Behavioral Scientist’s Summer Book List 2023

“Technology, for better and worse, funnels us toward searching,” writes Adam Alter in Anatomy of a Breakthrough, one of the titles on this year’s Summer Book List. 

With only a few keystrokes, you can find pretty much anything—an article, a book, a restaurant, hotel, movie, song, quote, and on and on. When you already know what you’re hoping to find, a search is valuable. It’s a direct route to your destination, saving you time and frustration. 

But defaulting to a search comes at a cost. “To search, you need to know enough about the topic you’re exploring to have a rough goal in mind,” Alter writes. “With searching, you specialize.” In other words, where you end up is limited by what you knew when you started.

“Browsing fosters curiosity by sketching the contours of a world beyond your existing interests.”

Alter doesn’t suggest that we give up searching, but rather balance it out. For the counterweight, he suggests that we spend more time browsing. Think about the experience of wandering through your local library or bookstore, bumping into books on subjects you wouldn’t have known to search for.

“Browsing fosters curiosity by sketching the contours of a world beyond your existing interests,” he writes. It’s taking a scenic route on your quest for new information. It’s less efficient, but more likely to extend your understanding of the world. 

Consider our Summer Book List a license to browse. The list includes titles published this year, January through August. We’ve browsed and searched and browsed again to bring you titles that inform, delight, and inspire. Peruse perspectives on language, well-being, and intelligence—both the human kind and “artificial.” Wander off the beaten path with books on neuroaesthetics and psychedelics. And dance between disciplines with titles covering curiosity, creativity, and connection.

— Antonia Violante, Books Editor, and Evan Nesterak, Editor-in-Chief

P.S. You can find our list of notable behavioral science books from 2022 here.

When you purchase a book using a link below, we’ll receive a small commission that helps us sustain our nonprofit mission.

Anatomy of a Breakthrough: How to Get Unstuck When It Matters Most
By Adam Alter

From the back cover: “Almost everyone feels stuck in some way. Whether you’re muddling through a midlife crisis, wrestling writer’s block, trapped in a thankless job, or trying to remedy a fraying friendship, the resulting emotion is usually a mix of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, anger, and numbness. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Anatomy of a Breakthrough is the roadmap we all need to escape our inertia and flourish in the face of friction.”

Read an excerpt from Anatomy of a Breakthrough on Behavioral Scientist: “Often, the best way to get unstuck on the quest for originality is to combine two old ideas to form a new one, rather than searching for a single, novel creative nugget.”

Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life
By Dacher Keltner

From the back cover: “Awe is mysterious. How do we begin to quantify the goose bumps we feel when we see the Grand Canyon, or the utter amazement when we watch a child walk for the first time? … In Awe, Dacher Keltner presents a radical investigation and deeply personal inquiry into this elusive emotion. Revealing new research into how awe transforms our brains and bodies, alongside an examination of awe across history, culture, and within his own life during a period of grief, Keltner shows us how cultivating awe in our everyday life leads us to appreciate what is most humane in our human nature.”

Read our conversation with the author on Behavioral Scientist: “In clever and imaginative ways, Keltner has researched what awe is and how it moves us. He’s conducted natural experiments using the awe-inducing beauty of national parks … He’s traveled to prisons, monasteries, and artists’ studios to conduct careful ethnographic research of people’s awe-filled experiences.”

The Battle for Your Brain: Defending the Right to Think Freely in the Age of Neurotechnology
By Nita A. Farahany

From the back cover: “Imagine a world where your brain can be interrogated to learn your political beliefs, your thoughts can be used as evidence of a crime, and your own feelings can be held against you. A world where people who suffer from epilepsy receive alerts moments before a seizure, and the average person can peer into their own mind to eliminate painful memories or cure addictions … The Battle for Your Brain offers a path forward to navigate the complex legal and ethical dilemmas that will fundamentally impact our freedom to understand, shape, and define ourselves.”

The Cult of Creativity: A Surprisingly Recent History
By Samuel W. Franklin

From the back cover: “The idea that there is such a thing as ‘creativity’—and that it can be cultivated—is surprisingly recent, entering our everyday speech in the 1950s … Creativity was championed by a cluster of professionals—psychologists, engineers, and advertising people—as a cure for the conformity and alienation they feared was stifling American ingenuity. It was touted as a force of individualism and the human spirit, a new middle-class aspiration that suited the needs of corporate America and the spirit of anticommunism.”

The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality
By Andy Clark

From the back cover: “For as long as we’ve studied human cognition, we’ve believed that our senses give us direct access to the world. What we see is what’s really there–or so the thinking goes. But new discoveries in neuroscience and psychology have turned this assumption on its head. What if rather than perceiving reality passively, your mind actively predicts it?”

