The most recommended books about human nature

Who picked these books? Meet our 38 experts.

38 authors created a book list connected to human nature, and here are their favorite human nature books.
Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

What type of human nature book?


Book cover of Cranford

Kate Tough Author Of Keep Walking, Rhona Beech

From my list on realistic female friendships in challenging times.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’d thought I was writing a novel about someone putting a life back together after everything fell apart but, when I’d finished, readers told me I’d written a book about vivid, authentic friendships. It was a welcome surprise. From Charles Dickens to Sylvia Plath, nuanced characters have always interested me and so, when writing, I set myself the task of believable dialogue and interactions which readers can relate to like it’s their own friends sitting around a table; laughing, crying, or bickering. When a life falls apart it’s often friendships that are tested to breaking but then become stronger as a result.

Kate's book list on realistic female friendships in challenging times

Kate Tough Why did Kate love this book?

It’s never the plot that draws me to a novel; it’s always other ingredients like people and place and, in these regards, Cranford is a stellar delight. The protagonist is a frequent house guest in the small town of Cranford, giving readers intimate access to the quirky social codes of its mostly female population. From the ones who care about social mores to the ones who care less, these wonderful vignettes document their attempts to outwit a visiting magician, or foil rumored night-burglars, or adapt to the losses of loved ones. Each woman has had a journey in some way stifled by the patriarchy of the 1800s but these ladies’ timeless and absorbing intelligence, compassion, loyalty, ingenuity, forbearance, and above all, wit, shine through.

By Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Cranford as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Elizabeth Gaskell was a British author during the Victorian era. Gaskell's novels are notable for detailed descriptions of the different classes of society in 19th century Britain. Cranford is a novel about a fictional town modeled closely after one Gaskell was familiar with. The story features a series of episodes in the life of Mary Smith.

Book cover of Themes and Conclusions

Mike X Cohen Author Of Linear Algebra: Theory, Intuition, Code

From my list on for people who can’t read five books on the same topic.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am an associate professor of neuroscience at the Donders Institute in the Netherlands. My research lab focuses on discovering how the brain uses electrical signaling to compute information, and transfer information across different regions of the brain. I also have a few decades of experience teaching scientific coding, data analysis, statistics, and related topics, and have authored several online courses and textbooks. I have a suspiciously dry sense of humor and insufficient patience to read five books on the same topic.

Mike's book list on for people who can’t read five books on the same topic

Mike X Cohen Why did Mike love this book?

Igor Stravinsky was one of the most influential and innovative music composers of the 20th century. He was also remarkably intelligent, humorous, and insightful. This book is a collection of interviews, letters, and notes made by and about Stravinsky. Some of these writings would interest only classical music enthusiasts, but much of the book comprises witty observations of human nature, art, and what it really means to praise or critique someone.

By Igor Stravinsky,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'The conversations between Igor Stravinsky and Robert Craft are unique in musical history.' Sunday Times

Dialogues is the final volume in the legendary series of Stravinsky's conversations with Robert Craft.
In his Foreword, dated March 1971 shortly before his death, Stravinsky wrote of his 'final work of words': 'They are hardly the last words about myself or my music that I would like to have written, and in fact they say almost nothing about the latter, except tangentially, in comments on Beethoven. It is almost five years now since I have completed an original composition, a time during which I…

Book cover of The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson Author Of The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone's Well-Being

From my list on busting common myths about our human nature.

Why are we passionate about this?

We are social epidemiologists trying to understand how the societies we live in affect our health. Together, we try to communicate our scientific research to politicians and policy-makers, but even more importantly to everyone who is curious about how our worlds shape our wellbeing and who want to work together for positive change.  We co-founded a UK charity, The Equality Trust, to build a social movement for a more equal society, and we are Global Ambassadors for the Wellbeing Economy Alliance, an international collaboration of organisations and individuals working to transform economic systems.

Kate's book list on busting common myths about our human nature

Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson Why did Kate love this book?

Often, when we talk to people about the need for more egalitarian societies, we get push back. 

People say, “Oh, there will always be inequality because humans are only interested in their own survival and their own interests, they will always be out for themselves – you can’t fight human nature."

Primatologist Frans de Waal turns that argument on its head, showing the survival value of empathy, cooperation, and a sense of fairness for animals and humans alike.

By Franz de Waal,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'Kindness and co-operation have played a crucial role in raising humans to the top of the evolutionary tree ... We have thrived on the milk of human kindness.' Observer


'There is a widely-held assumption that humans are hard-wired for relentless and ruthless competition ... Frans de Waal sees nature differently - as a biological legacy in which empathy, not mere self-interest, is shared by humans, bonobos and animals.' Ben Macintyre, The Times

Empathy holds us together. That we are hardwired to be altruistic is the result…

Book cover of Why Horror Seduces

Joseph Carroll Author Of Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism in Theory and Practice

From my list on literary Darwinism.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve spent the past thirty years leading the movement to integrate the humanities, and especially literary study, with evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. I got my PhD in comparative literature right about the time the academic literary world was being convulsed by the poststructuralist revolution (Derrida, Foucault, et co). I felt a profound antipathy to the sterile paradoxes and attenuated abstractions of that theory. I wanted a theory that could get close to the power literature had over my own imagination. The evolutionary human sciences have provided me with a basis for building a theory that answers my own need to make sense of literature.

