The best psychoanalysis books

20 authors have picked their favorite books about psychoanalysis and why they recommend each book.

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A Primer of Freudian Psychology

By Calvin S. Hall,

Book cover of A Primer of Freudian Psychology

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.


Who am I?

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.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

By Joseph Campbell,

Book cover of The Hero with a Thousand Faces

It’s almost impossible to discuss the Hero’s Journey without paying homage to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With a Thousand Faces. This work by a noted mythologist and scholar is so instrumental in helping us to understand the story of humanity. This book helps me to appreciate that we are all storytellers, and our individual and collective stories are rooted in archetypes, myths, and heroic tales. I love his ability to dissect the cross-cultural features of the stories we tell. Campbell’s seminal work is among the most influential books of the twentieth century. It helps me to understand my own personal narrative and human history through the lens of story.


Who am I?

I have come to better understand myself as a character in a wonderful story called life. That story, in this lifetime, is bookended by birth and death. It’s my own personal narrative of transformation and it’s ongoing. What will come next on my individual Hero’s Journey? Understanding this story structure provides me with insights and inspiration to make it a good story with a happy ending. It also helps me appreciate that there are many challenges to be overcome along the way.


I wrote...

Serpent Rising

By Victor Acquista,

Book cover of Serpent Rising

What is my book about?

Winner of the 2021 International Book Awards for Best New Age Fiction. A blend of mystery, suspense, adventure, and thriller, book one of The Saga of Venom and Flame recounts a heroine's journey of transformation into a warrior for truth in the great War of the Two Serpents.

Serena Mendez is a pill-popping dysfunctional who is haunted by trauma she experienced in her youth. She is unaware of her latent potential. A clandestine brotherhood hunts her for the threat she represents. To fulfill her true destiny and unleash the power within her blood, Serena journeys to six continents where she uncovers the truth of who she is, and what she must do. A warrior stirs—a Lightbringer… She is Serena Mendez… She is a Candelaria.

Man and His Symbols

By Carl Jung,

Book cover of Man and His Symbols

As a visual artist, I adore symbols, it’s unbelievable how a symbol can evoke emotions through its associations and meanings. Each Tarot card has its own character and many symbols. These reveal more than their immediate meaning and they visualise human experiences, behavioural patterns and developmental patterns. These archetypal images, as Jung calls them, are stored in our collective unconscious and can be found all over the world in our fantasy, dreams, mythology, religion, literature, fairy tales and other forms of art.

In Tarot and other oracle systems, the concept of synchronicity would explain how they "work" as a kind of mirror of the psyche. The symbols and illustrations are thus the language with which the tarot can make the unconscious in our psyche conscious. They mirror what happens from the inside to the outside. So the cards would reflect your inner state at that time. 

In this book, CG…


Who am I?

Since I was a teenager, I have been attracted to astrology, Jungian psychology, synchronicity, symbolism, alchemy, and Jewish esotery. Someone gave me my first Tarot deck as a present. Since then I collect old and new decks from the entire world and created my own Sun and Moon TarotI continue to deepen my knowledge of tarot and all the systems associated with it. At times I focus more on the Sefiroth and Kabbalah. Sometimes I’m more interested in different ways of interpreting tarot. I've been illustrating Astrological Learning Cards for a while now, trying to better understand the different astrological archetypes and to make art.


I wrote and illustrated...

Sun and Moon Tarot

By Vanessa Decort,

Book cover of Sun and Moon Tarot

What is my book about?

By playfully incorporating mythology and astrology, I bring unique interpretations to traditional tarot. The deck follows the traditional structure of Crowley Thoth Tarot but is also influenced by the book Mind MirrorThe Minor Arcana features Crowley’s keywords, but has people in the imagery and is influenced by the symbolism of Pamela Colman Smith's illustrations. Major Arcana cards show the associated Hebrew letter in the artwork.

Sun and Moon Tarot is a multi-cultural tarot deck with symbolism borrowed from Hinduism, yoga, ancient Egyptian and Greek mythology, the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and more. The Sun and Moon Tarot was published in 2010 and the pocket-sized version in 2017, it’s presented in a tin and features the black borders as originally designed.

