Cool Resources

As I left behind my metaphysical beliefs, I was essentially alone and had almost no one to talk to. I turned instead to books, and found some really excellent ones. Here are some of my favorites, by authors who are informed, original, sensitive, inventive, and well-rounded thinkers. And funny doesn’t hurt either.

Categories

Critical Thinking

In many instances, Critical Thinking texts are dry, overly long, or marred by a tendency to treat faith and religion as perfect examples of faulty reasoning. This means that the very people who could most benefit from critical thinking skills are alienated almost as soon as they turn the first page. Here instead are well-written, accessible, and non-shaming books about logic, critical thinking, learning, memory, and the surprising hazards of nostalgia.

Cover of How We Know What Isn't SoHow We Know What Isn’t So

Thomas Gilovich is a Social Psychologist who studies cognition, perception, and the fallibility of human reason. This book is an eye-opener that will help you gently question your own thinking processes. As we learn more about the human tendencies toward confirmation biases (the tendency to trust data that support your beliefs, yet ignore or overanalyze data that do not), regression fallacies (the tendency to expect an upward or downward trend to continue, when the actual movement from either end of the spectrum is usually toward the middle), and other aspects of cognitive biases, we can become better thinkers and better planners. Unlike most critical thinking books, this one doesn’t get mired down in endless arguments or unkind characterizations of people who do not use critical thinking skills. Instead, it helps you utilize the findings of cognitive science in your everyday life. Good on you, Dr. Gilovich!

Cover for Mistakes Were Made, But Not By MeMistakes Were Made (but not by me)

Social psychologists and researchers Carol Tavris and Eliot Aronson present a readable, direct, and often discomfiting explanation of cognitive dissonance – which is the human tendency to hold onto flawed ideas or behaviors even when all of the data suggest that they’re dead wrong. Tavris and Aronson help us understand why we can usually identify cognitive dissonance in others … yet rarely see it in ourselves. This book can help you break out from under the crushing weight of your certainty, understand how to behave when you realize you were wrong, deal responsibly with the discomfort of cognitive dissonance, and learn to laugh at the ways your brain and your memory try to make you the hero of every story. It’s okay to be wrong when you have the skills you need to make amends and watch your behavior more intelligently in the future! But make no mistake, it is a skill that must be learned.

Cover for Predictably IrrationalPredictably Irrational

Dan Ariely is a behavioral economist: a new type of economist who doesn’t hold to the idea that humans are rational actors who always make decisions in their best interest. In fact, Ariely has found that humans are quite irrational, even predictably so, and that we often work against our best interests financially, politically, interpersonally, and in matters that affect our health and well-being. If you own a brain, you should also own this book, because Ariely helps you laugh at your many human foibles as he teaches you to become a little more rational about things that really matter.

Cover of Descartes' ErrorDescartes’ Error

Antonio Damasio is a neuroscientist who, in this essential and celebrated book, helps us begin to understand that emotion and reason are not opposites; rather, they work together to create human intelligence. When the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes proclaimed cogito, ergo sum, (I think, therefore I am) he helped create a hierarchy within the human psyche, where reason and logic allegedly trump emotion. However, Descartes and his followers didn’t understand that emotion and logic aren’t situated at opposite poles in the brain, nor in any part of our lives. Thinking does not occur without emotion, and in many cases, emotion does not occur without thought. Damasio’s book helps us reorganize our thinking about emotion and bring it out of the shadow of human reason!

Cover of On Being CertainOn Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not

Dr. Robert Burton is a Yale-trained neurologist who writes about how we know what we know (or what we think we know) and how decisions and the feeling of certainty arise in our brains. The surprise is that certainty doesn’t relate to facts as much as it relates to our need (or tendency) to feel certain! For me, this book was deeply important, because it helped me understand that certainty isn’t a state to aim for, but instead one to question very, very carefully.

Cover of Context is EverythingContext is Everything: The Nature of Memory

Susan Engel has written a startlingly clear and poetic book on how memory works – and how it doesn’t. Engel weaves vital discoveries in cognitive science throughout stories that help us understand how and why our memories are factually unreliable. One of the central functions of memory, it turns out, is not to make perfect recordings of events. Instead, memory is similar to imagination, and it tends to create narratives in which we are the central actors, and in which our current beliefs, emotions, and worldviews are continually confirmed. Memory is one of the ways that our brains maintain the illusion of an unbroken narrative of the self. This book is a marvel, and it will help you gain metacognitive skills, where you can think about thinking, and remember remembering in brilliant new ways.

