The best developmental psychology books

3 authors have picked their favorite books about developmental psychology and why they recommend each book.

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The WEIRDest People in the World

By Joseph Henrich,

Book cover of The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous

Don’t be by the weirdest title in the world, this is another landmark book and it perfectly complements The Upswing. Combining deep social history, - Europe in the Early Middle Ages – with revolutionary research on evolutionary biology, it shows how a distinctive inflection point fortuitously broke the otherwise universal practice of kin-group mating. This gradually released parts of Europe into forging the purposive social capital that Putnam celebrates. Nor need you be deterred by Heinrich’s polymath credentials – he currently heads Harvard’s Department of Evolutionary Biology, but could equally hold chairs in Anthropology or Economics – he writes beautifully for a general audience.


Who am I?

Our societies have become increasingly polarised, both materially and psychologically. Our youth are riven with anxieties. Most people expect their children’s lives to be worse than their own. This reflects a staggering failure across business, politics, and public institutions. Fortunately, an intellectual revolution has begun that is resetting our course: you can become part of it. My own life has straddled these increasingly bitter tensions. My parents left school at 12, and we lived in a city whose industry moved to Korea so the jobs evaporated. The lives of my relatives collapsed, but by fortune’s wheel, I became a professor at Oxford, Harvard, and Paris. We can reverse such cruel divides: I want to share what I have learned from my work and my life to show how we can do it.


I wrote...

The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties

By Paul Collier,

Book cover of The Future of Capitalism: Facing the New Anxieties

What is my book about?

From world-renowned economist Paul Collier, a candid diagnosis of the failures of capitalism and a pragmatic and realistic vision for how we can repair it.

Deep new rifts are tearing apart the fabric of the United States and other Western societies: thriving cities versus rural counties, the highly skilled elite versus the less educated, wealthy versus developing countries. As these divides deepen, we have lost the sense of ethical obligation to others that was crucial to the rise of post-war social democracy. So far these rifts have been answered only by the revivalist ideologies of populism and socialism, leading to the seismic upheavals of Trump, Brexit, and the return of the far-right in Germany. We have heard many critiques of capitalism but no one has laid out a realistic way to fix it, until now.

In a passionate and polemical book, celebrated economist Paul Collier outlines brilliantly original and ethical ways of healing these rifts--economic, social, and cultural--with the cool head of pragmatism, rather than the fervor of ideological revivalism. He reveals how he has personally lived across these three divides, moving from working-class Sheffield to hyper-competitive Oxford, and working between Britain and Africa, and acknowledges some of the failings of his profession.

Life Span Development

By Robert Feldman,

Book cover of Life Span Development: A Topical Approach

Every parent needs a good book on child development from the ages of birth to adulthood to understand how their child is growing in the physical, emotional, academic/cognitive, and social domains of development. When parents and caregivers understand what to expect at different ages, they can adapt their parenting decisions appropriately. Knowing if their child’s behaviour is a discipline issue that needs addressing or simply a development issue that will take care of itself, as a child ages, is the key to successful parenting.


Who am I?

Judy Arnall, BA, CCFE, DTM is a certified brain and child development specialist and master of non-punitive parenting and education practices. She is the bestselling author of 5 print books translated into 5 languages, including Discipline Without Distress and Parenting With Patience. She has also compiled a handy tips book titled Attachment Parenting Tips Raising Toddlers To Teens. Her latest book, Unschooling To University: Relationships matter most in a world crammed with content, is becoming a bestseller in an age of parents seeking educational options. She is the parent of 5 self-directed educated, attachment parented children of which 3 have already graduated university, 1 is halfway through, and 1 is enjoying a Masters program.


I wrote...

Parenting With Patience: Turn frustration into connection with 3 easy steps

By Judy Arnall,

Book cover of Parenting With Patience: Turn frustration into connection with 3 easy steps

What is my book about?

