My Favorite Books (and articles)

I study morality, which means I have to draw from most of the social sciences. Over the years I have found a number of books that have given me feelings of excitement and enlightenment, and often gratitude to the author. My research on positive emotions (with Sara Algoe) finds that one of the hallmarks of gratitude and admiration is the desire to enhance the reputation of oneís benefactors and role models. So here, in pursuit of such enhancement, is a list of my favorite books and articles.


[Note: I have not updated this list since 2004. But here is a list of great recent science trade books that includes many of the ones I would list... or would read if I had time!]


1) General Psychology and Related Social Sciences (Followup to my psych 101 class)


de Waal, F. (1996). Good natured: The origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Everything you need to know about chimpanzee and bonobo social life, in one beautifully written book.]


Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. [A classic of social psychology. Brilliant analyses of the nuances of everyday behavior, and the ways we try to manipulate other peopleís perceptions of ourselves]


Harris, J. R. (1998). The Nurture Assumption: Why children turn out the way they do. New York: Free Press. [Blasts the pervasive assumption that parents and early childhood shape adult personality. Genes and peers are much more important. Developmental psychologists hate this book, but her theory makes very good social psychological sense.]


Leakey, R. (1994). The origin of humankind. New York: Basic Books. [A great introduction to archaeology and the human lineage; helps you understand the otherwise confusing succession of Australopithecus this and Homo that. And more importantly, why did it all happen?]


Pinker, S. (1997). How the mind works. New York: Norton. [An overview of brain science, with a strong evolutionary flavor, by one of the very best non fiction writers alive today.]


Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press. [An overview of the most important research in positive psychology, including lots of concrete advice for getting more out of life. By the founder of positive psychology. Even if you donít buy the book, you can take a lot of personality tests at]


Wilson, T. D. (2002). Strangers to ourselves:Discovering the adaptive unconscious. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press. [A social psychologist questions clinical psychologyís emphasis on introspection. In the process he takes you on a fascinating tour of the mind, by way of the state of the art in social cognition research.]



2) Morality


Baumeister, R. F. (1997). Evil: Inside human cruelty and violence. New York: W. H. Freeman.


Brandt, A. M., & Rozin, P. (Eds.). (1997). Morality and health. New York: Routledge.


Damasio, A. (1994). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: Putnam.


Damon, W. (1997). The youth charter: How communities can work together to raise standards for all our children. New York: Free Press.


de Waal, F. (1996). Good natured: The origins of right and wrong in humans and other animals. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Fiske, A. P. (1991). Structures of social life. New York: Free Press.


Frank, R. (1988). Passions within reason: The strategic role of the emotions. New York: Norton.


Hunter, J. D. (1991). Culture wars: The struggle to define America. New York: Basic Books.


Kohlberg, L. (1971). From is to ought: How to commit the naturalistic fallacy and get away with it in the study of moral development. In T. Mischel (Ed.), Psychology and Genetic Epistemology (pp. 151-235). New York: Academic Press. [Even though I disagree with his approach, I like this paper very much]


Lakoff, G. (1996). Moral politics: What conservatives know that liberals don't. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


Wilson, J. Q. (1993). The moral sense. New York: Free Press.


Wright, R. (1994). The moral animal. Pantheon.


Here are some works that are not about morality, but that strongly shaped my views of cognition, leading to my approach to morality as primarily a matter of intuition:

--Dunbar, R. (1996). Grooming, gossip, and the evolution of language. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

--Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

--Margolis, H. (1987). Patterns, thinking, and cognition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

--Metcalfe, J., & Mischel, W. (1999). A hot/cool-system analysis of delay of gratification: Dynamics of willpower. Psychological Review, 106, 3-19.

--Nisbett, R. E., & Wilson, T. D. (1977). Telling more than we can know: Verbal reports on mental processes. Psychological Review, 84, 231-259.

--Zajonc, R. B. (1980). Feeling and thinking: Preferences need no inferences. American Psychologist, 35, 151-175.



3) Moral Philosophy


Churchland, P. M. (1996). The neural representation of the social world. In L. May, M. Friedman & A. Clark (Eds.), Mind and Morals: Essays on ethics and cognitive science (pp. 91-108). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Gibbard, A. (1990). Wise choices, apt feelings. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.


Flanagan, O. (1996). Ethics naturalized: Ethics as human ecology. In L. May, M. Friedman & A. Clark (Eds.), Mind and Morals: Essays on ethics and cognitive science (pp. 19-43). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.


Hume, D. (1969). A treatise of human nature. London: Penguin.


Singer, P. (1979). Practical ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



4) Cultural Psychology and Anthropology


Abu-Lughod, L. (1986). Veiled sentiments. Berkeley: University of California Press.


Boehm, C. (1999). Hierarchy in the forest: The evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Fessler, D. T. (1999). Toward an understanding of the universality of second order emotions. In A. Hinton (Ed.), Beyond nature or nurture:Biocultural approaches to the emotions (pp. 75-116). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.


Fiske, A. P. (1991). Structures of social life. New York: Free Press.


Henrich, J., & Gil-White, F. J. (2001). The evolution of prestige: Freely conferred status as a mechanism for enhancing the benefits of cultural transmission. Evolution and human behavior, 22, 1-32.


Nisbett, R. E., & Cohen, D. (1996). Culture of honor: The psychology of violence in the South. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.


Richerson, P. J., & Boyd, R. (in press). The nature of cultures.


Shweder, R. A. (1991). Thinking through cultures: Expeditions in cultural psychology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.



5) Positive Psychology and positive emotions

Fredrickson, B. L. (1998). What good are positive emotions? Review of General Psychology, 2, 300-319.

Keyes, C. L. M., & Haidt, J. (Eds.). (2003). Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well lived. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. [OK, Iím the co-editor, but it does have some good essays]

Longinus. (1907). Longinus on the Sublime, 2nd Ed. Cambridge, England: Cambridge.

Maslow, A. H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak-experiences. Columbus OH: Ohio State University Press.

Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness. New York: Free Press.



--Cleckley, H. (1955). The mask of sanity. St. Louis, MO: Mosby.

--Durkheim, E. (1951). Suicide. New York: The Free Press.

--Freud, S. (1961). Civilization and its discontents. New York: Norton.

--James, W. (1961). The varieties of religious experience. New York: Macmillan.

--Miller, W. I. (1997). The anatomy of disgust. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

--Rozin, P., & Fallon, A. (1987). A perspective on disgust. Psychological Review, 94, 23-41.

--Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice. New York: HarperCollins.

  --See this list of "100 awesome open courses for those who want to change the world", mostly videos from and elsewhere


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Last UpdatedApril 20, 2004