Cover of Obedience to AuthorityObedience to Authority

Stanley Milgram was a Yale researcher who wondered just how far people would go if an authority figure asked them to apply shocks to another person in the context of a research study. His findings astonished him, and this study is arguably (and deservedly) one of the most famous social science experiments ever performed. As it turns out, mindless obedience to authority can transform normal people into amoral cogs in an abusive machine. This slender book is accessible, compelling, and essential. It will teach you to approach authority – especially your own – with ethics and discernment.

Cover of The Lucifer EffectThe Lucifer Effect

Philip Zimbardo is a Stanford social psychologist who created the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment in the 1970s, in which a group of students agreed to play the roles of prisoners and guards for two weeks, but soon became quite unhinged. The experiment had to be shut down before a week had passed because a subset of the guards became authoritarian and brutal. Though there is still a great deal of controversy about what can be gleaned from this study, it, like Milgram’s study (above), suggests that social structure and social roles play a far larger part in our behavior than most of us would like to accept. Yet as we’ve all experienced, people’s roles in bureaucracies or hierarchies can change them in very unfortunate ways. Zimbardo revisits this study after watching coverage on the mindless brutality at Abu Ghraib, and his discussion is as interesting as it is controversial.

Cover of Bounded ChoiceBounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults

Dr. Janja Lalich is a sociologist who is now pretty much the go-to academic for information on cults and other extremist (or high control) groups. This book is a remarkable study that challenges nearly every assumption made about cults and their leaders. Through her “bounded choice” framework, Lalich shows that cult members are not strange, nor psychologically impaired (at least when they enter the cult), nor even moderately less intelligent than anyone else. In fact, Lalich’s revolutionary approach helps readers understand that intelligence, curiosity, idealism, commitment, and heightened political and social awareness may indeed be prerequisites for cult membership. One of the most fascinating surprises among the book’s continual surprises is that cults are formed – not through trickery, sleep deprivation, brutality, or mind-control, but through dedicated relationships and conscious agreements between members and leaders. If you are or were part of a cult (I was), fundamentalist religion, high-commitment political or spiritual movement, or other high-control group, or you know anyone who is, this book is a must-read.

Cover of How to Lie with StatisticsHow to Lie with Statistics

Darrell Huff’s classic little book is more than half a century old, but it’s as useful today as it was the day it was written. Statistics is still a poorly understood area of mathematics – and more’s the pity. If you can’t understand the statistics of chance, sampling, averages, and correlation, you can easily be fooled into buying, or supporting, or believing something that has no actual reliability. In order to become a better thinker, consumer, and person, you don’t have to go your local community college and take a statistics class (though it’s a good idea!), but you should at the very least read this funny little book.

Cover of How to Think About StatisticsHow to Think about Statistics

John Phillips’ book is more detailed than Darrell Huff’s simple statistics book, above. However, it is readable and accessible, even for math-phobic people. This book takes you into the math symbols you’re likely to see when statistics are used. It helps you learn to decipher (and debunk!) graphs, polls, surveys, economic indicators, research findings, and advertising claims. This is an excellent book for people who haven’t taken statistics, but it’s also a good refresher for people who have. Nicely done!

Emotions and The Social World

Neuroscientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, and social scientists are uncovering startling and often hidden truths about emotions, socialization, and human acculturation. These are excellent, sterling, and life-changing books about emotions, authority, memory, certainty, the social world, and how we can all become much smarter about this human thing we’ve got going here.

Cover of Descartes' Error Descartes’ Error

Antonio Damasio is a neuroscientist who, in this deservedly famous book, helps us begin to understand that emotion and reason are not opposites; rather, they work together to create human intelligence. When the philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes proclaimed Cogito, ergo sum, (I think, therefore I am) he helped create a hierarchy within the human psyche, where reason and logic allegedly trump emotion. However, Descartes and his followers didn’t understand that emotion and logic aren’t situated at opposite poles in the brain, nor in the psyche. Thinking does not occur without emotion, and in many cases, emotion does not occur without thought. Damasio’s book helps us reorganize our thinking about emotion and bring it out of the shadow of human reason!

Cover of Emotion Emotion: The Science of Sentiment

Dylan Evans is a British research fellow in philosophy and evolutionary psychology, and this slim volume is a lovely series of essays, research findings, and ponderings about the vital role of emotions in human behavior, moral development, and socialization. Evans is one of the new breed of science writers who invites us into the adventure of research and helps us develop the most important tools of scientific inquiry: an open, questing, humorous, and inquisitive nature. Delightful and important reading.