Joseph's book list on literary Darwinism

Joseph Carroll Why did Joseph love this book?

If you love horror, or are even mildly interested in it, you will find this book a real treat. Clasen is one of the world’s leading scholars of horror. Like Gottschall, he has the knack for engaging, personable writing, with witty turns that will make you laugh, even while the hair is standing up on the back of your neck at the horror scenarios he relishes describing. Clasen is absolutely convincing about the ways in which horror taps into our inherited ancestral fears and disgusts.

By Mathias Clasen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Why Horror Seduces as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From vampire apocalypses, shark attacks, witches, and ghosts, to murderous dolls bent on revenge, horror has been part of the American cinematic imagination for almost as long as pictures have moved on screens. But why do they captive us so? What is the drive to be frightened, and why is it so perennially popular? Why Horror Seduces addresses these questions through evolutionary social sciences.

Explaining the functional seduction of horror entertainment, this book draws on cutting-edge findings in the evolutionary social sciences, showing how the horror genre is a product of human nature. Integrating the study of horror with the…

Book cover of The Hitchcock Romance: Love and Irony in Hitchcock's Films

Mark William Roche Author Of Alfred Hitchcock: Filmmaker and Philosopher

From my list on Alfred Hitchcock.

Why am I passionate about this?

I have taught philosophy and film for almost 40 years, first at Ohio State and then at Notre Dame. My focus had been German cinema, but I was drawn to Hitchcock for three reasons: first, he received his origins in Weimar Germany and owes much to German expressionism; second, his films are so cinematically beautiful and effective that I began teaching them again and again, and the students loved them; finally, I thought it worthwhile and a fun project to address the extent to which his films raise deep and engaging philosophical questions.

Mark's book list on Alfred Hitchcock

Mark William Roche Why did Mark love this book?

This is the first book I read that confirmed my own intuition—that Hitchcock’s works are as rich and complex as great literary works.

Brill’s book was a relatively early work of Hitchcock criticism, but an enduring one, a humanistic study with considerable attention paid to the films’ aesthetic and religious dimensions. The latter is fitting because Hitchcock was a deeply Catholic director.

The book offers excellent analyses, with good attention to cinematic and artistic features.

By Lesley Brill,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Was Alfred Hitchcock a cynical trifler with his audience's emotions, as he liked to pretend? Or was he a profoundly humane artist? Most commentators leave Hitchcock's self-assessment unquestioned, but this book shows that his movies convey an affectionate, hopeful understanding of human nature and the redemptive possibilities of love. Lesley Brill discusses Hitchcock's work as a whole and examines in detail twenty-two films, from perennial favorites like North by Northwest to neglected masterpieces like Rich and Strange.

Book cover of The Glass Lake

Raina Lipsitz Author Of The Rise of a New Left: How Young Radicals Are Shaping the Future of American Politics

From Raina's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Book lover Feminist Fried food enthusiast

Raina's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Raina Lipsitz Why did Raina love this book?

Maeve Binchy is the author I most often turn to for solace in dark times. She is a natural storyteller with a rare generosity of spirit.

The Glass Lake, which I didn’t read until this year although it came out in 1994, is one of my favorites: it’s part mystery, part romantic drama, and partly a story about mothers, daughters, and the toll secrets take: there’s suspense and intrigue and shocking twists and sharp social critique, as well as laugh-out-loud humor and gentle acceptance of human nature in all its flawed glory.

It’s long but extremely well-paced and filled with strong female characters and intense personal sacrifices I will never forget.

By Maeve Binchy,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'THE GLASS LAKE is Maeve Binchy at her spellbinding best - you'll never want it to end' Woman's Journal

'Maeve Binchy really knows what makes women tick. She crystallises their hopes, dreams and passions in her novels and now she has done it again in THE GLASS LAKE ... a marvellous read' Daily Mirror

Kit McMahon lives in the small Irish town of Lough Glass, a place where nothing changes - until the day Kit's mother disappears and Kit is haunted by the memory of her mother, alone at the kitchen table, tears streaming down her face.

Now Kit, too,…

Book cover of The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank

Betty Adams Author Of I Have the Data

From my list on to laugh at the absurdity of human nature.

Why am I passionate about this?

Humans are absurd. We are. Short stories that present this in a true and honest fashion, without being cruel or vulgar are a rare and delicious gem. In all of these books there is not a single ounce of malice or bitterness. Humans are born, we live, we suffer, and then we die. These books don’t deny this, or ignore it, instead they choose to focus on the funny, the fun, the absurd lives that we live. 

Betty's book list on to laugh at the absurdity of human nature

Betty Adams Why did Betty love this book?