Otto Rank

By Esther Menaker,

Book cover of Otto Rank: A Rediscovered Legacy

This book summarizes the contributions of Otto Rank, the brilliant and influential psychoanalyst. Rank focused on two core psychological motivations, the desires for psychological security on the one hand, and for stimulation, growth, and creativity on the other. His work illuminates how these desires often work in concert but also often can be in opposition over the course of the lifespan, contributing to guilt, anxiety, and stunting growth. Rank’s analysis inspired the development of both existential psychology and humanistic psychology. Rank’s approach to psychological well-being is based on accepting and even affirming the limitations of life, understanding what you really want in life, and developing the will to move creatively toward achieving those goals so that one can live an authentic and satisfying life.   


Who am I?

I am a Regents Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. Ever since I was a child growing up in the South Bronx, I have been interested in why people are so driven to believe they are right and good, and why there is so much prejudice in the world. This has led to me to a lifelong exploration of the basic motivations that guide people’s actions, and how these motivations influence how people view themselves and others, and the goals they pursue.


I wrote...

The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

By Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, Tom Pyszczynski

Book cover of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

What is my book about?

This book presents the co-authors’ ground-breaking psychological research, which shows how the awareness of our mortality influences human action and how cultures keep fear of death at bay by providing worldviews that infuse our lives with order, stability, purpose, and significance, allowing us to pursue our goals without becoming overwhelmed by the knowledge of our ultimate fate. But our efforts to maintain our worldview and be significant contributor to it lead to personal, interpersonal, and societal problems. The Worm at the Core offers ways we can better come to terms with death and lead lives of courage, creativity, and compassion. The reader will come away with a new way of understanding human evolution, child development, history, religion, prejudice, art, science, mental health, war, and politics in the twenty-first century. 

Nausea

By Jean-Paul Sartre, Richard Howard (translator),

Book cover of Nausea

Thousands of years ago – I exaggerate a little – when pre-university, I heard of Nausea from a library assistant. I warmed to Sartre’s sense of the weirdness of consciousness, surrounded by the strangeness of physical objects and conscious beings, ‘the Other.’ How to relate?

Nausea — and some very different works by philosophers such as Bertrand Russell — enabled my discovery that I was a philosopher, good or bad. It led me to university philosophy in London, then Cambridge, and the works of, Ah, Wittgenstein. One thing that I do not regret in my life is engagement with philosophy. “I have not looked back” as they say — which means that I have looked back, yet without recoil at that discovery.


Who am I?

Who knows why, but I have always been enticed by absurdities, paradoxes, incongruities — I use them in my talks, articles, and books — of everyday lives, our humanity, and mysteries of our ‘going on.’ Reflections on being human can be triggered by humour such as Cambridge’s Beyond the Fringe and New York’s sitcom Seinfeld — within which I wallow — as well as by lengthy philosophical works and novels. My work draws on bafflements: for example, shampoo instructions “Lather, rinse, repeat” (making shampoo-ing infinite?); Barmaid to Peter Cook, “Bitter?”, reply being “Just tired”— and Samuel Beckett’s “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” Yes, I go on.


I wrote...

Humanism: A Beginner's Guide

By Peter Cave,

Book cover of Humanism: A Beginner's Guide

What is my book about?

Why should we believe in God without any evidence? How can there be meaning in life when death is final? With historical adherents including such thinkers as Einstein, Freud, Philip Pullman, and Frank Zappa, the central quest of "Humanism" is to make sense of such questions, explaining the ethical and metaphysical by appealing to shared human values, rationality, and tolerance. Essential reading for atheists, agnostics, ignostics, freethinkers, rationalists, skeptics, and believers too, this Beginner's Guide will explain all aspects of the Humanist philosophy whilst providing an alternative and valuable conception of life without religion.

The book also has a personal flavour, it is as challenging to the reductionism of the sciences as it is to the claims of religions. It is as thoughtful on our existence as on our extinction. 

Psychoanalysis

By Janet Malcolm,

Book cover of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis have cast a long shadow over our understanding of the human mind. Most research psychologists today find Freud’s ideas to be oversimplified, exaggerated, or simply wrong. It is important to understand his legacy, however, and there is no better way to do so than to read this entertaining, gossipy book about psychoanalytic theory and treatment. Malcolm provides a rare peek into the consulting room of the psychoanalyst, with insightful critiques of the practice and theory of psychoanalysis. What is Freud’s legacy, exactly? I discuss that in Strangers to Ourselves, in a chapter entitled, “Freud’s genius, Freud’s myopia.”

Who am I?

