The Best Self Help Books of 2021, recommended by Emma Gannon

Lockdowns have forced many of us to pause and consider the way we are living our lives, says the podcaster and bestselling author Emma Gannon. Here she highlights five of the best self help books published in 2021, with a special focus on creativity and setting better boundaries to safeguard our time and energy.

The best books on Anxiety, recommended by Lucy Foulkes

Feeling anxiety is a natural part of being a human being, but for some people it can cause terrible mental and physical anguish and prevents them from leading happy and fulfilling lives. Lucy Foulkes, a psychologist at University College London, talks us through books that can help with anxiety.

The best books on Behavioral Science, recommended by Nicholas Epley

What can we draw from behavioral science to help us better understand each other? Nicholas Epley, Professor of Behavioral Science and Faculty Director of the Center for Decision Research at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, recommends the five best books for learning about an interdisciplinary field that draws from psychology, sociology, economics and anthropology.

The best books on Emotional Intelligence, recommended by Daniel Goleman

We are taught to value intelligence and academic ability, but raw mental firepower does not always translate into success at work or a life of contentment. Just as important are the skills that make up ’emotional intelligence,’ says Daniel Goleman, whose bestselling book popularised the concept. Here he chooses five emotional intelligence books that explore its practical applications.

The best books on Character Development, recommended by Angela Duckworth

Can we cultivate qualities like grit, tenacity and kindness? How about habits of the successful—hard work, perseverance and productivity? Angela Duckworth, bestselling author of Grit and founder of the Character Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, recommends five books, including a title that graces every CEO’s shelf.

The best books on Productivity, recommended by David Allen

If you feel like you lose whole days to procrastination or indecision—or simply have too much to do!—you probably want advice on how improve your productivity. We spoke to David Allen, creator of the perennial bestseller Getting Things Done, about the best books on the subject: why we waste time, and what we can change to be more productive.

The best books on Mindset and Success, recommended by Carol Dweck

If you’ve stepped inside a school recently, you’ve probably heard teachers talking about the importance of  a ‘growth mindset.’ Here psychologist Carol Dweck, who pioneered research into this key concept, explains what it’s all about and recommends books—other than her own—that shed light on it.

The Best Self Help Books of 2020, recommended by Oliver Burkeman

We asked Oliver Burkeman, the Guardian writer and author of The Antidote, to select the best self help books published in 2020. His recommended titles include spiritual guidance for the age of doomscrolling, a philosophy of failure, and practical advice for those working from home for the first time.

The best books on Mindfulness, recommended by Tessa Watt

In a world where many people feel frazzled by the pace of life, can mindfulness help? What’s the best way of practising it? Or is it just a fad? Philosopher Nigel Warburton talks to mindfulness expert, Tessa Watt, about the best books on mindfulness.

The best books on The Decline of Violence, recommended by Steven Pinker

Our TV screens may be full of news about war and crime, but this masks a fall in historical terms in the number of violent deaths that’s nothing short of astonishing, says Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. He tells us how and why this happened. (This interview was updated 17 December, 2020, to include books that have come out since it was published in 2011)

The best books on Evolutionary Psychology, recommended by Chris Paley

Human traits are a product of natural selection—and the story of how we have evolved explains many of our psychological quirks today. Chris Paley, author of Unthink and Beyond Bad, recommends five of the best evolutionary psychology books—and explains how experimental data might finally get to the bottom of the question of free will.

The best books on Cruelty and Evil, recommended by Paul Bloom

How do evil-doers justify their behaviour? A common view of evil sees dehumanisation as fundamental. Yale psychologist Paul Bloom argues, however, that the picture may not be so simple. The most callous acts of cruelty and evil involve recognising the human feelings of the victim, their ability to feel shame and humiliation.

The best books on Disagreeing Productively, recommended by Ian Leslie

Many of us avoid conflict in our relationships with family and friends or at work, but that’s probably a mistake, says Ian Leslie, author of a number of nonfiction books on human behaviour. Here, he recommends books that offer insight into how to disagree productively, from evolutionary biology to 17th century Rhode Island, from Nelson Mandela to seemingly intractable conflicts.

