Recommended nonfiction books, arranged by topic, with topics arranged alphabetically

Behavior Genetics

  • Knopik, Valerie S., Neiderhiser, Jenae M., DeFries, John C, & Plomin, R. (2016). Behavioral genetics (7th Ed.). NY: Worth. [The leading behavior genetics textbook, showing that all mental traits are heritable.] link

Consumer Behavior

  • Frank, Robert (2012). The Darwin economy: Liberty, competition, and the common good. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [A Cornell economist integrates evolutionary theory, signaling, and ethics to understand economic life.] link

  • Frank, Thomas (1998). The conquest of cool: Business culture, counterculture, and the rise of hip consumerism. Chicago, IL: U. Chicago Press. [How the ad industry co-opted the 1960s sexual revolution to sell ‘hip’ stuff to Boomers.] link

  • Veblen, Thorstein (1899/2009). The theory of the leisure class. NY: Oxford U. Press. [A brilliant, snarky, insightful exploration of conspicuous consumption ] link


  • Caplan, Bryan (2018). The case against education: Why the education system is a waste of time and money. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [Educational credentialism is a costly and often pointless signaling system, according to this provocative economist.] link

  • Dikötter, Frank (2016). The cultural revolution: A people’s history, 1962-1976. NY: Bloomsbury Press. [The definitive account of the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’ in the 1960s & 1970s, by a leading historian of China.] link

Effective Altruism

  • MacAskill, William (2016). Doing good better: How Effective Altruism can help you make a difference. NY: Penguin. [The assigned textbook for my Effective Altruism class; a great, accessible work by the Oxford moral philosopher who co-founded the EA movement.] link

  • Singer, Peter (2015). The most good you can do: How Effective Altruism is changing ideas about living ethically. New Haven, CN: Yale U. Press. [The world’s most influential moral philosopher explains how you can improve the world through Effective Altruism.] link

  • Todd, Benjamin (2016). 80,000 hours: Finding a fulfilling career that does good. NY: CreateSpace. [An Effective Altruism strategy for cultivating a virtuous work life that actually helps others.] link

  • Veganomics (2013) by Nick Cooney link

Enlightenment Values & Western Civilization

  • Harris, Sam (2010). The moral landscape: How science can determine human values. NY: Free Press. [One of the world’s most famous atheists argues that science, not religion, offers the best basis for virtue and a good society.] link

  • Pinker, Steven (2012). The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. NY: Penguin. [Pinker analyzes the trends that massively reduced human violence in the last thousand years.] link

  • Pinker, Steven (2019). Enlightenment now: The case for reason, science, humanism, and progress. NY: Penguin. [Argues for reviving Enlightenment virtues of rationality, free speech, and objectivity.] link

  • Ridley, Matt (2010). The rational optimist: How prosperity evolves. NY: HarperCollins. [A leading British popular science writer makes the case for free markets, free speech, and economic growth] link

  • Shapiro, Ben (2010). The right side of history: How reason and moral purpose made the West great. NY: Broadside Books. [An influential young conservative defends Western Civilization against Leftist attacks.] link

  • Shermer, Michael (2016). The moral arc: How science makes us better people. NY: Griffin. [The publisher of Skeptic magazine explores how rationality and empiricism have reshaped ethics over the last few centuries.] link

Evolutionary Biology & Animal Behavior

  • Darwin, Charles (1871/1981). The descent of man, and selection in relation to sex. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [The classic analysis of how evolution shaped human nature.] link

  • Rubinstein, Dustin R., & Alcock, John (2018). Animal behavior: An evolutionary approach (11th Ed.). NY: Sinauer Associates. [An excellent textbook on the evolutionary pressures that shape animal behavior.] link

Evolutionary Psychology

  • Boyer, Pascal (2018). Minds make societies: How cognition explains the world humans create. New Haven, CN: Yale U. Press. [A leading cognitive anthropologist explores the origins of morality, religion, and society.] link

  • Buss, David (2019). Evolutionary psychology (6th Ed.). NY: Routledge. [The leading textbook on evolutionary psychology.] link

  • Buss, David (Ed.). (2015). Handbook of evolutionary psychology (2nd Ed.). NY: Wiley. [A huge two-volume compilation of the best evolutionary psychology research.] link

  • Kenrich, Douglas T., & Griskevicius, Vladas (2013). The rational animal: How evolution made us smarter than we think. NY: Basic Books. [Explores the mental adaptations that lead to inner conflict and hypocritical signaling.] link