Like most adolescents, I was deeply concerned with what others thought of me and how I fit in. Unlike most adolescents, I sometimes did little experiments to test others’ reactions--such as lying down on a busy sidewalk, fully awake, to see how passersby would react (mostly with annoyance). Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there is an entire discipline--social psychology--that does real experiments on self-knowledge and social behavior. I got a Ph.D. in social psychology at the University of Michigan and have spent my career as a professor at the University of Virginia, where I have had great fun conducting such experiments.


I wrote...

Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

By Timothy D. Wilson,

Book cover of Strangers to Ourselves: Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious

What is my book about?

“Know thyself,” a precept as old as Socrates, is still good advice. But is introspection the best path to self-knowledge? What are we trying to discover, anyway? 

In an eye-opening tour of the unconscious, as psychological science has redefined it, Strangers to Ourselves introduces us to a hidden mental world of judgments, feelings, and motives. Because we have no direct access to the workings of our minds, Wilson tells us, we develop plausible stories about ourselves that may be out of touch with our adaptive unconscious. Citing evidence that too much introspection can actually do damage, Wilson makes the case for better ways of discovering who we truly are. 

The Myth of Analysis

By James Hillman,

Book cover of The Myth of Analysis: Three Essays in Archetypal Psychology

James Hillman called for the revisioning of psychology based on art, culture, and imagination. Of his many books, The Myth of Analysis, offering three essays on psychological creativity, language, and femininity, is the one that I reference most, especially his position that “the language of psychology insults the soul.” Social science and the therapy jargon of the “establishment” are not getting better, and as Hillman says, we become ill in sync with it. He said to me that art therapists can “be the carriers of imagination into the culture at the grassroots level. I really do want to encourage them with all my heart.”


Who am I?

By chance, just over 50 years ago, I became an art therapist in a state hospital on the Northshore of Boston where I have always lived. With support from Rudolf Arnheim at Harvard University and others, I committed myself to furthering personal and community well-being through art. In my mid-twenties I established a graduate program at Lesley University which spawned an international community of expressive arts therapy. I have worked worldwide in advancing art healing and art-based research. Now University Professor Emeritus, and for the first time without a full-time position, I am trying to embrace the unpredictable ways of creation, and as I wrote, Trust the Process.


I wrote...

Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul

By Shaun McNiff,

Book cover of Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul

What is my book about?

Art heals by infusing individuals and communities with creative energy transforming afflictions into affirmations of life. The book seeks to revive transcultural healing processes of art, approached as including all forms of artistic expression, emerging spontaneously throughout history. As a member of the art in therapy community, I perceive our professional discipline as a part of the whole. In addition to professional therapeutic practice, we can lead and enhance access to people everywhere as a form of public health.

To encourage participation, authentic artistic expression is viewed as a force of nature present in us all, and the greatest obstacle is the assumption that it is only for a talented few. In proving efficacy, we show the art evidence generated now and, in the past, trusting its impact rather than attempting to translate artistic expression into something other than itself.

The Order of Forms

By Anna Kornbluh,

Book cover of The Order of Forms: Realism, Formalism, and Social Space

Kornbluh’s book is an incredible revelation. It shows that psychoanalysis provides an insistence on a formal interpretation that allows it to have a privileged critical position relative to capitalism. By showing capitalism’s formal impasses, psychoanalysis provides the perfect supplement to a Marxist critique and opens up possibilities for envisioning a non-capitalist future. The book uses realist fiction as a way to envision the formal critique of capitalism and really makes one want to read the books under discussion. I have taught this book to students, and they love it more than any other I’ve ever used. 


Who am I?

I have spent a great deal of time exploring how psychoanalytic theory might be the basis for a critique of capitalism. I had always heard the Marxist analysis of capitalist society, but what interested me was how psychoanalytic theory might offer a different line of thought about how capitalism works. The impulse that drives people to accumulate beyond what is enough for them always confused me since I was a small child. It seems to me that psychoanalytic theory gives us the tools to understand this strange phenomenon that somehow appears completely normal to us. 


I wrote...

Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets

By Todd McGowan,

Book cover of Capitalism and Desire: The Psychic Cost of Free Markets

What is my book about?

Despite creating vast inequalities and propping up reactionary world regimes, capitalism has many passionate defenders—but not because of what it withholds from some and gives to others. Capitalism dominates, Todd McGowan argues, because it mimics the structure of our desire while hiding the trauma that the system inflicts upon it. Capitalism traps us through an incomplete satisfaction that compels us after the new, the better, and the more.

