Influence: Where Self-Help and Psychology Meet

18.10.2023 |

Episode #4 of the course 100 Nonfiction Books Everyone Should Read by John Robin


Welcome back to our course on 100 Nonfiction books everyone should read!

Last lesson, we explored the religion, spirituality, and philosophy category. Put together with the previous two categories, we now have looked at the historical, personal narratives, philosophical, and scientific aspects of nonfiction.

Where can we go next to expand the map? Welcome to lesson 4, where we’ll now explore another category, focused on the self—and add 10 more great books to our must-read shelf!


Self-Help, Psychology, and Relationships

Top recommendation: Influence by Robert B. Cialdini.

This next category includes all books that focus on the individual, be it how to improve yourself, how to understand yourself as a human being, or how to understand others and your relationship to them.

As ever, this category is so rich, it would be wrong to say there is a single best book that outshines the others. But I picked Influence by Robert B. Cialdini because it is a profound examination of how we are influenced by business and media, and how to better break free of certain patterns that we tend to fall into without realizing it.

A professor emeritus of psychology, Robert B. Cialdini spent three years working undercover at telemarketing and fund-raising firms to examine the methods they used to convince people to give them money. Cialdini was able to break these down into six principles, which he spends his book Influence describing.

Some of these principles are not so hard to recognize. Reciprocation, for example, describes how we tend to feel obliged to return a favor, even if we don’t want the favor. Think of how many times charities have sent you free gifts in the mail, or how many times a phone or internet company has offered a large discount, or included something free, if you sign up right away.

Other principles are subtler. Linking, for example, involves how we tend to agree with offers from people who we like—be it down to physical attractiveness, thinking the other person is a lot like you, getting compliments from them, working with them to achieve a common goal, or their ability to make you laugh. This principle is employed especially in politics, and most under its effect don’t even realize it.

Influence is a great study of the way Cialdini’s six principles are at play in our everyday lives, and I found his analysis of them particularly helpful to become critical when face-to-face with someone trying to market to me or convince me of something.

Runners up:

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie might sound similar to Influence, except this book focuses more on social skills. It is a great book and I’d even considered it as my top pick for this category—many of the principles taught in this book were the inspiration for the techniques I developed in my interpersonal relationships, as taught in my popular course Mastering Your Conversations. It covers many useful domains, such as how to give criticism, how to show appreciation, the importance of being a good listener, making others feel important, asking good questions, and many more!

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey is another cornerstone book in this category. Covey’s system helps you to ask exactly what tasks are truly important. When I read this book back in 2017, I followed it closely and decided to prioritize less “urgent” things that were important but easy to put off. One such undertaking was to write a course for a new platform called Highbrow. Twenty-one courses later, this has become one of the most important aspects of my work! I can’t understate the power of putting the less urgent but highly important things first, and hope you will find as you read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it may inspire you similarly.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck by Mark Manson is practical and anecdotal, entertaining, and at times profound book based on the core message that, since we only have “so many fucks to give,” we have to be careful what we decide to “give a fuck about.” After reading this book I wrote, in large letters with a marker, “STOP GIVING A FUCK” on my goal board and kept it there for a year. This challenged me daily to get rid of worry-based goals. Put together with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Mark’s approach is a great way to diffuse our tendency to fall for those “urgent” tasks that only have short-term value, rather than learning to ignore them and dive into deep work that will matter more in the long run.

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks is another worthy mention in our category. After spending years of compassionate work on institutionalized patients, Oliver delivered a world-changing account of what psychosis and mental illness really look like. His book is a heart-touching account of a man determined to always find the human being behind even the most outcast of people abandoned by the system and society.

Honorable mentions:

Here are five honorable mentions to round out our list of 10:

Atomic Habits by James Clear, a top-selling and more recent publication summarizing decades of habit research, with numerous case studies.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell, a study of numerous successful people to determine what defines success—and the source of the popular “10,000-hour rule.”

Ikigai by Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia, describing the Japanese philosophy of what defines a long and happy life, based on the Japanese word for “reason for living.”

The ONE Invisible Code by Sharat Sharma, a highly-effective and motivational exploration of not just what it takes to become a success, but how to address the underlying emotional issues often standing in the way.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf, a 1929 classic that opens the door to what human thought and insight looks like.

Stay tuned for tomorrow, when we’ll see what top 10 books await in the next category!


Recommended movie

Oliver Sachs: His Own Life (2019), documentary about Oliver Sachs, starring Oliver Sachs in his final years living with terminal cancer.


Share with friends