Psychology books are more than just self-help novels written by balding white men. They can be thrilling and intriguing and run the gamut of genres from fiction to history.
Psychology as subject matter gives the story an unusual twist. It forces the reader to reckon with the humanity of the characters, making them ask philosophical questions leading to moments of deep introspection.
Of course, self-help books promise all this and more but psychology books provide a very different perspective to the whole reading experience. Irrespective of whether you’re a psychology enthusiast or just a casual reader, they can be a good way to widen your horizons while passing the time:
The Alienist by Caleb Carr
This novel is an immersive jump into criminology in the context of historical fiction. An Alienist is now an obsolete term for a psychiatrist. This story follows Dr Laszlo Kreizler who is an Alienist in 1896, New York as he attempts to create a psychological profile to solve the murder of an adolescent boy.
The book is fast-paced and riveting. Perfect if you like shows like Criminal Minds or enjoy the world of Sherlock Holmes.
Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
On the opposite end of the spectrum, this book is a memoir. The author chronicles the death of her father in the summer of 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic was going strong and travel bans prevented her family from being together at that moment. An expansion on an article she had written for the new yorker, the book was penned with her characteristic eloquence and insight. A nuanced take on grief in the 21st century and a must-read for anyone in need of companionship in this hard time.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
A classic from the renowned poet, the Bell Jar is based on Plath’s life. It follows the slow psychological breakdown of the marvellous Esther Greenwood. Esther is on the precipice of her big break, about to graduate, doing well at work and beautiful. But for some reason, she is slowly losing her mind. Plath’s writing is immersive and haunting. It will leave you questioning your thoughts for quite some time.
The book is a truly great insight into the human psyche. Worthy accompaniments would include any of Plath’s poetry.
Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen
Firstly, there is a movie based on this book. It has the same name and it stars young Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. If you haven’t watched it. Go watch it. It’s very good. Secondly, this is another memoir. Susanna Kaysen was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 1967. The same one that Sylvia Plath is said to have gone to, ironically enough. The novel chronicles her experiences at the hospital and provides distinct, elaborate portraits of her fellow compatriots and the workers at the hospital.
It’s an unflinching look at the social attitudes towards psychiatry and mental illness in the late ’60s and it adds dimension to the ideas of psychology that the reader holds. An intriguing read if you feel you want to be challenged.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Written by social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt this book is a thought-provoking look at how we choose a group. The premise is moral intuition which he says is the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.
Then he adds on findings regarding different cultures – the political left, the political right. By researchers from different fields in the social sciences. Hence, providing a comprehensive view into how we function and make decisions as groups. Also how we choose our groups and why they’re important.
Phantoms in the Brain by V. S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee
Neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran writes about questions that many others are afraid of or uninterested in asking. He uses simple research methods to get powerful results. This book sheds light on who we are, why we believe in god, why we laugh and why we think the way we do about our bodies. Providing neurological reasoning in the form of very interesting case studies.
Remembering Satan: A Tragic Case of Recovered Memory by Lawrence Wright
Possibly the most haunting thing you will learn in a psychology classroom is that memories are easily planted. In fact, false memories are very common and have in the past led to devastating real-world problems that have hurt many many people. This book by Lawrence Wright chronicles exactly that. It specifically recounts the 1988 case of Ericka and Julie Ingram who made a series of accusations against their father Paul Ingram, at first stating that he molested them as children.
Later the accusations increased to include torture and rape too. All of which were reported as “recovered memories”. However, when questioned Paul recalled participating in satanic rituals with his whole family. The story gets more and bizarre as time goes on and is incredibly chilling in its real-world implications.
The Story of Psychology by Morton Hunt
As with any social science, Psychology has a riveting history. Originally considered a branch of philosophy it grew into its own domain with the work of multiple philosophers and scientists.
This book traces the origin of the subject and its various schools of thought. It’s an insightful read for anyone interested in the origins of the study of the human mind.
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
Back to fiction, it would be remiss to write a list about psychology and not put in the work of Gillian Flynn. The acclaimed author of Gone Girl writes a harrowing tale in this novel.
It follows Camille Preaker, a reporter who returns home after a stay at a psychological hospital. She then attempts to solve the murder of a preteen girl and the disappearance of another. All while grappling with her own mental health and her dysfunctional family.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Let’s end with a classic, shall we?
Dostoevsky is considered by many to be the master of psychological fiction. He wrote four books after his release from a Siberian prison and they’re all supposed to be introspective looks into the human psyche. However, Crime and Punishment is the most popular, and with good reason.
The novel addresses themes of morality, individual responsibility, suffering, egoism and poverty. And it does it in a way that is still relevant to date. It’s a poignant, introspective read that you should definitely soldier through.