Psychology books of the year 2011

The season has arrived when newspapers, magazines and bookshops publish their “books of the year” lists. The Digest has digested these for you, picking out the psychology books getting a mention:

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”. Also selected by editors as among the year’s best non-fiction books.

The Indy says Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature 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 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, Thinking 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’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).

Finally, the British Psychological Society has just announced the shortlist for its 2011 Book of the Year Award.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Are there any psychology books published this year that you enjoyed but which aren’t mentioned here? Please let us know via comments!

Suggestions pulled from comments and Twitter so far: Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir by Robert Jay Lifton; Altruism in Humans by C. Daniel Batson; An Anatomy of Addiction: Sigmund Freud, William Halsted, and the Miracle Drug Cocaine by Howard Markel; Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy Wilson; The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James Pennebaker; What Should We Do With Our Brain? by Catherine Malabou; Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds by Louise Barrett … (click comments to see why readers nominated some of these books).

Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

10 thoughts on “Psychology books of the year 2011”

  1. “Witness to an Extreme Century” by Robert Jay Lifton was an interesting memoir from a historical psychoanalysis great. I have not read the Pinker book but I bet it owes much of its origins to Lifton's work.

  2. Id nominate Daniel Batson's Altruism in Humans. Not a mainstream book, but the culmination of 30 years of excellent research into human behaviour.

  3. I would have to recommend Anatomy of Addiction. Freud and Halstead (pioneering medical doctor of his time) and their successes and struggles through cocaine and fame

  4. I have two suggestions:

    1) Redirect: The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change by Timothy Wilson

    2) The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us by James Pennebaker

  5. I've read a few of these.

    Just finished Steven Pinker's Better Angels… found it very interesting, very well argued. Most of the book is dedicated to History rather than Psychology, the emphasis is on showing that violence is declining. However, the book is best in the two chapters where he discusses relevant psychological research.

    Jon Ronson's book is fascinating, I say this as a fan of his writing, rather than the subject matter where he is a little out of his depth.

    SJ Watson's debut novel is hugely impressive: well plotted, intricate, great characterization and also 'zips along'.

    I've read a lot this year, but can't think of anything else Psychology related at the moment.

  6. Louise Barrett, “Beyond the Brain: How Body and Environment Shape Animal and Human Minds”. This is what embodied cognition actually looks like when done properly.

  7. I would add two books I've really enjoyed this year:

    Redirect by Timothy Wilson

    The Secret Life of Pronouns by James Pennebaker

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