This is a quick book to read when you are calm, to use when you are not! Positive discipline has to begin with positive stress management. All families have stress. Make it work for you! Learn how to recognize stress, manage it, and regain your patience before yelling. Learn why children have tantrums at all ages, and how to help them channel anger into lifelong skills for self-control and communication. Learn normal childhood development, capabilities, and temperament, so you can respectfully and non-punitively resolve everyday family issues.

The Gardener and the Carpenter

By Alison Gopnik,

Book cover of The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the New Science of Child Development Tells Us about the Relationship Between Parents and Children

Alison Gopnik is a towering figure in the field of developmental psychology, and interviewing her at her Berkeley lab was one of the highlights of my reporting for my own book. She tackles parenting from a particularly erudite and academic angle, pulling on psychology, evolutionary biology, and more to persuade parents that parenting is, in fact—and in her words—“a mug’s game.” We may think we are carpenters, building a perfect specimen of child, but in fact the best way to raise resilient, successful kids is to act like a gardener, providing the right environment in which they can thrive. I found it to be a particularly calming message, and one that will resonate with anyone who agonizes over minute decisions. 


Who am I?

I'm the mother of three children, ages 6, 3, and 1, and because I tend to write about what interests me, started to investigate the world of parenting when my eldest was born. (Prior to that, I was a food reporter and editor.) As my husband, a tech entrepreneur, kept bringing home pieces of technology that were supposed to make my life easier (spoiler alert: they rarely did), I found myself urgently trying to figure out what was best for my kids, and myself: the boring pile of blocks, or the flashy, sexy iPad? I spent years delving into the fields of neurobiology, psychology, philosophy, and pediatrics to get a better handle on these questions


I wrote...

Baby, Unplugged: One Mother's Search for Balance, Reason, and Sanity in the Digital Age

By Sophie Brickman,

Book cover of Baby, Unplugged: One Mother's Search for Balance, Reason, and Sanity in the Digital Age

What is my book about?

The mother of two young daughters, journalist Sophie Brickman wondered what living in a tech-saturated world was doing to her and her children. She turned to experts, academics, doctors, and innovators for advice and insight. Baby, Unplugged brings together Brickman’s in-depth research with her own candid (sometimes hilarious) personal experience to help parents sort through the wide and often confusing tech offerings available today and to sort out what’s helpful and what’s not.

Filled with relatable and entertaining stories as well as practical takeaways, Baby, Unplugged is destined to become a touchstone for parents today, giving them the permission to forge their own path through the morass of technological options, to restore their faith in themselves, and to help them raise good, social, and engaged people in the modern world. 

Education for Thinking

By Deanna Kuhn,

Book cover of Education for Thinking

Two skills fundamental to scientific reasoning are inquiry and argument. Inquiry is generating new information, and argument is using that information to justify and evaluate knowledge claims. Kuhn presents a framework for understanding these processes, as well as methods for teaching them. Her insights are grounded in science-education research demonstrating not only why inquiry and argument are challenging but also how they can be improved. Kuhn’s book fundamentally changed how I teach science to others. It provided me a way of organizing and motivating the various research methods I cover in my courses, as tools for building a collective body of knowledge.


Who am I?

I’m a professor of psychology at Occidental College, where I direct the Thinking Lab. I hold degrees in psychology from Princeton and Harvard and have published several dozen scholarly articles on conceptual development and conceptual change. I’m interested in how people acquire new concepts and form new beliefs, especially within the domains of science and religion. My research investigates intuitions that guide our everyday understanding of the natural world and strategies for improving that understanding.


I wrote...

Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories about the World Are So Often Wrong

By Andrew Shtulman,

Book cover of Scienceblind: Why Our Intuitive Theories about the World Are So Often Wrong

What is my book about?