  • Nesse, Randolph M. (Ed.). (2001). Evolution and the capacity for commitment. NY: Russell Sage Foundation. [This edited volume explores how humans evolved to build committed relationships of all types.] link

  • Pinker, Steven (2002). The blank slate: The modern denial of human nature. NY: Penguin/Putnam. [An excellent, vivid, scholarly argument against the Leftist blank slate dogma; I’ve often assigned it in classes.] link

  • Stewart-Williams, Steve (2018). The ape that understood the universe: How the mind and culture evolve. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. Press. [A great, readable, up-to-date overview of evolutionary psychology.] link

  • Wilson, David Sloan (2019). This view of life: Completing the Darwinian revolution. NY: Pantheon. [How to apply evolutionary insights about human nature to current issues in morality, politics, and environmental stewardship.] link

Existential Risks

  • Bostrom, Nick (2014). Superintelligence: Paths, dangers, strategies. Oxford, UK: Oxford U. Press. [A difficult, alarming book about the most important existential risk that humans face in the 21st century: Artificial General Intelligence.] link

  • Global Catastrophic Risks (2011) by Nick Bostrom et al. link

Free Speech & Viewpoint Diversity

  • Boghossian, Peter, & Lindsay, James (2019). How to have impossible conversations: A very practical guide. Boston, MA: Da Capo Press. [Tips on how to have constructive conversations about polarizing topics] link

  • Campbell, Bradley, & Manning, Jason (2018). The rise of victimhood culture: Microaggressions, safe spaces, and the new culture wars. NY: Palgrave Macmillan. [Explores the recent controversies over campus free speech.] link

  • Dreger, Alice (2015). Galileo’s middle finger: Heretics, activists, and one scholar’s search for justice. NY: Penguin. [A bioethics professor on the conflict between social justice activists and free speech advocates.] link

  • Eagleton, Terry (1991). Ideology: An introduction. London: Verso. [A short overview of the intellectual history behind ideology.] link

  • Kahane, Adam (2017). Collaborating with the enemy: How to work with people you don’t agree with or like or trust. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler. [How can we work with people who don’t share our values?] link

  • Lukianoff, Greg (2014). Unlearning liberty: Campus censorship and the end of American debate. NY: Encounter Books. [A great introduction to the erosion of free speech in academia, by a constitutional lawyer.] link

  • Lukianoff, Greg, & Haidt, Jonathan (2018). The coddling of the American mind: How good intentions and bad ideas are setting up a generation for failure. NY: Penguin Press. [A must-read analysis of why Gen Z students are hyper-sensitive and censorious.] link

  • McGrath, Titania (2019). Woke: A guide to social justice. Edinburgh, UK: Constable. [A satirical introduction to modern Leftist virtue signaling.] link

  • Rauch, Jonathan (2013). Kindly inquisitors: The new attacks on free thought. Chicago: U. Chicago Press. [A great, classic analysis of how runaway kindness-signaling undermines free speech and academic integrity.] link

  • Ronson, Jon (2015). So you’ve been publicly shamed. NY: Riverhead Books. [How virtue signaling plus social media led to this golden age of public shaming as a form of social control.] link

  • Segerstråle, Ullica (2000). Defenders of the truth: The sociology debate. NY: Oxford U. Press. [A sociology professor examines the 1970s sociobiology debates.] link

Game Theory

  • Binmore, Ken (2007). Game theory: A very short introduction. NY: Oxford U. Press. [A short, fairly simple intro to game theory, by a leading game theorist who was my old boss at the UCL] link

  • Binmore, Ken (2011). Natural justice. NY: Oxford U. Press. [A science of morals based on game theory, social contracts, and empathy] link

Human Evolution

  • Boyd, Robert, & Silk, Joan B. (2017). How humans evolved (8th Ed.). NY: W. W. Norton. [An excellent textbook by ASU anthropologists on human origins] link

  • Cochran, Gregory, & Harpending, Henry (2010). The 10,000 year explosion: How civilization accelerated human evolution. NY: Basic Books. [Human evolution didn’t stop in prehistory, but accelerated since the rise of civilization.] link

  • Primate Adaptation and Evolution (3rd Ed.). (2013) by John Fleagle link

Intelligence & IQ Research

  • Richie, Stuart (2016). Intelligence: All that matters. NY: Teach Yourself. [A great short introduction to intelligence and IQ research, and why it matters.] link

