The Library Of Human Behavior: 11 More Titles For Your Reading List

Last week, I shared 11 titles that explore the intersection between marketing, psychology and neurology. In retrospect, though, I think I approached this backwards. While the titles I discussed are all interesting (and fairly easy reads), they are somewhat dependent on a fundamental understanding of why humans do what we do. So this week, I'll share a good starting library of human behavior, which can then be applied more generally.

"The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are"  -- Robert Wright.  If you're on the fence about or simply do not believe in evolution (along with 50% of Americans) you probably want to stop right here. The first three titles in this list are by authors who together create a pantheon for evolutionary psychology and Darwinism. In the first,  "The Moral Animal," Wright employs an interesting literary device: exploring human behavior by referencing biographical details in Charles Darwin's own life. He discusses monogamy, child rearing, differing attitudes towards sex and self-deception, among many other mysteries of the human condition. A compelling and highly intelligent read.



"The Selfish Gene" -- Richard Dawkins. This book was first published over 30 years ago, and somehow still manages to remain controversial. Perhaps it's because Dawkins' assigning the human characteristic of selfishness to our genes has confused many, many readers. If you take the time to read the book, Dawkins explains at length that humans are not necessarily selfish. In fact, one chapter is titled: "Nice Guys Finish First." Dawkins' premise is that our genes only care about propagation. That's it. End of story. Morality and all the ethical trappings that go with it only survive if they help the gene meet this one objective.  A couple of other noteworthy nuggets in this book include the first introduction of memes -- ideas that share the propagation directives of genes -- and an exploration of how the impact of genes can extend into all aspects of our lives and society.

"The Third Chimpanzee" -- Jared Diamond. Diamond starts off the book by stating that we share 98% of our genes with chimpanzees, then spends the rest of the book describing how that remaining 2% can make all the difference. In that thin wedge of genetic difference lie all our culture, achievement and history. Some human achievements are admirable, even remarkable. Some are regrettably base and cruel. Diamond chronicles both the good and the bad, along with a warning: our dominance of our world may end up spelling our doom. A professor of geography who combines the eye of a naturalist, the curiosity of a sociologist, and the ponderings of a philosopher, Diamond makes "The Third Chimpanzee" a masterful book.

"The Stuff of Thought" -- Steven Pinker. Following in the steps of Noam Chomsky (up to a point), psychologist Steven Pinker uses language as a door to explore the shadowy recesses of how our minds work. This book is a seminal piece of work in this area. Pinker is masterful at exploring complicated concepts without "dumbing down" his commentary.  He has written an entire library of books worth reading, but this is as good a place to start as any.

"Descartes' Error" -- Antonio Damasio. Damasio was introduced to the common masses in Malcolm Gladwell's book "Blink," but Damasio's work on somatic markers and the role of the prefrontal cortex in how we make decisions goes much further than Gladwell was able to cover. "Descartes' Error" delves deep into our gut instincts, explaining why pure rationality is an unworkable model for humans. To paraphrase Descartes' famous quote: We feel, therefore we are.

To round out my 11 suggestions, here are six other titles worth exploring:

"The Mind and the Brain" - Jeffrey Schwartz

"Synaptic Self" - Joseph LeDoux

"A Whole New Mind" - Daniel Pink

"Mapping the Mind" - Rita Carter

"The Emotional Brain" - Joseph LeDoux

"The Female Brain" - Louanne Brizendine



4 comments about "The Library Of Human Behavior: 11 More Titles For Your Reading List ".
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  1. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, October 22, 2009 at 10:47 a.m.

    Fascinating stuff, and good recommendations I'll be looking into further. My experience with "The Moral Animal" actually fueled my disbelief in 'Alien Encoutners' at least in the context of being contact with hyperintelligent beings from another planet; if higher intelligence is an evolutionary adaptation then it is essentially no different in kind then a tail that falls off when you pull it, or camoflage, or photosynthesis. It is not in itself the 'pinnacle of evolution' as the only goal of evolution - or more properly stated, the only end result of natural selection - is that better adapted animals survive. As such, if life exists on other planets, that life is adapted to that planet's living conditions and has adapted via natural selection. Just as the chance of life on a given planet is extremely slim because the conditions required are so specific, the chances of evolving higher intelligence on that planet are astronomically slim

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks, October 22, 2009 at 11:34 a.m.

    These are all very good suggestions, most important, for what they 'suggest' about the course we are on and how what we think about it constrains the probable outcomes. Let me add these three to your list: "Sources of The Self, The Making of Modern Identity" by Charles Taylor, for what it says about what we incorporate in our decisions about public and private 'interests'; "The Predictioneer's Game, Using the Logic of Brazen Self-Interest to See and Shape the Future," by Bruce Bueno de Mesiguita, for a simple, clarifying method of understanding the difference between "reasoning" and "rational," where 'choice' is concerned, and "The Ascent of Money, A Financial History of the World," by Niall Furguson, who --whether he intended to or not-- reveals our nightmarish obsession with a "symbol" of human "activity" rather then it's authentic cause or consequence.

  3. Ellie Johnston from Brandojo, October 22, 2009 at 5:05 p.m.

    Great. Thanks a lot Gord. Now all I wanna do is order this mess o' books and go sit under an apple tree to read them all. So much for getting work done.

  4. Gordon Hotchkiss from Out of My Gord Consulting, October 22, 2009 at 5:10 p.m.

    Thanks all for the further suggestions. I've gained as much as I gave, with at least 10 new titles to add to my reading list. Who says print is dead?

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