Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Book List 2021

Remember those summer reading lists in grade school? The ones that teachers would pass out on the last day of school, when everyone thought their work was over. I (Antonia) would pretend to groan like the other students, feigning indignation as the list of titles hit my desk. But really I couldn’t wait to take it to my local bookstore to discover a new book among all the others, peruse back covers, flip through pages, and find my perfect summer read.

Thankfully, in my role as books editor, I can be more open about my affection for a good summer reading list. And we hope you can too. We’ve prepared this summer’s list by tracking down the new titles and selecting those that deepened our understanding and appreciation of human behavior, and helped us think differently about questions that matter—both in the public sphere and more personally. 

Highlights include Daniel Khaneman’s Noise, about the science of variation in aggregated human judgements. Noise, he argues, is just as pernicious as bias, if not more so, in causing our systems and institutions to err in their decision-making. Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein are back with a new version of Nudge, which they’ve dubbed “The Final Edition,” a commitment device to make this the last one. The new version, “rewritten cover to cover,” features updated research and case studies and their reflections on how to best bring behavioral science to governments, businesses, and citizens around the world.

Leidy Klotz’s Subtract might help you see the value in removing items from your summer plans, while Logan Ury’s How to Not Die Alone could help you start a summer fling that lasts. Adam Grant and Katy Milkman offer science-backed ideas for how to become better at changing your mind and yourself with Think Again and How To Change, respectively. A World Without Email by Cal Newport and Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman will have you rethinking your time and time management. And for those hoping to make an impact at work, consider looking to The Behaviorally Informed Organization for inspiration. 

We’ve selected books published January through August of this year, so you’ll find books that are ready to be today’s poolside companion and a few to look forward to later this summer. Happy reading!

— Antonia Violante and Heather Graci

P.S.—You can find our list of notable behavioral science books from 2020 here.


This summer we’re continuing our partnership with Bookshop.org, a website dedicated to supporting local and independent bookstores. When you purchase a book using a link below, we’ll receive a small commission that helps us sustain our nonprofit mission. All of the books on this list and covered on our site are independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team. (Bookshop is still relatively new, so shipping is currently only available in the U.S. Head here for Bookshop UK.)


The Art of Insubordination: How to Dissent and Defy Effectively
By Todd Kashdan
*August 31, 2021

From the back cover: “The Art of Insubordination is the essential guidebook for anyone seeking to be heard, make change, and rebel against an unhealthy, stagnant status quo. The book also gives the rest of us the evidence-based strategies we need to become better allies of our leaders in change, ensuring that the best ideas, products, and solutions survive and win the day.”

The Behaviorally Informed Organization
Edited by Dilip Soman and Catherine Yeung

From the back cover: “Despite its centrality to organizations, we do not have a good scientific framework for behavior change or a good understanding of how organizations can embed insights from behavioral science into their operations. To overcome this void, this book develops an overarching framework for using behavioral science. It shows how behavioral insights can be embedded in organizations to achieve better outcomes, improve the efficiency of processes, and maximize stakeholder engagement.”

Read an adaptation from The Behaviorally Informed Organization on the Behavioral Scientist: “Despite its clear value-add, we believe that behavioral science has still not reached its full potential within organizations. We have a highly relevant and well-developed science of human behavior, but we do not have a science of how organizations can embed insights from behavioral science into their operations.”

Breaking the Social Media Prism: How to Make Our Platforms Less Polarizing
By Chris Bail

From the back cover: “We use social media as a mirror to decipher our place in society but, as Chris Bail explains, it functions more like a prism that distorts our identities, empowers status-seeking extremists, and renders moderates all but invisible. Breaking the Social Media Prism challenges common myths about echo chambers, foreign misinformation campaigns, and radicalizing algorithms, revealing that the solution to political tribalism lies deep inside ourselves.”

Chatter Ethan Kross

Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why it Matters, and How to Harness It
By Ethan Kross

From the back cover: “Ethan Kross explores the silent conversations we have with ourselves. Interweaving groundbreaking behavioral and brain research from his own lab with real-world case studies—from a pitcher who forgets how to pitch, to a Harvard undergrad negotiating her double life as a spy—Kross explains how these conversations shape our lives, work, and relationships.”

