understand our evolutionary history. In his book Evolution for Everyone, evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson outlines the principles behind our biology, history, culture, and morality. In order to understand how these processes came to be, we must view evolution through a multi-level and multi-dimensional lense, which is not only central to our modern understanding of evolution, but provides an extended evolutionary synthesis that allows evidence-based psychotherapists to view themselves as applied evolution scientists. David Sloan Wilson describes these processes and more in an accessible and engaging manner – all inside this volume.

Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think about Our Lives

By David Sloan Wilson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Evolution for Everyone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

With stories that entertain as much as they inform, renowned evolutionist David Sloan Wilson outlines the basic principles of evolution and shows how, when properly understood, they can illuminate the length and breadth of creation, from the origin of life to the nature of religion. 

What is the biological reason for gossip? For laughter? For the creation of art? Why do dogs have curly tails? What can microbes tell us about morality?

These and many other questions are tackled by Wilson in this witty and groundbreaking new book. Now everyone can move beyond the sterile debates about creationism and intelligent…


The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

By Donald Hoffman,

Book cover of The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

Why this book?

The most important source of conflict is the unwarranted idea that language maps on to “reality” – and that we can test the degree to which it does by the correspondence between our ideas and the organization of the “real world.” In that frame, differences in perception devolve to who is right and who is wrong, and intellectual or actual fighting is not far away. But this idea about “truth” is unjustified and wrong. What Donald Hoffman has done in this book is to show that our common sense understanding that our sensory and perceptual systems evolved to correspond to the world is a delusion. And when you appreciate that evolutionary epistemology does not support delusion, then you are much more able to cut yourself loose from unnecessary ontological assumptions and can instead focus on how to use your life to interact with this one world in ways that are successful for yourself and those you love.

The Case Against Reality: Why Evolution Hid the Truth from Our Eyes

By Donald Hoffman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Case Against Reality as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Challenging leading scientific theories that claim that our senses report back objective reality, cognitive scientist Donald Hoffman argues that while we should take our perceptions seriously, we should not take them literally. How can it be possible that the world we see is not objective reality? And how can our senses be useful if they are not communicating the truth? Hoffman grapples with these questions and more over the course of this eye-opening work.

Ever since Homo sapiens has walked the earth, natural selection has favored perception that hides the truth and guides us toward useful action, shaping our senses…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in philosophy, evolution, and biology?

7,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about philosophy, evolution, and biology.

Philosophy Explore 390 books about philosophy
Evolution Explore 94 books about evolution
Biology Explore 25 books about biology

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Philosophy of Social Evolution, Sex and Death, and Evidence and Evolution if you like this list.