Cover of Happiness Happiness: The Science behind Your Smile

Daniel Nettle is a British researcher with degrees in psychology and anthropology, and this book is a slender and readable study of a humorous fact: When it comes to knowing what will make us happy (or unhappy), we humans are absolutely terrible at predicting the future. We think that a disaster will destroy us, but when one arrives, we tend to adapt fairly well. We think that more money, or fame, or power will make us happy, but research shows that there is almost no correlation between those acquisitions and increased happiness. This book is a good read on its own merits, but if you take its message seriously, you can simplify your life and focus on things that do correlate to happiness: love, connections, community, meaningful work, and dark chocolate. Hah!

The Gift of Fear

The Gift of Fear

Gavin de Becker is a security expert who tells us how to work with our innate intuition — our fear — so that we can detect and avoid violence. This book is a wonderful handbook for people who have survived violence, or for people who are filled with anxiety; to both, de Becker offers concrete information about how to detect danger and keep ourselves safe. One of the most important things, writes de Becker, is to avoid TV news as if it were the plague, since it fills people with fears and anxieties that have nothing to do with their real lives, and confuses them about the true hazards they need to be aware of. This book is a must-read for everyone.

The Managed Heart

The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling

Sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s deservedly famous book gave us the concept of emotion work. Emotion work is our ability to manage, conceal, inflate, or studiously ignore our own emotions (and the emotions of others). It’s an integral part of what we bring to the workplace, yet it’s rarely spelled out in any job description. This is very unfortunate, because the workplace (and interpersonal relationships) require all of us to be extremely skilled at emotion work, or it simply cannot function. This book is fascinating, eye-opening, and necessary. A modern classic.

Cover of Obedience to Authority Obedience to Authority

Stanley Milgram was a Yale researcher who wondered just how far people would go if an authority figure asked them to apply shocks to another person in the context of a research study. His findings astonished him, and this study is arguably (and deservedly) one of the most famous social science experiments ever performed. As it turns out, mindless obedience to authority can transform normal people into amoral cogs in an abusive machine. This slender book is accessible, compelling, and essential. It will teach you to approach authority – especially your own – with ethics and discernment.

Cover of The Lucifer Effect The Lucifer Effect

Philip Zimbardo is a Stanford social psychologist who created the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment from the 1970s, where a group of students agreed to play the roles of prisoners and guards for two weeks, but soon became quite unhinged. The experiment had to be shut down before a week had passed because a subset of the guards became authoritarian and brutal. Though there is still a great deal of controversy about what can be gleaned from this study, it, like Milgram’s study (above), suggests that social structure and social roles play a far larger part in our behavior than most of us would like to accept. Yet as we’ve all experienced, people’s roles in bureaucracies or hierarchies can change them in very unfortunate ways. Zimbardo revisits this study after watching coverage on the mindless brutality at Abu Ghraib, and his discussion is as interesting as it is controversial.

Cover of Family: The Making of an Idea Family: The Making of an Idea, an Institution, and a Controversy

Betty Farrell is a sociology professor who presents an insightful and eye-opening history of the concept of family in American culture. When politicians, activists, and the media trumpet the concept of “family values,” they are actually engaging in a collective fantasy that has almost no connection to the reality of what families ever were, are, or will be. This short, concise, and very readable book highlights the dangers of relying on nostalgia to support any argument – or to set any kind of policy!

The Brain

Neuroscientists, linguists, and social scientists have discovered (and continue to discover) surprising facts about how the brain perceives, misperceives, and even makes up the world it encounters. Learn more about your own brain with these essential, fascinating, and surprising books on the brain, cognition, learning, memory, body maps, and the limits of human reason.

SuperSense

SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable

If you lost your wedding ring, and I offered to replace it with an exact and shiny new duplicate, would you accept it — or would your previous ring carry ineffable traces of history and meaning? If you were cold, would you wear a clean and attractive sweater if it was once worn by Jeffrey Dahmer — or would human evil cling to it, and rub off on you? Professor Bruce Hood studies how and why we believe in superstitions and the supernatural, and his approach is totally refreshing! Instead of treating these beliefs as ridiculous, Professor Hood does surprising research on and about them, and helps us understand what our brains are doing when they imagine that (for instance) wedding rings or sweaters carry memories or human essences inside them. The paperback version is called The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs. This is a wonderful book full of useful, surprising, strange, and delightful findings from an excellent writer and scientist!