Fires in the Dark: Healing the Unquiet Mind
By Kay Redfield Jamison

From the back cover: “In this expansive cultural history of the treatment and healing of mental suffering, Kay Jamison writes about psychotherapy, what makes a great healer, and the role of imagination and memory in regenerating the mind.”

Fool Proof: How Fear of Playing the Sucker Shapes Our Selves and the Social Order—And What We Can Do about It
By Tess Wilkinson-Ryan

From the back cover: “Most of us are constantly navigating two sets of imperatives: how to be successful and how to be good. The fear of being suckered whispers that you can’t do both, operating as a quiet caution against leaps of faith and acts of altruism. University of Pennsylvania law professor and moral psychologist Tess Wilkinson-Ryan brings evidence from studies in psychology, sociology, and economics to show how the sucker construct shapes, and distorts, human decision-making.”

Foolproof: Why Misinformation Infects Our Minds and How to Build Immunity
By Sander Van Der Linden

From the back cover: “From fake news to conspiracy theories, from inflammatory memes to misleading headlines, misinformation has swiftly become the defining problem of our era. The crisis threatens the integrity of our democracies, our ability to cultivate trusting relationships, even our physical and psychological well-being—yet most attempts to combat it have proven insufficient. In Foolproof, one of the world’s leading experts on misinformation lays out a crucial new paradigm for understanding and defending ourselves against the worldwide infodemic.”

Read an adaptation from Foolproof on Behavioral Scientist: “The fact that Facebook likes just so happen to correlate, to a certain degree, with people’s personalities does not imply that targeting people with an ad based on their personalities actually causes them to do anything. Or does it?”

Generations: The Real Differences Between Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X, Boomers, and Silents—And What They Mean for America’s Future
By Jean M. Twenge

From the back cover: “[A] portrait of the six generations that currently live in the United States and how they connect, conflict, and compete with one another … Jean Twenge does a deep dive into a treasure trove of long-running, government-funded surveys and databases … Are we truly defined by major historical events, such as the Great Depression for the Silents and September 11 for Millennials? Or, as Twenge argues, is it the rapid evolution of technology that differentiates the generations?”

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness
By Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz

From the back cover: “What makes for a happy life, a fulfilling life? A good life? According to the directors of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest scientific study of happiness ever conducted, the answer to these questions may be closer than you realize.”

How Economics Can Save the World: Simple Ideas to Solve Our Biggest Problems
By Erik Angner

From the back cover: “With a healthy dose of optimism, and packed with stories of economics in everyday situations, Erik Angner demonstrates the methods he and his fellow economists use to help improve our lives and the society in which we live. He shows us that economics can be a powerful force for good, awakening the possibility of a happier, more just and more sustainable world.”

Read an excerpt from How Economics Can Save the World on Behavioral Scientist: “Elinor Ostrom believed in the power of economics to ‘bring out the best in humans.’ The way to do it, she thought, was to help them build community—developing the rich network of relationships that form the fabric of a society.”

Jellyfish Age Backwards: Nature’s Secrets to Longevity
By Nicklas Brendborg

From the back cover: “Jellyfish Age Backwards reveals lifespans we cannot imagine and physiological gifts that feel closer to magic than reality: There is a Greenland shark that was 286 years old when the Titanic sank, and is currently 390, making it older than the United States … There’s a species of jellyfish, the size of a fingernail, that can age forwards, then, when threatened, age backwards and begin the process all over again. Mixing cutting-edge research and stories from habitats all around the world, molecular biologist Nicklas Brendborg explores extended life cycles in all its varieties.”

Magic Words: What to Say to Get Your Way
By Jonah Berger

From the back cover: “Words are how we persuade, communicate, and connect. They’re how leaders lead, salespeople sell, and parents parent. They’re how teachers teach, policymakers govern, and doctors explain … But certain words are more impactful than others. They’re better at changing minds, engaging audiences, and driving action. What are these magic words, and how can we take advantage of their power?”

Read an excerpt from Magic Words on Behavioral Scientist: “Concrete language is great for increasing understanding or for making complex topics easier to comprehend … When it comes to things like describing a company’s growth potential, abstract language is better.”

Mixed Signals: How Incentives Really Work
By Uri Gneezy

From the back cover: “Incentives send powerful signals that aim to influence behavior. But often there is a conflict between what we say and what we do in response to these incentives. The result: mixed signals … Behavioral economist Uri Gneezy explains why incentives often fail and demonstrates how the right incentives can change behavior by aligning with signals for better results.”

Read an excerpt from Mixed Signals on Behavioral Scientist: “Seed money and matching grants have been proven to be effective in increasing donor contributions … We proposed a third alternative incentive: telling donors that their donation would be overhead-free.”