Life happens. The septic tank overflows. Girls get in fights. Boys track dirt over your best carpet. You are absolutely going to ruin their lives with your attempt to explain the facts of life. Erma Bombeck takes these realities and laughs at them. You can’t help but laugh along with her from her tiny suburban home to her efforts to “forgive her enemies.”

By Erma Bombeck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The “marvelously funny” and much-loved humorist explores the perils of suburban living in this New York Times bestseller (Vogue).
For years, the Bombecks have heard rumors of a magical land called Suburbia where the air is clean, the grass is trimmed, and children don’t risk getting mugged on their walk to school. After watching their friends flee the city for subdivided utopias like Bonaparte’s Retreat and Mortgage Mañana, Erma and her family load up their belongings and cry, “Station wagons . . . ho!” But life on the suburban frontier is not as perfect as they had hoped. The trees…

Book cover of The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

John Iceland Author Of Why We Disagree about Inequality: Social Justice vs. Social Order

From my list on explaining political polarization.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a Penn State professor of sociology and demography who is interested in social inequality, demography, and public opinion. My family moved frequently when I was growing up—I lived in Colombia, Greece, and Mexico. I attended Brown University and worked at the U.S. Census Bureau as an analyst and Branch Chief for several years before returning to academia. My interest in inequality dates back to living in different countries with different cultures, politics, and standards of living. While I have long been interested in the demographics of poverty and inequality, in more recent years I’ve become interested in political polarization and why people disagree about a variety of social issues.

John's book list on explaining political polarization

John Iceland Why did John love this book?

Pinker challenges the widely held belief that human beings are born as blank slates, shaped solely by their environment and experiences.

As a cognitive psychologist, he makes this case with a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on evolutionary psychological adaptations. I especially appreciate how Pinker conveys a lot of complicated information so plainly. He argues that the belief in the “blank slate” has often led to misguided policies, such as in education and the criminal justice system.

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Blank Slate as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A brilliant inquiry into the origins of human nature from the author of Rationality, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and Enlightenment Now.

"Sweeping, erudite, sharply argued, and fun to read..also highly persuasive." --Time

Updated with a new afterword

One of the world's leading experts on language and the mind explores the idea of human nature and its moral, emotional, and political colorings. With characteristic wit, lucidity, and insight, Pinker argues that the dogma that the mind has no innate traits-a doctrine held by many intellectuals during the past century-denies our common humanity and our individual preferences, replaces objective analyses…

Book cover of Limitless: The 10,000 Shot Theory

Juwan Rohan Author Of Money Talks: The Beginners Guide To Investing For Kids

From my list on for children to learn financial literacy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm very passionate about teaching children's financial literacy and business because with social media, it's easy for children to get caught up in the flashy and shiny materialist things. I like to teach kids about business and how to use the mistakes in business to scale and grow. I have expertise in this area as I've written three books, taught financial literacy & business at schools, and own a few different businesses. After I graduated college, I was thrown into the 'real world' with a good job and learned my lessons the hard way by spending too much money on things that did not matter. Hence my passion to want to help The Misguided.

Juwan's book list on for children to learn financial literacy

Juwan Rohan Why did Juwan love this book?

This book is for your older children and may be best to read with an adult as there is very minor explicit wording (I've counted one).

I really like this book because it helps with Mindset. When learning about money, can be confusing, exhausting, and overall not fun. Kids want to spend their money, it's human nature, and it's okay to want to feel like that so I am recommending this book because it allows the kids what can happen when they put in the work.

By LaRussell,

Why should I read it?

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

Book cover of No Contest: The Case Against Competition

Cath Bishop Author Of The Long Win: The Search for a Better Way to Succeed

From my list on reframing success to sustain high performance.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’ve been fascinated by the question of ‘what does success look like’ throughout my life: from growing up, to becoming an Olympic rower, to working as a diplomat in high-pressure situations and conflict-affected environments, to becoming a parent, and now my current work as a leadership and culture coach in organisations across business, sport, and education. History and social conventions have led us to define success in ever narrower ways; I wanted to help us understand that and redefine success more meaningfully, for the long-term. I think it’s a question in all our minds - I hope you enjoy the books on this list as you reflect on what success looks like for you!

Cath's book list on reframing success to sustain high performance

Cath Bishop Why did Cath love this book?

A thoughtful thinker and researcher in the world of education, Alfie Kohn’s books challenge our thinking about how schools are set up and what helps children to learn.

After learning about how sporting cultures and environments that call themselves ‘performance-focused’ are in fact getting in the way of supporting athletes to perform, I knew that the same applied to school life.

In this book, Kohn shows that setting up classroom environments to be competitive – including the much-used ‘hands up first’ practice – actually hinders how our children learn.

In particular, competition can get in the way of children learning from each other and developing valuable skills of cooperation and collaboration (that my work in leadership development shows me are sorely needed in the workplace).

By Alfie Kohn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked No Contest as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

No Contest stands as the definitive critique of competition. Contrary to accepted wisdom, competition is not basic to human nature; it poisons our relationships and holds us back from doing our best. In this new edition, Alfie Kohn argues that the race to win turns all of us into losers.