Read an excerpt of Chatter on the Behavioral Scientist: “Although the inner voice functions well much of the time, it often leads to chatter—the cyclical negative thoughts and emotions that turn our singular capacity for introspection into a curse rather than a blessing. This often happens precisely when we need our inner voice the most—when our stress is up, the stakes are high, and we encounter difficult emotions that call for the utmost poise.”

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear
By Carl L. Hart

From the back cover: “[Carl L. Hart] draws on decades of research and his own personal experience to argue definitively that the criminalization and demonization of drug use—not drugs themselves—have been a tremendous scourge on America, not least in reinforcing this country’s enduring structural racism.”

The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years
By Emily Oster
*August 3, 2021

From the back cover: “Professor of economics and mom of two Emily Oster offers a classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years: school, health, extracurricular activities, and more.”

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals
By Oliver Burkeman
*August 10, 2021

From the back cover: “The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief. Assuming you live to be eighty, you have just over four thousand weeks … Drawing on the insights of both ancient and contemporary philosophers, psychologists, and spiritual teachers, Oliver Burkeman delivers an entertaining, humorous, practical, and ultimately profound guide to time and time management. Rejecting the futile modern obsession with ‘getting everything done,’ Four Thousand Weeks introduces readers to tools for constructing a meaningful life by embracing finitude, showing how many of the unhelpful ways we’ve come to think about time aren’t inescapable, unchanging truths, but choices we’ve made as individuals and as a society―and that we could do things differently.”

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out
By Amanda Ripley

From the back cover: “High conflict … is what happens when discord distills into a good-versus-evil kind of feud, the kind with an us and a them. In this state, the normal rules of engagement no longer apply. The brain behaves differently. We feel increasingly certain of our own superiority and, at the same time, more and more mystified by the other side … Amanda Ripley investigates how good people get captured by high conflict—and how they break free.”

How to Change: The Science of Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be
By Katy Milkman 

From the back cover: “In a career devoted to uncovering what helps people change, Milkman has discovered a crucial thing many of us get wrong: our strategy. Change, she’s learned, comes most readily when you understand what’s standing between you and success and tailor your solution to that roadblock.”

Read an excerpt of How to Change on the Behavioral Scientist: “We found that encouraging people to copy and paste one another’s best life hacks motivated both more exercise and better class preparation in adults who wanted to work out more and college students seeking to improve their grades, respectively … When we’re unsure of ourselves, a powerful way the people around us can help boost our capacity and confidence is by showing us what’s possible.”

Read our Q&A with the author: “I think there’s an overemphasis on big goals. It’s not that goals aren’t useful. There’s tons of research showing that having a certain kind of goal—a clear, concrete, achievable goal, or a stretch goal—really is valuable. But it’s not solving a problem … You still have to deal with the challenges of procrastination, temptation, forgetting, self-efficacy, and whether or not your peers are supporting you.” 

How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love
By Logan Ury

From the back cover: “Great relationships don’t just appear in our lives—they’re the culmination of a series of decisions, including when to get out there, whom to date, how to end it with the wrong person, when to commit to the right one, and everything in between. But our brains often get in the way. We make poor decisions, which thwart us on our quest to find lasting love … Logan Ury reveals the hidden forces that cause those mistakes.”

Read our Q&A with the author: “Dating apps, unfortunately, perpetuate some of the superficiality, and people focus on those things more, as opposed to what they should be focusing on, the things that we know relationship science has found are correlated with long-term relationship success. Things like kindness, loyalty, emotional stability, the ability to make hard decisions together, a growth mindset. And, perhaps most importantly, what side of you they bring out.”

Influence, New and Expanded: The Psychology of Persuasion
By Robert B. Cialdini

From the back cover: “In the new edition … [Robert Cialdini] explains the psychology of why people say yes and how to apply these insights ethically in business and everyday settings.”

Know Thyself: The Science of Self-Awareness
By Stephen M. Fleming

From the back cover: “How do we know what we and others know—or as importantly, don’t know? As cognitive neuroscientist Stephen Fleming shows in Know Thyself, we do this with metacognition. Metacognition, or thinking about thinking, is the most important tool we have for understanding our own mind. Metacognition is an awesome power: It is what enables self-awareness as well as what lets us think about the minds of others. It is the ultimate human trait, and in its most rarefied forms is a power that neither other animals, nor our current artificial intelligences, have.”