Nobody’s Fool: Why We Get Taken in and What We Can Do about It
By Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris 

From the back cover: “From phishing scams to Ponzi schemes, fraudulent science to fake art, chess cheaters to crypto hucksters, and marketers to magicians, our world brims with deception. In Nobody’s Fool, psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris show us how to avoid being taken in. They describe the key habits of thinking and reasoning that serve us well most of the time but make us vulnerable—like our tendency to accept what we see, stick to our commitments, and overvalue precision and consistency.”

Outsmart Your Brain: Why Learning Is Hard and How You Can Make It Easy
By Daniel T. Willingham

From the back cover: “Discover how to study more efficiently and effectively … Each chapter provides clear and specific strategies while also explaining why traditional study processes do not work.”

The Possibility of Life: Science, Imagination, and Our Quest for Kinship in the Cosmos
By Jaime Green

From the back cover: “One of the most powerful questions humans ask about the cosmos is: Are we alone? While the science behind this inquiry is fascinating, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is a reflection of our values, our fears, and most importantly, our enduring sense of hope … The Possibility of Life explores our evolving conception of the cosmos to ask an even deeper question: What does it mean to be human?”

Poverty, by America
By Matthew Desmond

From the back cover: “The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why? Why does this land of plenty allow one in every eight of its children to go without basic necessities, permit scores of its citizens to live and die on the streets, and authorize its corporations to pay poverty wages? … Sociologist Matthew Desmond draws on history, research, and original reporting to show how affluent Americans knowingly and unknowingly keep poor people poor.”

Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity
By Daron Acemoglu and Simon Johnson

From the back cover: “A thousand years of history and contemporary evidence make one thing clear: progress depends on the choices we make about technology. New ways of organizing production and communication can either serve the narrow interests of an elite or become the foundation for widespread prosperity.”

The Power of Language: How the Codes We Use to Think, Speak, and Live Transform Our Minds
By Viorica Marian

From the back cover: “While you may well think you speak only one language, in fact your mind accommodates multiple codes of communication. Some people speak Spanish, some Mandarin. Some speak poetry, some are fluent in math. The human brain is built to use multiple languages, and using more languages opens doors to creativity, brain health, and cognitive control.”

Read an excerpt from The Power of Language on Behavioral Scientist: “When given the Japanese words heiwa and tatakai and the English words war and peace, they were able to correctly guess that heiwa means ‘peace’ and tatakai means ‘war’ more often than one would expect by chance.”

Psych: The Story of the Human Mind
By Paul Bloom 

From the back cover: “How does the brain—a three-pound wrinkly mass—give rise to intelligence and conscious experience? Was Freud right that we are all plagued by forbidden sexual desires? What is the function of emotions such as disgust, gratitude, and shame? … [A] new perspective on the modern science of psychology, based on one of Yale’s most popular courses of all time.”

Psychonauts: Drugs and the Making of the Modern Mind
By Mike Jay

From the back cover: “A provocative and original history of the scientists and writers, artists and philosophers who took drugs to explore the hidden regions of the mind … From Sigmund Freud’s experiments with cocaine to William James’s epiphany on nitrous oxide, Mike Jay brilliantly recovers a lost intellectual tradition of drug-taking that fed the birth of psychology, the discovery of the unconscious, and the emergence of modernism.”

Random Acts of Medicine: The Hidden Forces That Sway Doctors, Impact Patients, and Shape Our Health
By Anupam B. Jena and Christopher Worsham

From the back cover: “[Jena and Worsham] help us see the way our health is shaped by forces invisible to the untrained eye. Is there ever a good time to have a heart attack? Do you choose the veteran doctor or the rookie?  Do you really need the surgery your doctor recommends? These questions are rife with significance; their impact can be life changing. Addressing them in a style that’s both animated and enlightening, Random Acts of Medicine empowers you to see past the white coat and find out what really makes medicine work—and how it could work better.”

Rethinking Intelligence: A Radical New Understanding of Our Human Potential
By Rina Bliss

From the back cover: “A genetics expert and professor challenges our understanding of intelligence, explaining what it truly means to be ‘smart,’ why conventional assessments are misleading, and what everyone can do to optimize their potential.”

Selfless: The Social Creation of “You”
By Brian Lowery

From the back cover: “In Selfless, Brian Lowery argues for the radical idea that the ‘self’ as we know it … is a social construct, created in our relationships and social interactions. We are unique because our individual pattern of relationships is unique. We change because our relationships change. Your self isn’t just you, it’s all around you.”