Why do we catch colds? What causes seasons to change? And if you fire a bullet from a gun and drop one from your hand, which bullet hits the ground first? In a pinch we almost always get these questions wrong. Worse, we regularly misconstrue fundamental qualities of the world around us. In Scienceblind, I show that the root of our misconceptions lies in the theories about the world we develop as children. They’re not only wrong; they close our minds to ideas inconsistent with them, making us unable to learn science later in life. So how do we get the world right? We must dismantle our intuitive theories and rebuild our knowledge from its foundations. The reward won't just be a truer picture of the world, but clearer solutions to many controversies—around vaccines, climate change, or evolution—that plague our politics today.

Cycles of Contingency

By Susan Oyama (editor), Paul E. Griffiths (editor), Russell D. Gray (editor)

Book cover of Cycles of Contingency: Developmental Systems and Evolution

If you are interested in the interplay of development and evolution, this collection of essays will introduce you to all the key concepts by many of the key thinkers. This is a collection for serious readers who want to appreciate the complexity underlying such concepts as instinct and heredity. Many of these essays are the classics in the field. My favorite? Daniel Lehrman’s takedown of Konrad Lorenz from 1953. That one essay alone, brimming with the passion of a young iconoclast, is worth the price of admission.


Who am I?

Even though I am a scientist who has written over 130 scientific articles, I have a longstanding passion for scientific books that are written for non-scientists. I love books about science, no matter how distant they are from my area of expertise. To me, the best science books convey the excitement of science and scientific thinking in an accessible manner, but without pandering or dumbing things down. My favorite books tackle big ideas and respect the reader’s intelligence. My choices here reflect my core interests in biology, evolution, and behavior—and the aesthetics of science, too. I hope you enjoy them as much as I have.


I wrote...

Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution

By Mark S. Blumberg,

Book cover of Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution

What is my book about?

In most respects, Abigail and Brittany Hensel are normal American twins. Born and raised in a small town, they enjoy a close relationship, though each has her own tastes and personality. But the Hensels also share a body. Their two heads sit side-by-side on a single torso, with two arms and two legs. Abigail and Brittany, and others like them, open an extraordinary window onto human—and animal—development and evolution. 

In Freaks of Nature, Blumberg turns a scientist's eye on the oddities of nature, showing how a subject once relegated to the sideshow can help explain some of the deepest complexities of biology. What we need to understand, Blumberg argues, is that anomalies are the natural products of development, and it is through developmental mechanisms that evolution works. 

The Orchid and the Dandelion

By W. Thomas Boyce,

Book cover of The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Sensitive Children Face Challenges and How All Can Thrive

Thomas Boyce not only has impeccable credentials as a pediatrician, academic, and epidemiologist, but he also has deep personal history motivating his writing of The Orchid and the Dandelion. That is, he not only knows this topic, he feels it. On top of all of that, he writes with a warmth and poetic sensitivity so often lacking in evidence-based books like this. Boyce writes about orchid children being exquisitely sensitive, so they absorb their environment and thrive under the right circumstances, becoming remarkably insightful and creative. Under adverse circumstances, however, orchid children wilt. Dandelion children, by contrast, are more resilient and can accommodate more adversity without showing too much harm. Another interesting dimension Boyce explores is how the family, school, community, and society can all have an impact on an orchid child’s development.


Who am I?

I love prickly children. I was one myself, and I’ve quite a few of them in my family. I’ve also worked with desperate families over the years, children who are out of control, parents feeling overwhelmed, nobody knowing what to do to find the calm and loving core of connection we all yearn for. I feel the suffering these authors document—the child’s sense of being misunderstood and punished unfairly, and the parent’s desperation. So, when I read a book that offers intelligent and caring solutions driven by science, compassion, and experience, I share it with everyone who will listen. I’m delighted to have a chance here to do that.


I wrote...

Being Smart About Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change

By Dona J. Matthews, Joanne Foster,

Book cover of Being Smart About Gifted Learning: Empowering Parents and Kids Through Challenge and Change

What is my book about?