Manosphere: PUAs, MRAs, Red Pill, etc

  • Donovan, Jack (2012). The way of men. Dissonant Hum. [A radical, influential, Red Pill manifesto on the origins of distinctively masculine virtues.] link

  • Peterson, Jordan B. (2018). 12 rules for life: An antidote to chaos. NY: Random House. [The world’s most influential psychologist argues that young people need to complain less and cultivate their virtues more.] link

Moral Economics

  • Bowles, Samuel (2016). The moral economy: Why good incentives are no substitute for good citizens. New Haven, CN: Yale U. Press. [A leading behavioral economist explores how to structure economic incentives to promote the greater good.] link

  • Brennan, Jason, & Paworski, Peter (2015). Markets without limits: Moral virtues and commercial interests. NY: Routledge. [Do free markets corrode our character and undermine civic virtues? These public policy experts argue not.] link

  • Cowen, Tyler (2018). Stubborn attachments: A vision for a society of free, prosperous, and responsible individuals. NY: Stripe Pres. [An economist makes the moral case for economic growth as a key moral value.] link

  • Gintis, Herbert (2016). Individuality and entanglement: The moral and material basis of social life. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [An economist integrates evolutionary biology, psychology, and moral philosophy to understand people’s social games.] link

  • McClosky, Deirdre (2006). The bourgeois virtues: Ethics for an age of commerce. Chicago, IL: U. Chicago Press. [A great book about the virtue ethics that people needed to cultivate after capitalism.] link

  • Nelson, Phillip J., & Greene, Kenneth V. (2003). Signaling goodness: Social rules and public choice. Ann Arbor, MI: U. Michigan Press. [Two economists develop an interesting general theory of virtue signaling, voting, and charity giving.] link

  • Smith, Adam (1759/2010). The theory of moral sentiments. NY: Penguin Classics. [History’s most influential economist shows how moral virtues have shaped human markets, politics, and institutions.] link

  • Smith, Vernon, & Wilson, Bart J. (2019). Humanomics: Moral sentiments and the wealth of nations for the twenty-first century. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. Press. [The Nobel laureate economist show how Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments can re-humanize the behavioral science.] link

  • Zuboff, Shoshana (2019). The age of surveillance capitalism: The fight for a human future at the new frontier of power. NY: PublicAffairs. [A Harvard business school professor analyzes how social media, digital marketing, and behavioral prediction are reshaping public life and the social order.] link

Moral Philosophy & Virtue Ethics

  • Brady, Michael S., & Pritchard, Duncan H. (Eds.). (2004). Moral and epistemic virtues. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. [Leading moral philosophers explore virtue ethics.] link

  • Brooks, David (2015). The road to character. NY; Random House. [A NY Times columnist/author explores how to cultivate genuine virtues.] link

  • Flanagan, Owen (1991). Varieties of moral personality: Ethics and psychological realism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [A moral philosopher seeks a more realistic view of individual moral differences.] link

  • Harris, John (2016). How to be good: The possibility of moral enhancement. Oxford, UK: Oxford U. Press. [A bioethics professor explores cultural, genetic, and technological strategies for improving people’s morality.] link

  • Harris, Sam (2013). Lying. NY: Four Elephants Press. [A short manifesto for radical honesty over ‘white lies’ (face-saving signaling).] link

  • MacIntyre, Alasdair (2007). After virtue: A study in moral theory (3rd Ed.). Notre Dame, IN: U. Notre Dame Press. [A classic work on virtue ethics from a leading moral philosopher.] link

  • Nietzsche, Friedrich (1887/2014). On the genealogy of morals. NY: Penguin Classics. [The must-read classic that linked the biology of power, the class structures of civilizations, and the ways that people signal ‘pagan virtues’ & ‘Christian virtues’.] link

  • Persson, Ingmar, & Savulescu, Julian (2014). Unfit for the future: The need for moral enhancement. Oxford, UK: Oxford U. Press. [How genetic, biomedical, and technological enhancements could make people more virtuous.] link

  • Russell, Daniel C. (Ed.). (2013). The Cambridge companion to virtue ethics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge U. Press. [How virtue ethics applies to business, politics, bioethics, and the environment.] link

  • Singer, Peter (2017). Ethics in the real world: 82 brief essays on things that matter. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [How utilitarianism offer a more coherent prescriptive ethical framework across a huge variety of issues.] link

  • Zimmerman, Aaron, Jones, Karen, & Timmons, Mark (Eds.). (2018). The Routledge handbook of moral epistemology. NY: Routledge. [Edited volume on moral cognition, moral learning, and moral knowledge.] link