Cover of Phantoms in the Brain Phantoms in the Brain

V.I. Ramachandran is a neuroscientist who is famous, among other things, for discovering how to trick the brain out of creating phantom limbs after amputation. This book is just a treasure trove of insights into the ways the brain continually misperceives and even fabricates the world around it. Using examples from normal and damaged brains, Ramachandran demonstrates the many functions and malfunctions of perception and cognition. If you have a very fluid imagination that lends itself to visions, psychic experiences, or extrasensory perceptions, this book is a must-read. You may be experiencing a particularly fascinating – and very human – set of perceptual distortions!

Cover of The Body Has a Mind of Its Own The Body Has a Mind of its Own

Sandra and Matthew Blakeslee are science writers who can make even the most complex topics riveting. In this book on the emerging science of body maps and our proprioceptive senses, we learn about the ways our brains create maps of our bodies, our environment, our tools, our cars, the bodies of people we observe, and even our video game avatars! The incredible flexibility of these maps, and the ways in which they create our sense of self and not-self, are helping neuroscientists and psychologists discover amazing new things about human and primate behavior. Each chapter will give you something to wonder at, and the book will open your mind about your mind, your brain, your skills, your sense of self, and your relationships to things and people in your environment. Excellent!

Cover of Animals in Translation Animals in Translation

Temple Grandin has a doctorate in animal science and is celebrated for her humane revolutionizing of the treatment of animals in meat production facilities. She is also autistic, and credits her special understanding of animals to her own ability to see the world in non-typical ways. This book presents a fascinating, animal’s-eye view of the world, and is continually a surprise. If you own animals, love them, or simply want to understand more about the brain, cognition, and psychology, this book will delight you and increase your ability to understand animals, humans, the brain, and the world around you.

Cover of Why We Believe Why We Believe What We Believe

Andrew Newberg is a professor of Radiology and Psychiatry who has studied the brain scans of people as they pray, meditate, and speak in tongues. This book is a challenging journey into the cognitive distortions and perceptions that help our brains construct their own version of reality. In one of the final chapters, after explaining perceptual distortions, cultural precursors to belief, the placebo effect, and neurobiological research on consciousness, Newberg writes about: “An important dimension of the human spirit that is sometimes overlooked by science: our brain does not need absolute proof about anything. Instead, it seeks solutions for problems in a variety of creative ways. And this is an important point to keep in mind when we examine our deepest beliefs; they don’t necessarily have to be accurate; they only have to help us survive.” Fascinating and essential reading.

Cover of Context is Everything Context is Everything: The Nature of Memory

Susan Engel has written a startlingly clear and poetic book on how memory works – and how it doesn’t. Engel weaves vital discoveries in cognitive science throughout stories that help us understand how and why our memories are factually unreliable. One of the central functions of memory, it turns out, is not to make perfect recordings of events. Instead, memory is similar to imagination, and it tends to create narratives in which we are the central actors, and in which our current beliefs, emotions, and worldviews are continually confirmed. Memory is one of the ways that our brains maintain the illusion of an unbroken narrative of the self. This book is a marvel, and it will help you gain metacognitive skills, where you can think about thinking, and remember remembering in brilliant new ways.

Cover of The Meme Machine The Meme Machine

Susan Blackmore picked up one of the threads in Richard Dawkins’ book, The Selfish Gene. In that book, Dawkins coined the term “meme” to refer to a piece of information that copies itself in much the same way genes do. For instance, the meme “Don’t eat with your mouth open” is copied faithfully from generation to generation. Not much controversy there. But the idea of memes frightens and discomfits many people, who don’t want to see themselves as uncomprehending carriers for the selfish memes! Yet memes do exist, and advertising in particular relies upon their power. This book will help you think about the memes you pick up, copy, transmit, or refuse, and it will help you think about the more difficult question: Do you have a choice about carrying memes, and who are you with, and without them?

Adventures in Science

Science is often felt to be out of reach for many of us, and the prospect of attaining a science education can seem daunting. However, these books, written by scientists and researchers, present compelling, humorous, challenging, and exciting stories about science, research, mathematics, and new discoveries. Join the adventure!

Your Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish

Neal Shubin is a fish paleontologist who, by a quirk of fate and university budgeting, found himself teaching Human Anatomy to pre-med students. He quickly discovered a wonderful way to teach human anatomy: Show students where each of the structures in humans first arose (for instance, in fish, sharks, and lizards), and how those structures evolved (sometimes with complex grace, as in the human ear, and sometimes a bit clumsily, as in the evolutionary domino effect that predisposes human males to hernias) into today’s human forms. Shubin is also the co-discoverer of the 375-million-year-old fossil of Tiktaalik, the flat-headed fish with a neck, elbows, and wrists who is a probable link between fish and our first land-dwelling ancestors. Shubin’s is a wonderful story, compellingly told … and after you read this book, you’ll never look at your own body in the same way again!