Being Smart about Gifted Learning is for parents, grandparents, teachers, and others who want to support young people in developing their strengths. It describes the Optimal Match approach—matching learning opportunities to children’s interests and abilities—grounded in neuroscience and developmental psychology, and based on current evidence about how giftedness develops. Readers describe it as a book “about embracing opportunities to encourage children’s strengths and nurture their well-being.” Topics include neural plasticity, equity, diversity, tests and assessments, creativity, homeschooling, neurodiversity, social-emotional issues, and more.

The ideas are illustrated with real-life examples and recommendations, showing the reader why and how to provide the resources and learning opportunities children and teenagers need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

The Developing Mind

By Daniel J. Siegel,

Book cover of The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are

I am a great admirer of Dr. Siegel who is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine. This is a terrific book in which Siegel explores the role of interpersonal relationships in forging key connections in the brain. As he says, “Human connections shape neural connections, and each contributes to mind. Relationships and your personal linkages together shape the mind. It is more than the sum of its parts; this is the essence of emergence.” His description of brain architecture is excellent

Siegel’s emphasis on relationships is important and I fully agree with it. His take on the mind is interesting. He says, “The mind is a process that emerges from the distributed nervous system extended throughout the entire body and also from the communication patterns that occur within relationships.” I echo those sentiments in The Embodied Mind when I say that the mind is more…


Who am I?

As a thirteen-year-old boy, I read Sigmund Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and I became totally fascinated by Freud’s slow, methodical questioning that eventually revealed deeply hidden unconscious conflicts in the lives of his patients. Then and there I resolved to become a psychiatrist. As a psychiatrist, I explored my patients’ early memories. Over the years, I authored seven books, including The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, published in 28 countries now. I have previously taught at Harvard University, the University of Toronto, York University (Toronto), and St. Mary’s University. This book takes my studies of memory a step further and drills right down to the intelligence of cells.


I wrote...

The Embodied Mind: Understanding the Mysteries of Cellular Memory, Consciousness, and Our Bodies

By Thomas R. Verny,

Book cover of The Embodied Mind: Understanding the Mysteries of Cellular Memory, Consciousness, and Our Bodies

What is my book about?

It seems that in July 2007, a 44-year-old French man went to a hospital complaining of mild weakness in his left leg. When the doctors performed numerous scans of his head, they discovered a huge fluid-filled chamber occupying most of the space in his skull, leaving little more than a thin sheet of actual brain tissue. It was a case of hydrocephalus, literally – water on the brain.

Dr. Lionel Feuillet of Hôpital de la Timone in Marseille was quoted as saying, “The images were most unusual...the brain was virtually absent.” The patient was a married father of two children and worked as a civil servant apparently leading a normal life, despite having a cranium filled with spinal fluid and very little brain tissue.

Artful Scribbles

By Howard E. Gardner,

Book cover of Artful Scribbles: The Significance of Children's Drawings

Most studies of child art describe development towards realism. Artful Scribbles is one of the first accounts to focus on the expressiveness and aesthetics of child art. Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner discusses in depth the puzzle of why the flowering of children’s art (as valued in the West in the last century) does not last. While drawings of 8- or 9-year-olds are more realistic and “accurate” than those of preschoolers, they seem to have lost the exploratory freshness of the art of younger children. This is one of the earliest studies of children’s art to take seriously the idea of the child as an artist and to consider the relationship between child art, modern art, and the art of adolescents and of mature artists.  


Who am I?

I’ve had a life-long love affair with the arts. I intended to become an artist, but ultimately became a psychologist researching psychological aspects of the arts. My first book, Invented Worlds, examined the key questions and findings in the psychology of the arts. In Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, I wrote about gifted child artists. My Arts & Mind Lab at Boston College investigated artistic development in typical and gifted children, habits of mind conferred by arts education, and how we respond to works of art. The walls of my home are covered with framed paintings by young children, often side by side paintings by professional artists.


I wrote...

How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration

By Ellen Winner,

Book cover of How Art Works: A Psychological Exploration

What is my book about?

