Good reading for Psychology students
This page lists suggestions, by students and staff on the Social Psychology course at Loughborough University, of lively and
engaging books (and a couple of films) to complement the formal programme. Some are directly related to psychology as a discipline, and some deal with psychological matters (crime, deviancy, relationships...) in a more literary way.
More suggestions are welcome - just email me the title and a word or two of description.
Next to each title is a brief comment about the book's content and style, a note as to which module(s) it most relates to,
and thanks to the person who's recommending it (if not me). Most titles are readily available in paperback, or in the University Library. [One title, however, will prove permanently elusive].
You will be able to buy them on Amazon in the usual way, but consider getting them from a local bookseller, or
from Abebooks, an online site for secondhand books.
Jean-Dominique Bauby: "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"
Bauby, editor of Elle, suffered a massive stroke and woke to find himself almost wholly paralysed. Learning laboriously to dictate by blinking an eyelid, he gives an extraordinarily vivid and moving account of his "locked-in" life. A pretty good film has been made of it, and I have a DVD of it I can lend out. [Biological Psychology] [Narrative]
A. R. Luria: "The Man with a Shattered World"
The Soviet neuropyschologist Luria worked for many years with a soldier, Zatesky, who had suffered a localised brain lesion in World War II; this account of the man's rediscovery of himself is probably as humane and sympathetic as any neurological text could ever be. Mick Billig also suggests: "The Mind of a Mnemonist", by the same author. [Cognitive Psychology] [Text]
Sigmund Freud: "The Psychopathology of Everyday Life"
Everyone interested in psychology ought to read Freud in the original, both to appreciate the atmosphere in which he was writing, and to enjoy his authoritative prose style. This short book, based on a series of lectures in 19XX, is an elegant and accessible introduction to his general view of human nature. [Personality and Psychotherapy; History and Conceptual Issues; Cognitive Psychology] [Text]
Jed Rubenfeld: "The Interpretation of Murder"
Suggested by Mick Billig. An atmospheric period detective story - a bit over the top, perhaps, but involves Sigmund Freud's visit to America. The relations between Freud and Jung are wonderfully created. [Personality & Psychotherapy, History and Conceptual Issues] [Narrative]
Elizabeth Wurtzel: "Prozac Nation"
This mid-90s analysis of anti-depressants' place in Western culture is even more topical now that the scientific tide has turned against the "serotonin hypothesis" that fuelled the multi-million dollar Prozac industry. [Biological Psychology] [Narrative]
Oliver Sacks: "The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat"
Oliver Sacks is probably Britain's best-known neurologist and certainly the best writer on the curiosities of the brain's disorders. This is one of his liveliest books, but any of his titles will be worth reading. [Cognitive Psychology] [Text]
S J Watson: "Before I go to sleep"
Suggested by Sophie Hobson, student, 2012. A thriller based on the dislocations of losing your memory. The main character wakes up with no idea of who she is, and finds a note on her mirror explaining her situation. As she struggles to make sense of her world, she starts to find that people close to her are keeping secrets... Like the film "Memento", this is a gripping, crime-thriller spin on what it is to live with anterograde amnesia. [Cognitive Psychology] [Narrative]
Barbara Arrowsmith-Young: "The Woman Who Changed Her Brain"
A first-hand account of a woman who felt stupid at school, and was diagnosed as having unspecified learning disabilities, but who managed to 'train her own brain', as she puts it. According to this newpaper article, the brain-training programme she's devised does work, and gives more evidence of the brain's plasticity. Fascinating. [Biological Psychology] [Autobiography]
Mark Haddon: "The Curious Case of the Dog in the Night-time"
This novel, written from the puzzled point of view of a child with autism, has been a surprise bestseller. It has become a firm favourite among Psychology students. [Cognitive Psychology, Children with Difficulties] [Narrative]
Judy Picoult: "House Rules"
Suggested by Naomi Bone, student 2012-2015. Worth reading independently or as a companion piece to the better-known
Haddon book (above), this is a treatment of Asperger's syndrome - and, like the Haddon book, the
hero gets mixed up in a crime. Good reading. [Cognitive Psychology, Children with Difficulties] [Narrative]
Robert McCrum: "My Year Off - Rediscovering Life after a Stroke"
