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Best Psychology Books Of The Year – 2011

Christian Jarrett created a list of the best psychology books in 2011 for the BPS Research Digest:

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer.

The Sunday Times describes Foer’s story of how he became American Memory Champion as “the most entertaining science book of the year”.

The Indy says Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined will generate more discussion than any other science book this year, adding: “His explanations for the apparent paradox of how brutality and even genocide in the modern world coexist with a trend towards diminished violence are entirely convincing.” Also listed by the New York Times and Marginal Revolution.

Not strictly psychology, but the Times has chosen Tim Harford’s Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (see my notes) as among the year’s best science books. His “engaging” book “looks at how science and statistics can be used to predict commercial successes and industrial disasters and to inform public policy.”

For the Guardian, both Jeanette Winterson and Hanif Kureishi chose Darian Leader’s What is Madness? as among their favourite books of the year. Kureishi calls the book “magisterial” and describes how Leader “explains that the ‘irrational’ delusions and hallucinations of the mad are their attempts at sense.” Winterson says it’s a “thought-provoking book about how we diagnose and differentiate our many kinds of insanities.”

Before I Go to Sleep: A Novel by S. J. Watson is chosen by Waterstones as among their favourite paperbacks of 2011: “Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life”.

The New York Times highlights Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: “a lucid and profound vision of flawed human reason in a book full of intellectual surprises and self-help value.”

Mind’s book of the year was won by Bobby Baker for Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me. “A collection of 158 drawings Baker created between 1997 and 2008, the diary provides us with an astonishing insight into her struggle to overcome mental and physical ill-health.”

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson, is chosen by Amazon.com’s editors as among the best non-fiction titles this year. “In this madcap journey, a bestselling journalist investigates psychopaths and the industry of doctors, scientists, and everyone else who studies them.”

Through the Language Glass: How Words Colour Your World by Guy Deutscher was shortlisted for this year’s Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books (read the first chapter).

Other suggestions:

Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir by Robert Jay Lifton:
“Lifton has probed into some of the darkest episodes of human history, bearing his unique form of psychological witness to the sources and consequences of collective violence and trauma, as well as to our astonishing capacity for resilience.”

Altruism in Humans by C. Daniel Batson:
“Altruism in Humans takes a hard-science look at the possibility that we humans have the capacity to care for others for their sakes rather than simply for our own.”

An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine by Sigmund Freud, William Halsted:
“the astonishing account of the years-long cocaine use of Sigmund Freud, young, ambitious neurologist, and William Halsted, the equally young, pathfinding surgeon. Markel writes of the physical and emotional damage caused by the then-heralded wonder drug, and how each man ultimately changed the world in spite of it—or because of it. One became the father of psychoanalysis; the other, of modern surgery.”

Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy Wilson:
“Redirect demonstrates the remarkable power small changes can have on the ways we see ourselves and the world around us, and how we can use this in our everyday lives.”

The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James Pennebaker:
“our language carries secrets about our feelings, our self-concept, and our social intelligence. Our most forgettable words, such as pronouns and prepositions, can be the most revealing: their patterns are as distinctive as fingerprints. ”

What Should We Do with Our Brain? (Perspectives in Continental Philosophy) by Catherine Malabou:
“Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances.”

Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett:
“Barrett begins with an overview of human cognitive adaptations and how these color our views of other species, brains, and minds. Considering when it is worth having a big brain–or indeed having a brain at all–she investigates exactly what brains are good at. Showing that the brain’s evolutionary function guides action in the world, she looks at how physical structure contributes to cognitive processes, and she demonstrates how these processes employ materials and resources in specific environments.”