Minds Wide Shut: How the New Fundamentalisms Divide Us
By Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro

From the back cover: “Morson and Schapiro examine how rigid adherence to ideological thinking has altered politics, economics, religion, and literature in ways that are mutually reinforcing and antithetical to the open-mindedness and readiness to compromise that animate democracy. In response, they propose alternatives that would again make serious dialogue possible.”

Read our Q&A with the authors, Gary Saul Morson and Morton Schapiro: “Instead of professing that we believe in science, Morson explained, ‘We should respect the scientific method and the spirit behind it, which involves the careful weighing of evidence, testing ideas by those who doubt them, and arriving step by careful step at the best available answer, subject to revision in the light of future evidence.’”

Mine!: How the Hidden Rules of Ownership Control Our Lives
By Michael Heller and James Salzman

From the back cover: “A hidden set of rules governs who owns what—explaining everything from whether you can recline your airplane seat to why HBO lets you borrow a password illegally—and in this lively and entertaining guide, two acclaimed law professors reveal how things become ‘mine.’”

The New Breed: What Our History with Animals Reveals about Our Future with Robots
By Kate Darling

From the back cover: “There has been a lot of ink devoted to discussions of how robots will replace us and take our jobs. But MIT Media Lab researcher and technology policy expert Kate Darling argues just the opposite, and that treating robots with a bit of humanity, more like the way we treat animals, will actually serve us better.”

Read our Q&A with the author: “It always bothered me that we are limiting ourselves and falling into this technological determinism that robots can, will, and should replace people, and I just feel like animals are such a salient analogy that everyone gets. [An animal] is also this autonomous thing that can sense, think, make decisions, and learn that we’ve dealt with previously.”

The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet
By Michael E. Mann

From the back cover: “Recycle. Fly less. Eat less meat. These are some of the ways that we’ve been told can slow climate change. But the inordinate emphasis on individual behavior is the result of a marketing campaign that has succeeded in placing the responsibility for fixing climate change squarely on the shoulders of individuals.”

Read our Q&A with the author: “Those who are framing it as a tipping point we’ve crossed as if it’s too late to do anything—those narratives are steeped in distortions of the science that are almost as bad, if not as bad, as distortions of the science on the denialist side.”

Noise: A Flaw in Human Judgment
By Daniel Kahneman, Oliver Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein

From the back cover: “In Noise, Daniel Kahneman, Olivier Sibony, and Cass R. Sunstein show the detrimental effects of noise in many fields, including medicine, law, economic forecasting, forensic science, bail, child protection, strategy, performance reviews, and personnel selection. Wherever there is judgment, there is noise. Yet, most of the time, individuals and organizations alike are unaware of it. They neglect noise. With a few simple remedies, people can reduce both noise and bias, and so make far better decisions.”

Read our Q&A with author Daniel Kahneman: “I’ve been studying bias all my life, but a few years ago encountered an instance of noise, and I was very impressed both by how much noise there was (among underwriters judging exactly the same thing) and mostly I was impressed by how little people knew about it.”

Nudge: The Final Edition
By Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein 
*August 3, 2021

From the back cover: “The authors have rewritten the book from cover to cover, making use of their experiences in and out of government over the past dozen years as well as an explosion of new research in numerous academic disciplines. To commit themselves to never undertaking this daunting task again, they are calling this the ‘final edition.’ It offers a wealth of new insights, for both its avowed fans and newcomers to the field, about a wide variety of issues that we face in our daily lives—COVID-19, health, personal finance, retirement savings, credit card debt, home mortgages, medical care, organ donation, climate change, and ‘sludge’ (paperwork and other nuisances we don’t want, and that keep us from getting what we do want)—all while honoring one of the cardinal rules of nudging: make it fun!”

Social Chemistry: Decoding the Patterns of Human Connection
By Marissa King

From the back cover: “Conventional wisdom says it’s the size of your network that matters, but social science research has proven there is more to it. King explains that the quality and structure of our relationships has the greatest impact on our personal and professional lives.”

The Social Instinct: How Cooperation Shaped the World
By Nichola Raihani

From the back cover: “[Nichola Raihani] reveals that the species that exhibit cooperative behavior—teaching, helping, grooming, and self-sacrifice—most similar to our own tend not to be other apes; they are birds, insects, and fish, occupying far more distant branches of the evolutionary tree. By understanding the problems they face, and how they cooperate to solve them, we can glimpse how human cooperation first evolved.”

Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less
By Leidy Klotz

From the back cover: “We pile on ‘to-dos’ but don’t consider ‘stop-doings.’ We create incentives for good behavior, but don’t get rid of obstacles to it. We collect new-and-improved ideas, but don’t prune the outdated ones. Every day, across challenges big and small, we neglect a basic way to make things better: we don’t subtract.”

Read an adaptation of Subtract on the Behavioral Scientist: “Subtraction is the act of getting to less, but it is not the same as doing less. In fact, getting to less often means doing, or at least thinking, more.”

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
By Adam Grant

From the back cover: “Too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt. We listen to opinions that make us feel good, instead of ideas that make us think hard … [Grant] investigates how we can embrace the joy of being wrong, bring nuance to charged conversations, and build schools, workplaces, and communities of lifelong learners.”

Read our Q&A with the author: “I do not want to have both-sides conversations anymore. Whenever somebody says, here’s the other side, my first question is, ‘Can you tell me what the third angle and the fourth look like?’”

Useful Delusions: The Power and Paradox of the Self-Deceiving Brain
By Shankar Vedantam and Bill Mesler 

From the back cover: “Everyone agrees that lies and self-deception can do terrible harm to our lives, to our communities, and to the planet. But in Useful Delusions, host of Hidden Brain Shankar Vedantam argues that, paradoxically, deceiving ourselves and others can also play a vital role in human success and well-being. The lies we tell each other and the lies that we tell ourselves sustain our daily interactions with friends, lovers, and coworkers. They explain why some people live longer than others, why some couples remain in love and others don’t, why some nations and tribes hold together while others splinter.”

Read an excerpt of Useful Delusions on the Behavioral Scientist: “Rather than seek to annihilate self-deception and all it represents, a better goal would be to think carefully about what it does, and ask ourselves how we can work with it. In other words, we ought to care less about whether something is simply true or untrue and ask more complicated questions: What are the consequences of self-​deception? Whom does it serve? Do the benefits justify the costs?”

The Way Out: How to Overcome Toxic Polarization
By Peter T. Coleman

From the back cover: “Surveys show that Americans have become more fearful and hateful of supporters of the opposing political party and imagine that they hold much more extreme views than they actually do. We have cordoned ourselves off: we prefer to date and marry those with similar opinions and are less willing to spend time with people on the other side. How can we loosen the grip of this toxic polarization and start working on our most pressing problems?”

When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep
By Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold

From the back cover: “When Brains Dream reveals recent discoveries about the sleeping brain and the many ways in which dreams are psychologically, and neurologically, meaningful experiences; explores a host of dream-related disorders; and explains how dreams can facilitate creativity and be a source of personal insight.”

Read our Q&A with author Robert Stickgold: “Salvador Dalí sat in an armchair with his hand on the arm of the chair. He’d hold a key right over the end of the chair and think about a painting he wanted to make. As he fell asleep, the key dropped and woke him up, and he got an image in his mind. He got these images that he then painted. [My colleague, Adam Horowitz,] wants to ask the question, can everybody harness it? And the answer is they probably can.”

A World Without Email: Reimagining Work in an Age of Communication Overload
By Cal Newport

From the back cover: “We have become so used to an inbox-driven workday that it’s hard to imagine alternatives. But they do exist. Drawing on years of investigative reporting, author and computer science professor Cal Newport makes the case that our current approach to work is broken, then lays out a series of principles and concrete instructions for fixing it.”


As we wrote last year, it’s been exciting to see the selection of behavioral science books grow year-by-year and a joy to work with so many behavioral scientists on articles related to their books. At the same time, as we put together this list of books, we couldn’t help but notice the lack of representation of many historically marginalized populations—including women and people of color—in behavioral science publishing. It’s an issue we take seriously. And it’s one we’re committed to exploring further in our pages. If you have a perspective or experience you’d like to share about representation in the behavioral science publishing world, please get in touch with Managing Editor Elizabeth Weingarten at elizabeth@behavioralscientist.org.


Disclosure: Leidy Klotz, Katy Milkman, and Dilip Soman are members of organizations which provided financial support to Behavioral Scientist in 2021. Organizational donors do not play a role in the editorial decisions of the magazine. Emily Oster serves on the Behavioral Scientist’s advisory board. Evan Nesterak of Behavioral Scientist served as an editorial consultant on the books Chatter and Subtract. All of the books on this list and covered on our site are independently selected and reviewed by our editorial team.