Suggested by Penny Hodgkinson, Essex University. McCrum was literary editor of the Observer and experienced a stroke. The story starts grippingly, with the author
realising something is suddenly very wrong with is body, and continues through to his recovery. A well-told tale. [Biological Psychology] [Narrative]
Temple Grandin: "Thinking in pictures: and other reports from my life with autism" / "Emergence: labeled autistic"
Temple Grandin has autism but has a highly successful career in designing environments for animals - including holding pens and abattoirs. Her style is dispassionate and intelligent, and quite frank about the differences she sees between herself and 'normal' people. Read either of these as a complement to the more emotion-laden Haddon novel. [Biological Psychology, Thought and Language I, Cognitive Psychology] [Autobiography]
Robert Pirsig: "Zen and the Art of Motorcyle Maintenance"
A hippie classic, to be sure, but in the guise of a road trip with his young son, Pirsig offers up some thoughtful reflections on the nature of human reasoning. [Cognitive Psychology] [Narrative]
Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter: "When Prophecy Fails"
You'll have come across the theory of Cognitive Dissonance on the course, and here is where it all started: on a hill in rural America, alongside a group of cultists who theought the world was about to end. It didn't, but that only reinforced their beliefs. This is the kind of social psychology text book that never gets written any more. [Introduction to Social Psychology] [Text]
Alexander Masters: "Stuart: A Life Backwards"
Stuart is a sad case, a loser with a drug habit and a string of petty offences to his name. But the author befriends him and, by treating him with wary respect, begins to understand something about his appalling upbringing. Unsentimental and penetrating. [Children with Difficulties, Forensic and Criminal Psychology; Abnormal Behaviour and Mental Illness][Narrative]
Truman Capote: "In Cold Blood"
Capote won the Pulitzer prize for this calm, atmospheric and dispassionate account of a rural murder in 60's America. Lucid writing and novelistic structure put it in a different league from the lumpish majority of "true crime" literature [Forensic and Criminal Psychology; Abnormal Behaviour and Mental Illness] [Narrative]
Fyodor Dostoevsky: "Crime and Punishment"
Don't be put off by the "classic literature" tag; this is a highly accesible and utterly gripping read. At the heart of the tale is a pointless, pathetic murder in the filth and grime of a Russian slum, but Dostoevsky pulls the reader into the otherwise unfathomable mind of a pathological killer. Read as a complement to Capote's "In Cold Blood". [Forensic and Criminal Psychology; Abnormal Behaviour and Mental Illness][Narrative]
Erving Goffman: "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life"
The echo of Freud in the title may have been intentional: but this is at the polar opposite of depth psychology. It a fascinating, naturalist's-eye retelling of the human condition. There's an acute insight on virtually every page. [Introduction to Social Psychoplogy] [Text]
William Golding: "Lord of the Flies"
Gripping speculation about what would happen if a group of young boys, marooned on an uninhabited island, developed their own society, rules and rituals. Readable on many levels, but even as a simple story it's marvellously well told. [Introduction to Social Psychology] [Narrative]
Lionel Shriver: "We need to talk about Kevin"
Suggested by Liz Stokoe. This deals with the nature-nurture issue (and the concept of 'maternal instinct') via a story about a woman whose teenage son guns down his teachers and classmates one day in school. The book tells the story of Kevin's upbringing, and is narrated by his mother, Eva, in a series of letters to her estranged husband. Eva wonders about her ambivalent feelings towards motherhood, and how her parenting might have shaped her son's character. [Development and Socialisation] [Narrative]
Ken Kesey: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"
A classic film, but the novel is even better as an evocation of bad psychiatric practice. Completely one-sided, and too romantic about mental illness, but an unforgettable story nevertheless. [Personality and Psychotherapy; Abnormal Behaviour; Biological Psychology] [Narrative]
dir: Gus van Zant: "Good Will Hunting"
Suggested by Jing Wang, MA student. A janitor at MIT, Will Hunting has a gift for maths that can take him light-years beyond his blue-collar roots, but to achieve his dream he must turn his back on the neighborhood and his best friend. To complicate matters, two strangers enter the equation: a washed-up shrink who starts to coach Will through his transformation, and a med student who shows him that there can be a pretty face along with his life of the mind. (Quoted from IMDb). [Personality and Psychotherapy; Abnormal Behaviour; Biological Psychology] [Narrative].
