Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Seven psychology books that explore why we are who we are [reading list]

Social Psychology looks at the nature and causes of individual behavior in social situations. It asks how others’ actions and behaviors shape our actions and behaviors, how our identities are shaped by the beliefs and assumptions of our communities. Fundamentally it looks for scientific answers to the most philosophical questions of self. These seven books about a range of issues within social psychology—identity, gender and sexuality, radicalism, social assumptions and biases—address just a few of the questions about who we are.

  1. Strange Case of Donald J. Trump: A Psychological Reckoning Dan P. McAdams In the summer of 2016, Dan McAdams wrote one of The Atlantic’s most widely-read pieces on the soon-to-be-elected 45th president—The Mind of Donald Trump.  In his new book—a collection of stand-alone essays that each explore a single psychological facet of the president—McAdams makes the startling assertion that Trump may just be the rare person who lacks any inner life story. More than just a political and psychological biography, this book is a vivid illustration of the intricate relationship between narrative and identity.
  2.  Finding Truth in Fiction: What Fan Culture Gets Right—and Why it’s Good to Get Lost in a Story Karen E. Dill-Shackelford and Cynthia Vinney
    In almost everyone’s life there is a book, a movie, or a television show that has a personal impact that would seem disproportionate for a fictional work. Karen E. Dill-Shackelford and Cynthia Vinney illustrate how engagement with fictional worlds provides the very mental models that inform how we exist in this world. Being a fan—of Game of Thrones, Harry Potter, Star Trek, or Pride and Prejudice—is being human.
  3. ISIS Propaganda: A Full-Spectrum Extremist Message edited by Stephane J. Baele, Katharine A. Boyd, and Travis G. Coan
    Conflict, aggression, radicalism, and terrorism are at their very cores matters of psychology and motivation. This book uses a multidisciplinary approach to show of how a group like the Islamic State could so successfully spread its message across the region and how people can counter these narratives in the future.
  4. The Radical’s Journey: How German Neo-Nazis Voyaged to the Edge and Back Arie W. Kruglanski, David Webber, and Daniel Koehler
    In a turbulent global environment where extremist ideology has gained more mainstream popularity, The Radical’s Journey is a critical addition to scholarship on radicalization by leading experts in the field. Drawn from rare interviews with former members of the German far-right groups, the book delves into the motivations of those who join and ultimately leave neo-Nazi groups.
  5.  Old Man Country: My Search for Meaning Among the Elders Thomas R. Cole
    Today, a 65-year-old man will more likely than not live to see his 85th birthday. What life looks like in a man’s ninth decade can be a daunting unknown. Thomas R. Cole spoke with a dozen prominent American men—including former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Paul Volcker and spiritual leader Ram Dass—to answer four questions about old age: am I still a man? Do I still matter? What is the meaning of my life? Am I loved?
  6.  How to Be Childless: A History and Philosophy of Life Without Children Rachel Chrastil
    There is a common perception that someone’s status as a parent is the most unequivocally important role they she play in society, but the way this assumption erases the experiences of those who do not have children is profoundly difficult. This book explores the state of childlessness from the past 500 years. It’s a narrative that could empower readers—parents and the childless alike—to navigate their lives with purpose.
  7. Out in Time: The Public Lives of Gay Men from Stonewall to the Queer Generation Perry N. Halkitis
    Library Journal
     called this book, “the rare nonfiction book that can also be a work of art.” Perry N. Halkitis’s new book looks at the experience of coming out across three generations in America—the Stonewall generation, the AIDS generation, and the Queer generation, and explores how, while sociology of life for LGBTQ people has changed, the underlying psychology has not.

Neither science nor philosophy will ever answer all of the questions of why we behave the way we do. But these seven books on social psychology answer a few them, and more importantly, raise hundreds more questions to keep the pursuit understanding forever moving forward.

Featured image by Frida Aguilar Estrada via Unsplash 

Recent Comments

  1. Coach leonard Johnson

    Express weak mind it people.

Comments are closed.