Thinking with Your Hands: The Surprising Science Behind How Gestures Shape Our Thoughts
By Susan Goldin-Meadow

From the back cover: “We all know people who talk with their hands—but do they know what they’re saying with them? Our gestures can reveal and contradict us, and express thoughts we may not even know we’re thinking. In Thinking with Your Hands, esteemed cognitive psychologist Susan Goldin-Meadow argues that gesture is vital to how we think, learn, and communicate.”

Tomorrowmind: Thriving at Work with Resilience, Creativity, and Connection–Now and in an Uncertain Future
By Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin E. P. Seligman 

From the back cover: “In recent years, workplace toxicity, industry volatility, and technology-driven turnover have threatened the psychological well-being of employees. When we can’t flourish at work, both personal success and corporate productivity suffer. As we sit on the cusp of some of the most turbulent economic changes in history, many of us wonder how we can not only survive but flourish in our careers … Tomorrowmind provides essential plans and actionable advice for facing the uncertain future of work.”

Touch Matters: Handshakes, Hugs, and the New Science on How Touch Can Enhance Your Well-Being
By Michael Banissy

From the back cover: “[A] scientific and sociological exploration of our most underappreciated sense. Every day, we use our sense of touch to navigate the world. A handshake, a pat on the shoulder, a hug—all are essential touches that make up our daily lives … Banissy unfolds the research behind why touch is essential to our well-being.”

Read an excerpt from Touch Matters on Behavioral Scientist: “Simply including brief social contact to a request—such as a touch on the arm—can increase our willingness to take part in surveys, to give money to charity, and even to look after a stranger’s dog.”

Travelers to Unimaginable Lands: Stories of Dementia, the Caregiver, and the Human Brain
By Dasha Kiper

From the back cover: “After getting a master’s degree in clinical psychology, Dasha Kiper became the live-in caregiver for a Holocaust survivor with Alzheimer’s disease. For a year, she endured the emotional strain of looking after a person whose condition disrupts the rules of time, order, and continuity. Inspired by her own experience and her work counseling caregivers in the subsequent decade, Kiper offers an entirely new way to understand the symbiotic relationship between patients and those tending to them.”

We Are Electric: Inside the 200-Year Hunt for Our Body’s Bioelectric Code, and What the Future Holds
By Sally Adee

From the back cover: “In We Are Electric, award-winning science writer Sally Adee takes readers through the thrilling history of bioelectricity and into the future: from the Victorian medical charlatans claiming to use electricity to cure everything from paralysis to diarrhea, to the advances helped along by the giant axons of squids, and finally to the brain implants and electric drugs that await us—and the moral implications therein.”

Weathering: The Extraordinary Stress of Ordinary Life in an Unjust Society
By Arline T. Geronimus

From the back cover: “Dr. Arline T. Geronimus coined the term ‘weathering’ to describe the effects of systemic oppression—including racism and classism—on the body. In Weathering, based on more than 30 years of research, she argues that health and aging have more to do with how society treats us than how well we take care of ourselves. She explains what happens to human bodies as they attempt to withstand and overcome the challenges and insults that society leverages at them, and details how this process ravages their health. And she proposes solutions.”

Wellbeing: Science and Policy
By Richard Layard and Jan-Emmanuel de Neve

From the back cover: “What produces a happy society and a happy life? … We can now answer this question using state-of-the-art empirical evidence. This transforms our ability to base our decisions on the outcomes that matter most, namely the wellbeing of us all including future generations. Written by two of the world’s leading experts on the economics of wellbeing, this book shows how wellbeing can be measured, what causes it and how it can be improved.”

The World Behind the World: Consciousness, Free Will, and the Limits of Science
By Erik Hoel

From the back cover: Throughout history, two perspectives on the world have dueled in our minds: the extrinsic—that of mechanism and physics—and the intrinsic—that of feelings, thoughts, and ideas. The intrinsic perspective allows us to tell stories about our lives, to chart our anger and our lust, to understand our psychologies. The extrinsic allows us to chart the physical world, to build upon it, and to travel across it. … [The] attempt to reconcile these perspectives is the science of consciousness … The World Behind the World is a grand tour of the state of this science, an exploration of the point where tectonic metaphysical forces meet, often in paradoxical conclusions.”

Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us
By Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross

From the back cover: “A life-altering journey through the science of neuroaesthetics, which offers proof for how our brains and bodies transform when we participate in the arts—and how this knowledge can improve our health, enable us to flourish, and build stronger communities.”

Your Future Self: How to Make Tomorrow Better Today
By Hal Hershfield

From the back cover: “We’ve all had the desire to travel through time and see what our lives will be like later in life. But while we want the best possible future for ourselves, we often fail to make decisions that would truly make that version of the future a reality … Your Future Self describes the mental mistakes we make in thinking about the future and gives us practical advice for imagining our best future so we can make that vision a reality.”