Best Books on the Neuroscience of Consciousness, recommended by Anil Seth

Nearly every human has a sense of self, a feeling that we are located in a body that’s looking out at the world and experiencing it over the course of a lifetime. Some people even think of it as a soul or other nonphysical reality that is yet somehow connected to the blood and bones that make up our bodies. How things seem, however, is quite often an unreliable guide to how things are, says neuroscientist Anil Seth. Here he recommends five key books that led him to his own understanding of consciousness, and explores why it is that what is likely an illusion can be so utterly convincing.

The best books on Burnout, recommended by Josh Cohen

Overwhelmed, exhausted, yet unable to relax when you have the chance? You are not alone. Josh Cohen, psychoanalyst and author of Not Working: Why We Have to Stop, discusses the symptoms and causes of burnout—and why relentless activity is at the source.

Meditation Books, recommended by Andy Puddicombe

Two decades ago Andy Puddicombe was ordained as a Buddhist monk. Now back in lay life, he tries to teach the benefits of meditation to the rest of us—most notably through the Headspace app, but also by writing books. Here he chooses some of the books that inspired him, from Japanese poetry to Tibetan philosophy. Not all are meditation books but they are his “old favorites.”

The best books on Time Management, recommended by Oliver Burkeman

Feeling stressed and overwhelmed? You are not alone. Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks, selects some of the best books on time management—including two classic how-to guides, plus several texts focused on helping you decide how you really want to spend your finite time on this planet.

The Best Books on Emotions, recommended by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Not every culture has a word for ‘fear.’ Smiling was an invention of the Middle Ages. There’s a lot that will surprise you about the way we process emotions, says the neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett. Here she picks five books that illustrate our understanding of how emotions work.

The best books on Clinical Psychology, recommended by Susan Llewelyn

Clinical psychologists look at how we feel, how that affects how we behave, and whether we can change. Here, the Oxford academic and clinician Susan Llewelyn discusses five key books in the field of clinical psychology, why clinicians must keep their minds open to new approaches, and why aspiring psychologists should read as many novels as they can.

The best books on High Performance Psychology, recommended by Michael Gervais

To reach your full potential you must put as much effort into building mental resilience as you do into work or training, advises high-performance psychologist Dr Michael Gervais. Here, he selects five titles to help you find the right mindset—whether you dream of sporting stardom, artistic achievement or business success.

The Best Books on Social Media and Political Polarization, recommended by Chris Bail

Convenient as it is to blame our political woes on the polarizing effect of social media, echo chambers, interference by foreign powers or other shadowy operators, the truth is that human nature and our search for identity and status are more likely culprits. Sociologist Chris Bail, a professor at Duke University and director of its ‘Polarization Lab’, talks us through what social science has to say about the connection between social media and political polarization.

The best books on Cognitive Neuroscience, recommended by Dick Passingham

Neuroscience has banished the problem of dualism—the ‘ghost in the machine’ mulled over by philosophists since the time of Descartes, says the renowned cognitive neuroscientist Professor Dick Passingham. Here, he chooses five books that signified major breakthroughs in this fast-advancing field.

The Best Autism Books, recommended by Steve Silberman

Writing about autism has undergone an important shift, finally giving a voice to people with autism, says Steve Silberman, the winner of the 2015 Baillie Gifford Prize for his book tracing the history of autism, NeuroTribes. He picks the best new books on autism.

The best books on Sports Psychology, recommended by Bill Cole

What do you think about when you’re training at the gym, or on the tennis court? And what should you think about, if your goal is maximizing performance and results? Seasoned sports psychologist Bill Cole, coach for numerous Olympic teams and top-level international athletes, reveals that the number one road block to athletic performance often isn’t physical—it’s overthinking.

