From a Psychological Perspective

When I was teaching, I developed a list of suggested readings to encourage my psychology students to observe and analyze psychological issues in everyday life. Culled from that previous list, the books on this list are captivating non-fiction works that have a psychological aspect to them. Even if you’re not taking a psychology course, I think you’ll find these books intriguing.


A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive

by Dave Pelzer

Only the cold-hearted could read this book and not shed a tear. In his heartrending autobiography, David Pelzer recounts in chilling detail the atrocities he experienced as a child at the hands of his own mother and his unbending will to survive. Shocking in its depiction of a deeply disturbed woman and her negligently passive husband, what is most remarkable is that Pelzer emerges to tell this tale. Horrific yet spellbinding.


The Lost Boy: A Foster Child's Search for the Love of a Family

by Dave Pelzer

The sequel to A Child Called “It”, this book picks up with the odyssey that was David’s life trapped in the foster care system. Resilient as ever, he relates his experiences in just as forthright and interesting a manner as before. Although not as emotionally charged as its predecessor, your heart still goes out to him when his attempts to fit in bring derision and ridicule. This book is nevertheless a tribute to Pelzer’s ability to endure, virtually unscathed, a life that could easily have killed him — if not physically, certainly mentally and emotionally.


Who Moved My Cheese?

by Spencer Johnson

Are you a striver, with the tenacity to overcome obstacles, like Sniff and Scurry? Or are you a procrastinator, immobilized by life’s challenges, like Hem and Haw? This is the basic question put forth during a class reunion, as an allegory based on mice illustrates how success is determined by one’s chosen response to difficulties. What I find particularly noteworthy about this book is its applicability to real life. Without wanting to sound dramatic, I have to say that this book can be life-altering.


Dibs in Search of Self

by Virginia M. Axline

Through play therapy, the mind and voice of Dibs, a little boy who has classic symptoms of autism, are unlocked, releasing a child quite contrary to the label “mentally defective.” Although times and therapy have changed in the more than thirty years since this book was published (and we now know that autism is not the mother’s “fault”), this is still a classic that evokes compassion in the reader — and a few cheers for this child as well.


Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ

by Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman contends that one’s emotional intelligence is actually of greater significance than intelligence quotient (IQ). His argument is that while intellectual abilities may be highly valued within our culture, it is the emotional facets (such as self-control, empathy, human relations skills) that make people successful both professionally and personally. I think he’s rather persuasive, and even if you don’t completely buy into his theories, this is a compelling read.


The Man Who Tasted Shapes

by Richard E. Cytowic

Synesthesia — the combining of one sense with another such that the first sensation is experienced by the other sense — is not a usual book topic, yet this one is fascinating. Born of Cytowic’s experience with a friend who not only tasted but also “felt” flavors, this book explores the way people think and the extent to which emotion informs brain organization. This is definitely thought-provoking and it will have you contemplating the five senses in a completely different way.


Me Talk Pretty One Day

by David Sedaris

A collection of autobiographical essays, this book is both supremely funny and movingly poignant as Sedaris narrates portions of his life from childhood through adulthood. Peopled with idiosyncratic relatives and an assortment of friends, these vignettes give the author’s sharp wit full expression. Uncomfortable at times, I still find this book entertaining overall. And it’s rich fodder for a reading group!


A Million Little Pieces

by James Frey

Lost amidst the controversy over the exaggerations in this book was the fact that it is essentially a true and gripping tale. James Frey’s account of his descent into drug addiction and its consequent effects on his life is a redemptive story that provides insight into a world that most readers (including myself) know nothing about. I find it fascinating.

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One Child

by Torey L. Hayden

One little girl’s twin traumas of abuse and neglect have rendered her angry and belligerent, as recounted by her special education teacher, in a tale that is sadness interlaced with hope. Under Hayden’s tenacious love and compassion, the child whom no one realized was highly intellectually gifted begins to blossom. Profoundly affecting.


Girl, Interrupted

by Susanna Kaysen

The reader is guided down the halls and delivered into the rooms of mental patients in 1960s America in Kaysen’s account of her own hospitalization for borderline personality disorder from ages eighteen to twenty. From Daisy (who collects chicken carcasses) to Polly (who has set herself aflame) to the two Lisas (who are as different as possible), this book is engrossing in its descriptions of mentally ill girls. Yet, as it also humanizes people with mental illnesses, this book is a page-turner.