How Art Works explores puzzles about the arts (visual art, music, literature) that have preoccupied philosophers as well as the broader, reflective public: Can “ART” be defined? How do we decide what we think is a good or great work of art? Why do we seek out works of art that elicit negative emotions like sadness or fear? What’s wrong with a perfect fake? Does reading fiction enhance empathy? Does arts education raise test scores? What is particularly special about the visual art of the young child?  These puzzles are explored from the perspective of empirical evidence from my own lab as well as from labs of psychologists around the world.

Becoming Attached

By Robert Karen,

Book cover of Becoming Attached: First Relationships and How They Shape Our Capacity to Love

Becoming Attached chronicles the conception and rise of one of the most important psychological theories: attachment theory. In doing so, it also tells the story of the mother-child bond and how our earliest relationships shape who we are and how we love. This book will delight and fascinate you. It will also leave you with clear, evidence-based knowledge of how to build and maintain a strong and loving relationship with your baby.


Who am I?

I’m a clinical and developmental psychologist, a parenting researcher at the University of Queensland, and a mother. My research is focused on applying and commitment therapy (ACT) to parenting including the parenting of children with neurodevelopmental disabilities. I wrote Becoming Mum while becoming a mother for the first time. In fact, much of the book was written while I cuddled my new baby, my laptop propped up on my knees so I could write! I am also the first author of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy the Clinician’s Guide to Supporting Parents. It is the first clinical manual on using ACT with parents.


I wrote...

Becoming Mum

By Koa Lou Whittingham,

Book cover of Becoming Mum

What is my book about?

Becoming Mum supports all women through the psychological ups and downs of becoming a mother, covering the journey from the earliest days right through infancy with advice for specific challenges from miscarriage to postnatal depression to preterm birth. Becoming Mum is grounded in the latest research and lived experience.

You will discover: your unique parenting values, and how to harness these to become a confident and happy mother, how to use mindfulness and acceptance to create a loving bond with your baby and support your baby's emotional development, techniques for coping with criticism, unhelpful advice, distressing emotions, and physical pain, how to keep your romantic relationship healthy and your support network strong, flexible, step by step strategies for facing major challenges that can be adapted to your personal circumstances.

Evolvagility

By Michael Hamman,

Book cover of Evolvagility: Growing an Agile Leadership Culture from the Inside Out

This book gives the philosophical underpinning for why creating a leadership development culture in all parts of your organization is essential for working in our VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) business landscape. And, it shows you how to do it with specific practices and new-mindset concepts. It is geared toward organizations with Agile ways of working in the environment, but is also useful if Agile is not present. I especially enjoy the way several theories of adult development are interwoven in this book which makes using them to guide leadership development strategies (your own and others) simpler and more immediately applicable.


Who am I?

For over a decade I helped people develop their skills and expand their leaderful-ness in Agile Coaching and I kept hearing the same blocker: “This is great and all, but my leaders don’t get it. They are the impediment.” After working with many thousands of Agilists I decided to go into the “belly of the beast” and personally coach leadership teams. What I found were not beasts or even garden variety egomaniacs. Instead, I found well-meaning people who are genuinely confounded by the complexity of today’s business landscape and who struggle with performance-killing team dynamics. Good news: the human technology to “solve” these issues is widely available. We know how.


I narrated...

Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business

By Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield, Travis Marsh

Book cover of Lead Together: The Bold, Brave, Intentional Path to Scaling Your Business

What is the book about?

Despite the advent of disruptive technologies that have upended the business landscape, the structure of most companies remains largely unchanged, with traditional top-down leadership still the norm. Couldn’t there be a better way to organize work that reflects our modern world - one with nimble, invested leaders rather than disengaged, disinterested employees? The answer is yes!

In Lead Together, authors Brent Lowe, Susan Basterfield, and Travis Marsh offer founders, CEOs, and other leaders a radical new way of working and scaling a business. The audiobook is narrated by Lyssa Adkins, an internationally recognized thought leader in Agile, a coach and guide to leadership teams, and a leader herself.

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