The best books for understanding human behavior

The Books I Picked & Why

I Know You Are Lying

By Mark McClish

I Know You Are Lying

Why this book?

I picked a book on language to lead the pack because there is so much more practical and reliable information contained in language, compared to the often murky and highly variable area of physical behavior. If you’re new to this area, this book is a fantastic introduction to how much information can be contained in language, whether written or spoken. McClish examines language for meaning from a bunch of true crime and legal cases. (Maybe of interest: this book inspired me to write my book Verbal Poker Tells, and I interviewed McClish for my podcast.)


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Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

By Robert B. Cialdini

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Why this book?

You can’t have a strong understanding of the external aspects of behavior (for example, verbal tells, or poker tells), without a strong understanding of underlying human psychology. This book by Cialdini is a well respected classic, especially in the advertising and sales world, as it deals with how people change their minds and are persuaded or manipulated. And how people change their minds is key to understanding human psychology and how they behave, so that's why I chose it.


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Psychopathology of Everyday Life

By Sigmund Freud

Psychopathology of Everyday Life

Why this book?

Freud gets a bad rap for a lot of things, and I’m on board for a lot of that criticism (for a great analysis of Freud’s major flaws, see my recommended book by Irvin Yalom below). But no matter his faults, Freud was a fantastic examiner of human behavior, of the little things in our daily lives, in our speech, in our dreams, that can contain meaning and give away our true feelings, our true motives. I read this book at a young age, and found it so elucidating about so much behavior we see around us every day, and from ourselves. It was also probably a key factor in my early interest in psychology.


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Unmasking the Face: A Guide to Recognizing Emotions from Facial Expressions

By Paul Ekman, Wallace V. Friesen

Unmasking the Face: A Guide to Recognizing Emotions from Facial Expressions

Why this book?

Paul Ekman is a well known researcher of human behavior and facial expressions and indicators of lying. He’s written several books that many serious students of behavior have read, and this is a good one to start with. He delves into the meaning of various facial expressions, and also explains how research shows the universal, cross-cultural nature of our underlying emotions and how those show up in our faces.


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Existential Psychotherapy

By Irvin D. Yalom

Existential Psychotherapy

Why this book?

This is a psychology book, maybe not what some would consider about “behavior,” and it’s a fairly heavy and dense one. But I feel I must include it as it has helped me understand human mental struggles more than any other book I’ve read. And a key part of understanding human behavior, especially the broader societal and political aspects, is understanding those dark, often under-the-surface struggles that we all deal with. It is the wisest book I’ve ever read, and I have bought it for many people. Yalom has become a sort of secular guru for me. It is that good.


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