Moral Psychology and Virtue Signaling

  • Caruso, Gregg, & Flanagan, Owen (Eds.). (2018). Neuroexistentialism: Meaning, morals, and purpose in the age of neuroscience. NY: Oxford U. Press. [How neuroscience research is sparking a new crisis of our understanding of ethics and moral psychology.] link

  • Christakis, Nicholas A. (2019). Blueprint: The evolutionary origins of a good society. NY: Little, Brown. [A Yale sociologist explores how evolution endowed human nature with the moral building blocks of a good society.] link

  • De Waal, Frans (2010). The age of empathy: Nature’s lessons for a kinder society. NY: Broadway Books. [A leading primatologist explores the origins of empathy in animals and humans.] link

  • Decety, Jean, & Wheatley, Thalia (Eds.). (2017). The moral brain: A multidisciplinary perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Edited volume reviewing recent research on moral psychology.] link

  • Flesch, William (2008). Comeuppance: Costly signaling, altruistic punishment, and other biological components of fiction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press. [A literature professor uses evolutionary psychology and gossip dynamics to understand the moral dimension of novels.] link

  • Greene, Joshua (2014). Moral tribes: Emotion, reason, and the gap between us and them. NY: Penguin. [Harvard psychologist reviews how moral psychology plays out in the social and political realms.] link

  • Haidt, Jonathan (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. NY: Vintage. [A must-read book on the moral psychology of partisanship and political signaling, by an NYU social psychologist who deeply influenced my thinking.] link

  • Ridley, Matt (1997). The origins of virtue: Human instincts and the evolution of cooperation. NY: Viking. [One of the first popular evolutionary psychology books to take moral virtues seriously; had a big impact on my book The Mating Mind.] link

  • Sober, Eliot, & Wilson, David S. (1998). Unto others: The evolution and psychology of unselfish behavior. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press. [How group selection may have shaped human moral virtues.] link

  • Wilson, David Sloan (2015). Does altruism exist? Culture, genes, and the welfare of others. New Haven, CN: Yale U. Press. [Implications of group selection for human morality and everyday life.] link

  • Wrangham, Richard (2019). The goodness paradox: The strange relationship between virtue and violence in human evolution. NY: Pantheon. [A Harvard evolutionary anthropologist explores how human self-domestication and capital punishment hugely reduced violence over the last couple of million years.] link

Neurodiversity & Aspergers

  • Grandin, Temple, & Barron, Sean (2017). Unwritten rules of social relationships: Decoding social mysteries through the unique perspectives of autism. NY: Future Horizons. [A leader autism spokeswoman shows how hard it can be for the neurodivergent to understand social signals; relevant to the neurodiversity essay.] link

  • Silberman, Steve (2015). Neurotribes: The legacy of autism and the future of neurodiversity. NY: Penguin. [A good introduction to autism, Aspergers, and neurodiversity.] link

Personality Traits

  • Buss, David, & Hawley, Patricia H. (Eds.) (2010). The evolution of personality and individual differences. NY: Oxford U. Press. [Evolutionary psychologists explore why heritable individual differences in personality, sexual strategies, and moral virtues persisted after all these years of selection.] link

  • Cain, Susan (2012). Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. NY: Random House. [A great bestseller on introversion as a key form of neurodiversity.] link

  • Funder, David C. (2015). The personality puzzle (7th Ed.). NY: W. W. Norton. [A good textbook about personality traits.] link

  • Larsen, Randy J., & Buss, David (2017). Personality psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature (6th Ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill. [A good textbook on the personality traits and their evolution.] link

  • Matthews, Gerald, Deary, Ian, & Whiteman, Martha C. (2009). Personality traits (3rd Ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. [A good textbook on the personality traits that are heritable, stable, predictive, and worth signaling.] link

Political Science & Political Theory

  • Brennan, Jason (2017). Against democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [Given people’s tendencies to virtue signal rather than making rational public choices, can democracy work in the long run? Brennan argues not.] link

  • Caplan, Bryan (2011). The myth of the rational voter: Why democracies choose bad policies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [How irrational signaling by voters and politicians undermines democracy.] link

  • Land, Nick (2018). Fanged noumena: Collected writings 1987-2007 (5th Ed.). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. [Collected essays from a deep, difficult philosopher who inspired the Neoreaction.] link

  • Moldbug, Mencius (2015). An open letter to open-minded progressives. Unqualified Reservations. [A gentle introduction to the Neoreaction movement by one of its most influential, wittiest, and easy-to-read leaders.] link