Cover of Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion Faith, Madness, and Spontaneous Human Combustion

Dr. Gerald Callahan is an immunologist with a poet’s flair for writing. These essays on how the immune system maintains our perception of ourselves, how spontaneous combustion might be possible, and a history of the largest and oldest living organism on Earth (you’ll be surprised to find out what this is) make learning about the immune system a complete joy. Dr. Callahan also has a very surprising hypothesis about the possible role your immune system may play in any experience of ghosts or apparitions. This is not just science writing; it’s poetry, it’s art, and it’s totally useful knowledge that’s also mind expanding. Thank you, Dr. Callahan!

Bonk

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex

Mary Roach is a silly, loopy, funny science writer. She chooses strange topics, and then finds unusual ways to write about them. In this book about sex, her research includes watching a penile implant in Taiwan, traveling to see a sow insemination in Denmark, and volunteering herself and her husband as sex research subjects. Roach uses a lot of humor, puns, and asides, and her notes section in the back of the book is not to be missed. Mary Roach is not a serious, ponderous science writer; she actually makes the whole endeavor fun, silly, and very sideways. Kind of like the real scientists I know. Refreshing!

Cover of The Cuckoo's Egg The Cuckoo’s Egg

A science education beyond high school is usually available only to a select elite, which means that many of us miss out on the rollicking adventures of a life in science. Join the offbeat and readable Cliff Stoll, an astronomer who learns to use computers to track a hacker he discovers by accident. This is a wonderful book that keeps you on the edge of your seat and makes you laugh – all while you get smarter about computers, security, and the Internet. A classic.

Cover of The Mummy Congress The Mummy Congress

Heather Pringle is a science journalist who met a group of mummy experts in Chile and was so unexpectedly riveted by their work that she spent a year traveling from one mummy conference to the next – all over the globe. Pringle writes a rollicking and delightful natural history about a group of scientists you probably didn’t know existed! This book is an adventurous and invigorating look at human mummification rituals all over the world (it wasn’t just Egyptians who created mummies) and the fascinating group of scientists who study them. A hoot.

Cover of Animals in Translation Animals in Translation

Temple Grandin has a doctorate in animal science and is celebrated for her humane revolutionizing of the treatment of animals in meat production facilities. She is also autistic, and credits her special understanding of animals to her own ability to see the world in non-typical ways. This book presents a fascinating, animal’s-eye view of the world, and is continually a surprise. If you own animals, love them, or simply want to understand more about the brain, cognition, and psychology, this book will delight you and increase your ability to understand animals, humans, the brain, and the world around you.

Cover of The Man Who Loved Only Numbers The Man who Loved Only Numbers

Paul Hoffman writes about the international cadre of patient and loving mathematicians who worked with, housed, and cared for the world-renowned mathematician Paul Erdös. Erdös (pronounced Air-dish) was a Hungarian math genius who had no home, no wife or children, and only two suitcases, which he schlepped between the homes of mathematicians all over the globe. Erdös published over 1,500 papers with numerous mathematicians, each of whom now has the honored “Erdös number” of 1. This is an engaging, fascinating, and wistful book about the often unusual lives of brilliant people.

Cover of The Promise of Sleep The Promise of Sleep

Dr. William Dement is one of the pioneers of sleep science, and the founder and director of the Stanford University Sleep Research Center. Besides providing excellent, cutting edge information on the importance of sleep, this book chronicles the beginnings of sleep science by one of the very people who was present at its inception. For instance, in early sleep studies, it was hard to get clearance for women to sleep over in the labs with male sleep techs … so a lot of the early research was done on Dr. Dement’s wife! Dr. Dement is also the discoverer of REM sleep, and he tells wonderful, self-effacing stories about his pioneering research. Plus, you get excellent information on how to improve your own sleep architecture (that’s a cool phrase you’ll learn in the book). Researchers are finding that sleep is irreplaceably important to every system in the body – so learn about it and go get some!

Doubt & Apostasy

Doubt is often characterized as a negative trait, but without doubt and questioning, we cannot think or live well. Listed below are reasoned, thoughtful, and worthy books about the long and respectable tradition of doubt, apostasy, religious questioning, and transitions away from faith communities and ideological positions.