Capitalism's parasitic relationship to our desires gives it the illusion of corresponding to our natural impulses, which is how capitalism's defenders characterize it. By understanding this psychic strategy, McGowan hopes to divest us of our addiction to capitalist enrichment and help us rediscover enjoyment as we actually experienced it.

The Discovery of the Unconscious

By Henri F. Ellenberger,

Book cover of The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry

The epic 900-page Discovery of the Unconscious is a phenomenally detailed and well-researched book that still challenges many of today’s psychological ‘truths.’ Ellenberger takes as his starting point models of the unconscious developed by Pierre Janet, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, and Carl Jung, which still influence many contemporary therapeutic treatments. He then skilfully links these models of the unconscious mind back to exorcism, magnetism, and hypnotism. Ellenberger’s detailed account of the use of magnetism and hypnosis by Jean Martin Charcot and others is fascinating because he explains exactly how Charcot's approaches premised new “uncovering” models devised by Nietzsche and the neo-Romantic movement. He also explains how Charcot’s work related to the growing interest in instincts and sexuality inspired by Darwin that culminated in the Freudian unconscious. In doing so, Ellenberger exposes what was genuinely new in the modern unconscious, and which parts of it have a much longer history. The…


Who am I?

My interest in this topic began after my father died when I was a young teenager and I was left looking for answers, explanations, and meanings. My dad was an architect and had written a book on Jeremy Bentham’s panoptican and prison architecture published before the French philosopher Michel Foucault’s famous Discipline and Punish. A small collection of Foucault’s books stood prominently on my father’s bookshelves and I really wanted to understand them. At university I studied all of Foucault’s works and many authors inspired by him. These are the best books that explain how we have developed philosophical and psychological theories to understand ourselves in the contemporary world.


I wrote...

The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain

By Bonnie Evans,

Book cover of The Metamorphosis of Autism: A History of Child Development in Britain

What is my book about?

My book explores the background to contemporary theories of child development, and the neurodiversity movement, by explaining the rapid increase in diagnoses of autism in children that occurred at the turn of the 21st Century. I argue that the way we understand children’s thoughts, motivations, and actions is directly influenced by the legal models that have been established to protect them as individual subjects with unique social rights. Drawing from a large array of government and scientific archives, I explain how the closure of state institutions and the growth of special education was accompanied by a complete metamorphosis in the meaning of autism in the 1960s and 1970s that had a knock-on effect on everyday diagnoses in educational, psychological, and other settings. 

Freud, Biologist of the Mind

By Frank J. Sulloway,

Book cover of Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend

While some thinkers, such as Ernest Jones and Philip Rieff, had noted Freud’s lifelong reliance on 19th-century biology, it wasn’t until Sulloway’s tome of 1979 that a systematic investigation of Freud’s embarrassing biology was published. Hence the demystification Sulloway offers of a ‘psychoanalytic legend’ that routinely erases the foundational roles that Lamarckian inheritance and Haeckelian recapitulation play throughout Freud’s oeuvre. This dense, difficult, but well-argued and undeniable work is meant for experts but is key for all serious students of psychoanalysis. 


Who am I?

I am a professor of philosophy and editor or author of 12 books. I started out in ‘Freud Studies’ in the 1990s with no agenda, just a deep interest in Freud’s ideas. Since then I’ve written quite a lot on it. Unfortunately, the field is so contentious, so overrun with books by former patients and analysts, that casual readers couldn’t possibly make heads or tails of it. Readers are best served by reading complete works of Freud and making their own assessments. After that, they can look at Freud’s voluminous and eye-opening correspondence with colleagues. Then they can consult good books, and lists of recommended works, that put them in the right direction.


I wrote...

The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life

By Todd Dufresne,

Book cover of The Late Sigmund Freud: Or, The Last Word on Psychoanalysis, Society, and All the Riddles of Life

What is my book about?

The Late Sigmund Freud is one of very few book-length accountings of the “late” or “cultural”  Freud of 1920-1939. This is shocking because the works of this period, such as Civilization & Its Discontents, are actually among Freud’s most famous. Dufresne attempts to understand the so-called ‘sociological’ Freud in its own terms, relate it to the broader socio-intellectual context of Freud’s time, and assess Freud’s conscious attempt to provide the ‘last word’ on the meaning of his theory and practice of psychoanalysis.  

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