Political Psychology & Sociology

  • Putnam, Robert (2001). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. NY: Touchstone Books. [a Harvard professor of public policy argues that we need to revive our civic virtues of connectedness, in an era of isolation.] link

  • Sasse, Ben (2018). Them: Why we hate each other – and how to heal. NY: St. Martin’s Press. [A U.S. Senator explores how rootlessness leads to increased partisanship, hopelessness, and the collapse of civic virtues.] link

  • Sowell, Thomas (2007). A conflict of visions: Ideological origins of political struggles. NY: Basic Books. [An influential conservative shows how political partisanship often boils down to conflicting views of human nature.] link

Sex & Sexuality

  • Dixson, Alan (2013). Primate sexuality: Comparative studies of the prosimians, monkeys, apes, and humans. (2nd Ed.). NY: Oxford U. Press. [A magisterial textbook on the evolution of primate and human sexuality.] link

  • Danaher, John, & McArthur, Neil (Eds.). (2017). Robot sex: Social and ethical implications. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [Sexbots are coming, like it or not; these essays explore their implications.] link

  • Why Women Have Sex (2010) by Cindy Meston & David Buss link

  • Discovering Human Sexuality (3rd Ed.) (2015) by Simon LeVay et al. link

  • Primate Sexuality (2nd Ed.). (2013) by Alan Dixson link

  • Mating in Captivity (2007) by Esther Perel link

  • The Ethical Slut (3rd Ed.) (2017) by Dossie Easton et al. link

  • Playing Well with Others (2012) by Lee Harrington et al. link

  • Unwanted Advances (2017) by Laura Kipnis link

  • The Myth of Sex Addiction (2014) by David Ley link

  • Dataclysm (2015) by Christian Rudder link

Sex Differences

  • Baron-Cohen, Simon (2004). The essential difference: Male and female brains and the truth about autism. NY: Basic Books. [A classic look at Aspergers, autism, and neurodiversity by a leading expert at Cambridge.] link

  • Geary, David C. (2009). Male, female: The evolution of sex differences (2nd Ed.). Washington, CA: American Psychological Association. [A leading evolutionary psychologist’s textbook on all the research about sex differences.] link

Signaling Theory & Animal Communication

  • Bradbury, Jack W., & Vehrencamp Sandra L. (2011). Principles of animal communication (2nd Ed.). Oxford, UK: Sinauer Associates. [An excellent textbook exploring animal communication from a signaling theory perspective.] link

  • Holland, John H. (2014). Signals and boundaries: Building blocks for complex adaptive systems. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [An influential cognitive scientist shows how signals can organize complex adaptive systems, from organisms to societies.] link

  • Pentland, Alex (2010). Honest signals: How they shape our world. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. [A famous MIT computer scientist connects biological signaling theory to modern behavior in social networks and social media.] link

  • Searcy, William A., & Nowicki, Stephen (2005). The evolution of animal communication: Reliability and deception in signaling systems. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. Press. [A great mid-level academic book on signaling theory in animal communication.] link

  • Simler, Kevin, & Hanson, Robin (2017). The elephant in the brain: Hidden motives in everyday life. NY: Oxford U. Press. [How self-deceptive signaling explains a lot of the mysteries about modern human behavior.] link

  • Skyrms, Brian (2010). Signals: Evolution, learning, and information. NY: Oxford U. Press. [A distinguished philosopher of science explores how signaling theory plays out in evolution, learning, and society.] link

  • Zahavi, Amotz, & Zahavi, Avishag (1997). The handicap principle: A missing piece of Darwin's puzzle. NY: Oxford U. Press. [The brilliant work on evolutionary signaling theory.] link

Social Psychology

  • Hertwig, Ralph, & Hoffrage, Ulrich, & the ABC Research Group (2012). Simple heuristics in a social world. Oxford, UK: Oxford U. Press. [A cutting-edge German research group (that I worked with a while ago) explores how we make fast-and-frugal inferences about people’s traits from their behaviors.] link

  • Jussim, Lee (2012). Social perception and social reality: Why accuracy dominates bias and self-fulfilling prophecy. NY: Oxford U. Press. [A Rutgers psychology professor reviews his startling researching showing that most social stereotypes are surprisingly accurate.] link

  • Keltner, Dacher (2016). The power paradox: How we gain and lose influence. NY: Penguin Books. [A UC Berkeley social psychologist explores how to achieve and signal power — and use it for the greater good.] link