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One of the great joys of attending conferences – in this case, the American Psychological Association convention – is the conversations with both new and old friends. This morning I had breakfast with Linda Woolf (Webster University; an old friend). She posed an interesting question, and before my first full cup of coffee, it was a little unfair. She noted that in our professional circles we frequently talk about psychology books we think psychology majors should read. She wondered what non-psychology books I’d recommend. That’s both an easy and a difficult question. It’s easy to find book that contain psychology, but difficult in deciding of all the books out there, what books I’d recommend.
The two that came pretty quickly to mind were:
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown.
About the University of Washington men’s crew who rowed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the book gives us a healthy does of prejudice and perseverance.
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede.
On 9/11/2001 when the U.S. airspace closed, planes flying west across the Atlantic had to land in Canada. Thirty-eight of them landed in Gander, Newfoundland. Almost 7,000 visitors literally dropped into a town of 9,000 for five days. DeFede restores our faith in humanity with story after story of altruism. The musical Come From Away expands on those stories including coverage of prejudice, stress and coping, and ingroups/outgroups. (Honestly, the book may do the same, but it’s been years since I’ve read it.)
After having had my full dose of coffee and a few more hours to reflect – and a chance to review my Goodreads books, here are some more non-psychology books recommended for psychology majors.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
Noah grew up in South African as “colored,” the South African term for half white/half black. His experience gets wrapped up in ingroups/outgroups, both sorting out what that means for him and being on the receiving end of other people’s assumptions about his group membership.
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
Starting with World War I, African Americans started in earnest to move out of the south to points west and north. Spotlighting three people who left different places at different times for different locales, Wilkerson helps her readers understand the prejudice and discrimination that drove African Americans from the south to the different-looking prejudice and discrimination of their new homes.
Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr
Becoming the first U.S. woman in space had its challenges. More prejudice, discrimination, and perseverance in this book. When asked at a crew press conference in 1982 “Dr. Ride, apart from the obvious differences, how do you assess the differences in men and women astronauts?” Dr. Ride replied, “Aside from the obvious differences, I don’t think there are any.”
Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery
Emma Gatewood in 1955 and at the age of 67 decided to hike the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. Alone. This one will make students rethink their assumptions about gender and age.
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman
Paul Erdös (pronounced air-dish) was a mathematical genius. But his biography is less about intelligence than it is about… well, it’s tough to describe. Being comfortable in your own skin, may be a good descriptor. Erdös was unapologetically Erdös. He couch-surfed from the home of one mathematician to another. His hosts didn’t know when he was coming until he appeared on their doorsteps, and they didn’t know when he was leaving until he left. He would ask strangers to tie his shoes. He offered cash to grad students to solve mathematical problems. The more difficult the problem, the greater the cash award. And Erdös published prolifically. Mathematicians have an Erdös number. If you published a paper with Erdös, your number is one. If you published with someone who published a paper with Erdös, your number is two. And so on.
Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll [This book may not technically meet the requirements of the category given the amount of psychology in it.]
This book contains everything you wanted to know about slot machines and then some. If you’re teaching that pushing buttons on a slot machine is an example of positive reinforcement, you’re wrong for a healthy chunk of slot machine users. Negative reinforcement would be a better characterization. Regular users of slot machines play not to win but play to enter the zone where they don’t have to think about problems at work, with their spouse, or with their kids. Winning just means being able to not think even longer.
I managed to give you a list that is all nonfiction. Please share your recommendations in the comments – and I’d love to see some fiction in the list!
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