The Best Self-Help Books of 2019, recommended by Oliver Burkeman

The self-help genre is sometimes dismissed as simplistic or over-earnest. But, at their best, self-help books offer powerful insights into how to live. Oliver Burkeman, the Guardian columnist and author of The Antidote, recommends five of the best self-help books published in 2019.

The best books on Consciousness, recommended by Susan Blackmore

The ‘hard problem’ of consciousness – of how the physical matter of the brain produces the psychological phenomenon of consciousness – has dogged psychologists and neuroscientists for decades. But what if we’ve been posing the question incorrectly all this time? The psychologist Susan Blackmore discusses five key texts that tackle this quicksilver concept.

The Best Self-Help Novels, recommended by Beth Blum

Since the publication of Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help (1859) in Victorian Britain, self-help has become a billion dollar industry—and its influence is even felt in the contemporary novel, says Harvard literary scholar Beth Blum, author of The Self-Help Compulsion, a new history of the rise of self-help narratives in modern literature.

The best books on Minimalism, recommended by Kyle Chayka

In times of political or personal turmoil, there’s a tendency to seek solace in stripping back life to its bare essentials. Minimalist thought is threaded through Stoicism and Zen Buddhism; absence and space became major preoccupations of 1960s US art. Kyle Chayka, the art critic and author of The Longing for Less, recommends five books on the philosophy that underpins the present fad for minimalist self-help.

The best books on Grief, recommended by Sophie Ratcliffe

We often think of bereavement in terms of deep melancholy or gentle sadness, but “grief behaves badly and grief is risk-taking”, says Sophie Ratcliffe, Oxford literary critic and author of the memoir The Lost Properties of Love. Here, she recommends five books that may act as a balm for those who have lost someone, and says that the act of reading—any book, any poem—can be consoling.

The best books on Personality Types, recommended by Merve Emre

Since its birth in the early twentieth century, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) has become the most popular personality test in the world. Here, Merve Emre, author of the new book The Personality Brokers: The Strange History of Myers Briggs and the Birth of Personality Testing, recommends five books that reveal how the language of ‘type’ has seeped into the marrow of American civic institutions and social life—from Fortune 500 companies to Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The best books on Children, recommended by Jo Boyden

We all know how children should be brought up, and rarely question the cultural norms that underly that certainty. But what does that mean for the policies we try to impose on the developing world? Jo Boyden, professor of international development at Oxford University and director of its Young Lives study, picks books that question our assumptions about how to successfully raise a child.

The best books on Philosophy of Mind, recommended by Keith Frankish

The experimental investigation of the mind is now the province of psychology and neuroscience – but many conceptual and metaphysical questions remain. Philosophy of mind deals with these fundamental questions, says Keith Frankish, as he selects five of the best books in the field.

The best books on Teenage Mental Health, recommended by Rae Earl

Every generation has its own minefield to negotiate in order to reach adulthood. Author Rae Earl discusses five books that explore a range of mental health issues that some teenagers may face, and many adults have faced, while on this difficult journey.

The best books on Food Psychology, recommended by Paul Rozin

Food is an affirmation of who we are. Paul Rozin, food psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, deconstructs the cheeseburger and busts myths about food consumption: not only is our food budget controlling what we eat, but also the expensive organic foods we’re pressured to buy may not even be healthier—let alone better-tasting—than their alternatives.

The best books on Lying, recommended by Dorothy Rowe

All our behaviour is determined not by what happens to us, but how we interpret what happens to us, says the psychologist and bestselling author. And we don’t always tell ourselves the truth. Dorothy Rowe chooses the best books on lying.

The best books on Ecstatic Experiences, recommended by Jules Evans

States of ecstasy (from the ancient Greek ekstasis, meaning ‘standing outside’) are moments when you lose your ordinary sense of self and feel connected to something greater than you. It can be euphoric, but it can also be terrifying, says the philosopher Jules Evans. Here he selects five books that explore the significance and power of these surprisingly common experiences.