Cover of Doubt: A History Doubt: A History

Jennifer Michael Hecht chronicles the history of doubt in this well-researched and well-written book. In it, we learn that doubt has always been a key component in bringing about necessary changes in religious traditions. If you are currently doubting the authority of religious or spiritual belief systems, don’t let enraged reactionaries frame your experience of honest, reasoned, and ethical doubt. Attack and argumentation are not your only option! This book will help you understand the venerable intellectual history of doubt so that you can take your place among the great thinkers and philosophers of the world.

Cover of After God After God: The Future of Religion

Don Cupitt puts forth a fascinating hypothesis about the connection between religion and language. Cupitt’s idea is that our sense of the other world, gods, and spirits is a direct function of the development of language in the human brain. He respectfully and engagingly correlates the evolution of linguistic complexity and human habitation patterns with historically documented shifts in our many evolving conceptualizations of gods and God. This slender book is very intriguing reading for anyone interested in the evolution of religion, or in how we might repurpose and redeem the human longing for the divine (rather than throwing it out completely). Very compelling and thought-provoking ideas.

Cover of Demon-Haunted World The Demon-Haunted World

Carl Sagan is one of the few writers in the skeptical/atheist community who treats people of faith with respect. In this deservedly famous book, Sagan uses his celebrated ability to illuminate and explain science to help readers become more aware of the laws of the natural world. This book will help you understand the errors in observation that can lead to a mistaken certainty about the existence of the paranormal or the metaphysical. But it will also help you understand and respect the absolute wonders we can discover through science.

Cover of Amazing Conversions Amazing Conversions

Bob Altmeyer and Bruce Hunsberger are Canadian psychologists and researchers who studied faith, conversions, and apostasy in a group of 4,000 Canadian university students. What they found (in this group and in other studies) is that most people maintain the religious identity (or lack of religious identity) of their childhood, and that conversion and apostasy are actually quite rare. Rather than ignoring the rare cases, Altmeyer and Hunsberger study the outliers who abandon faith, or convert to faith after childhood. If you are one of these rare cases, this book will help you better understand yourself, faith, apostasy, conversion, and the search for meaning.

Cover of Religion Explained Religion Explained

Pascal Boyer approaches religion as a natural phenomenon, and examines the evolution of religion through the lenses of anthropology, evolutionary biology, and cognitive psychology. This far-ranging and readable book draws aside the heavy curtains surrounding religious thought and asks questions about all aspects of religious behavior, belief, and tradition. One by one, Boyer carefully examines and refutes each of the social or moralistic arguments for why religion exists, and arrives at a most interesting conclusion (I won’t spoil it for you!). Boyer’s Further Readings section at the back of the book is also filled with numerous books that can lead you in fabulous new directions.

Cover of Bounded Choice Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults

Dr. Janja Lalich is a sociologist and renowned expert on cults and other extremist (or high control) groups. This book is a remarkable study that challenges nearly every assumption made about cults and their leaders. Through her “bounded choice” framework, Lalich shows that cult members are not strange, nor psychologically impaired (at least when they enter the cult), nor even moderately less intelligent than anyone else. In fact, Lalich’s revolutionary approach helps readers understand that intelligence, curiosity, idealism, commitment, and heightened political and social awareness may indeed be prerequisites for cult membership. One of the most fascinating surprises among the book’s continual surprises is that cults are formed – not through trickery, sleep deprivation, brutality, or mind-control, but through dedicated relationships and conscious agreements between members and leaders. If you are or were part of a cult (I was), fundamentalist religion, high-commitment political or spiritual movement, or other high-control group, or you know anyone who is, this book is a must-read.

Cover of Take Back Your Life Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships

Dr. Lalich (see above) was asked to totally revise this acclaimed cult-recovery book during a particularly heavy teaching semester (at my university). Luckily, I was able to jump in and help edit so that she could get this book finished on schedule. If you are or were part of a cult (I was), abusive relationship (I was), fundamentalist religion, high-commitment political or spiritual movement, or other high-control group, this book is a must-read. Dr. Lalich covers all aspects of recovery, from leaving the group to choosing support people and therapists, to protecting yourself from being harmed, and to learning how to rebuild your life as a free person. Dr. Lalich was herself a cult member (in a high-control Marxist political collective), and she knows the terrain. Janja is a beautiful example of a soul warrior: Someone who has been to hell and back, and then dedicates her life to making the world less hellish for everyone else. Brava Janja!

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