dir: Alejandro Amenábar: "The Sea Inside" ("Mar Adentro")
Suggested by Jing Wang, MA student. Life story of Spaniard Ramón Sampedro, who fought a 30-year campaign to win the right to end his paralysed life with dignity. Film explores Ramón's relationships with two women: Julia, a lawyer who supports his cause, and Rosa, a local woman who wants to convince him that life is worth living. Despite his wish to die, Ramón teaches everyone he encounters the meaning and value of life. "Though he could not move himself, he had an uncanny ability to move others". (Adapted from IMDb) [Personality and Psychotherapy; Abnormal Behaviour; Biological Psychology] [Narrative]
Joanna Greeberg: "I never promised you a rose garden"
Suggested by Duncan Cramer. An autobiographical account of a woman who was institutionalised for a nervous breakdown, and who tells how she regained her health. Written in the 1980s, this is a cut above the more lurid wave of 'misery memoir' currently doing well in the best-seller charts. [Biological Psychology; Abnormal Behaviour and Mental Illness] [Autobiography]
Fay Cortha: "I Married a Psychologist"
Confessional account of a working woman who gets the bug for Psychology after falling in love with a
University lecturer in a small East Midlands college town in the heady years of the 1970s. A novel of its time, to be sure, but not without interest, and notable for its racy exposition of experimental social psychology, unique in modern fiction. [History and Concepts in Psychology] [Narrative]
Emma Donoghue: "Room"
Suggested by Mea Popoviciu This is a story about resilience and love between a mother and child,
narrated through the limited point of view of a five year old boy named Jack, who lives with his Ma in an 11 by 11 foot room.
In this confined space where his only companion is Ma, and where Bed, Rug and Wall become cherished friends, Jack starts to
ask questions about the bigger world beyond the room. [Development, Socialisation] [Narrative]
Jeanette Winterson: "Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit"
The narrator of this award-winning novel comes to understand her own lesbian sexuality at the same time as she begins to rebel against her strict sectarian Christian upbringing. A modern classic. [Human Sexuality] [Narrative]
Georges Simenon: "The Stain on the Snow"
Simenon is better-known for his Maigret books, but this realist novel, set in an unnamed French city under German occupation, paints a convincing portrait of a young sociopath. [Forensic Psychology, Personality and Psychotherapy] [Narrative]
David Lodge: "Thinks"
Set in an English University campus not very different from Loughborough, this is a racy comedy of manners with a twist. Lodge threads into the narrative a surprisingly subtle exploration of classic cognitive conundrums like conscious, reasoning, and the problem of free will. [Thought and Language I, Cognitive Psychology] , [Narrative]
Pat Barker: "Regeneration / Eye in the Door / Ghost Roads"
Pat Barker's award-winning 1st World War trilogy includes a substantial account, lightly fictionalised, of the psychodynamic therapy made available for the first time to service personnel. "Eye in the Door" gives the fullest treatment. [Personality & Psychotherapy, Cognitive Psychology] [Narrative]
Bruno Bettelheim: "The Informed Heart"
Suggested by Mick Billig. The classic account by a great psychoanalyst of his time as a concentration camp inmate. [Autobiography]
Roy Grinker & John Spiegel: "Men under stress"
Suggested by Duncan Cramer. A classic description, by two psychoanalytically inclined psychiatrists, of why members of some American bomber crews operating in Europe in the 2nd World War broke down.[Personality and Psychotherapy; Abnormal Behaviour and Mental Illness] . [Text]
James Tankard: "The statistical pioneers."
Suggested by Duncan Cramer. If you're going to read one non-course book about stats, this ought to be it. It's a non-statistical description of the lives (and sometimes very politically controversial) achievements of major statisticians such as Galton, Pearson, Gosset and Fisher. Surpisingly interesting, and gives a genuine insight into why we do what we do now. [Methods, Practicals] [Text]
Desmond Morris: "Manwatching"
Morris, a qualified zoologist, made quite a splash with this (among similar titles), back in the 70s;
now it seems rather glib, but is still markedly better than much of the 'people-watching' pop psychology that he inspired.
[Controversies in Psychology] [Text]
Tom Reynolds: "Blood, Sweat and Tea"
This book started out as a blog written by an ambulance medic in London. He gives a fascinating, day-by day, blow-by-blow
description of attending accidents, falls, heart attacks, drunks and the occasional stabbing, all written up with typical
British understatement and wry humour. And, as it happens, it turns out to be an excellent way of learning about what happens when the
body goes wrong. You can download it here in a Creative Commons pdf.
[Biological Psychology] [Narrative]
Small note: One of the titles above doesn't actually exist.
Further suggestions are always welcome;
send to c.antaki@Lboro.ac.uk.
Last updated: 11 October 2012.