To enhance oneself, become a better individual, and gain a deeper understanding of certain matters, not only about oneself but also about others and one’s society, the recommended books are generally those focused on personal development. Personal development books provide constant guidance on what and how to do things and how to direct what you hear, essentially repeating what you already know. They offer superficial, baseless recommendations like “be happy” without offering anything substantial. In fact, most of them don’t offer any accurate suggestions at all.
Personally, I don’t believe they enable true personal growth. At least, I will continue to hold this belief until I come across a different book.
If you genuinely want to develop yourself, understand yourself, and become a better person, and if you are truly ready for it, I will recommend three books. However, these books are not personal development books; they are psychology and sociology books. Through these three books, you will gain a much better understanding of your surroundings, your society, the group you belong to, and the environment you live in. You will know and comprehend them, their decision-making processes, and the factors influencing their decisions. Moreover, in doing so, you will actually question yourself and may even have to confront yourself.
I know this sounds quite ambitious, but these three books are ambitious in their own right. They are not thought-based like personal development books; instead, they contain information grounded in research and experiments. So let’s take a closer look at them one by one.
Dan Ariely – Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions
Dan Ariely is a psychology professor and behavioral economist who holds the prestigious title of James B. Duke Professor, awarded to accomplished professors at Duke University. Through his profession, Ariely conducts research and experiments on society, yielding remarkable insights. However, Ariely doesn’t simply present his findings as “look, here are the results” but rather claims, in a confident manner, that it is actually easy to influence and manipulate human beings, and he provides evidence to support this claim. He asserts that our actions are predictable under certain conditions and, because they can be predicted, they can also be directed. The book, encompassing social, sexual, and economic research, truly offers some extraordinary outcomes.
For example, Dan Ariely conducts research on the power of “free” and argues that people are attracted to free items regardless of quality. They set up a stand on the street where they give away two different chocolates: one of low quality and relatively unknown, and the other of higher quality and well-known brand. When people see that they are free, they mostly opt for higher quality and branded chocolate. In the second phase of the experiment, they set up the stand again and offered the unknown chocolate for free while selling the branded chocolate for a few cents, an amount that wouldn’t bother anyone. Those who chose the branded chocolate when it was free now prefer to take the unknown chocolate. They don’t want to pay 5 cents for the higher quality chocolate, and those who do are very few. Ariely attempts to prove, and indeed does prove, that “free” is often more potent than quality by presenting other examples related to the concept of “free.”
In another experiment, Ariely presents two different beers to customers in a bar. One beer is a classic brew, while the other has an additional sauce added to it. Ariely claims, before conducting the experiment, that people will not be inclined to try tastes outside their accustomed preferences and will make a decision without trying it. And indeed, that’s what happens. Although the taste of the beer with the sauce hasn’t actually changed, customers prefer the plain beer. The Always. Ariely repeats the experiment, but this time, he doesn’t mention the presence of sauce when presenting the beer. What happens then? Naturally, nobody notices anything, and some even express their strong liking for the beer. Ariely also explains this phenomenon using examples from the world of art. If you describe a fake painting as an original to someone, the comments you receive will be significantly different from those you would receive if you described it as fake.
Ariely discusses numerous different experiments in the book, revealing that people have a limited understanding of economics, are attracted to freebies, can perceive even a relative as appealing when engulfed in sexual chemicals, tend to be resistant to novelty, and often act without thinking. He presents all these experiments along with their processes. He succeeds in demonstrating, time and again, how to deceive people and how predictable they are.
Why should you read it: Dan Ariely subtly conveys to us a topic I will address in the next book. We are beings who make decisions without even realizing it. We think we are aware, but we are not. As P.T. Barnum said, we are individuals waiting to be deceived. When you read Ariely’s accounts, you will better comprehend how easily you have been tricked and how institutions or organizations around you manipulate you. While reading the book, you will review your daily actions and choices, and most likely, you will realize that you are one of the individuals who participated in the experiments described in the book.
Şafak Altun – Ferrari’yi Çalan Fil
In his book “Predictably Irrational,” Dan Ariely conducts deliberate experiments to understand how to manipulate people. On the other hand, Şafak Altun openly states that you are being manipulated, emphasizing that your decisions are not your own, and meticulously summarizes the psychology and situations you could find yourself in. The author attempts to explain various psychological conditions with examples in his book, some of which you may have never even heard of.
This book, which examines the moments when you can experience different psychological states, how you can make decisions, and even why you don’t make decisions, will undoubtedly – and here I am confident – expand your mind. You will learn that every unnameable situation actually has a name and that there are psychological dynamics at play when you unknowingly make decisions. Unfortunately, the book does not reveal the secret of life to you. In fact, we can say that it doesn’t even discuss anything positive. The author himself admits this within the book.
While Dan Ariely knows how to deceive societies, Şafak Altun explains why you are deceived. Similarly, the book focuses more on collective thinking rather than individual thinking. It explains the psychological states in which societies, masses, and populations find themselves and the basis for their decision-making.
To give an example, one of the most intriguing sections in the book for me was the foundation of the psychology of clinging tightly to a lie, called the Backfire Effect. According to research, if people blindly believe in something, even if you show them the truth, they will reject it and, this part is crucial, “hold on even tighter” to their falsehood.
To give another example, the undeniable power of television is discussed. Television, which played a crucial role in the capture of the infamous Night Stalker, possesses the ability to seduce an individual. In a reality program where guests are invited and eventually, the killer is identified, a person, and this is a real-life example, foolishly confesses in front of everyone that he is the killer, contradicting the statement he had given at the police station. According to the author, this is entirely the power of television, and it demonstrates how the desire for fame can lead to the most astonishing confessions.
Why should you read it: Like Dan Ariely, Şafak Altun also tells you that your choices and decisions are problematic, that you are being influenced, and that you are susceptible to manipulation. While Ariely personally experiences these through experiments, Şafak Altun lists all the effects and influences that can affect you, even mentioning situations you may have never heard of. I recommend reading the book, especially to understand society and examine the psychology behind their actions. Likewise, by realizing which effects are influencing you and questioning which ones have an impact on you, you can engage in introspection. By exploring various economic and sociological effects, you can scrutinize your decisions and come closer to understanding the concept of free will.
Gustave Le Bon – The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
While the first two books primarily focus on societies, they also touch upon personal data. They aim to illustrate how easily influenced individuals can be. However, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind is not an individualistic book; it is entirely directed toward society and the masses. In fact, the author, Gustave Le Bon, emphasizes this point abundantly throughout the book. The underlying message is quite simple: it explores how, with the support of crowds and societies, you can engage in actions that you would never dare to do alone at home. It is disheartening, yet disturbingly relevant, that this book, written by Le Bon in 1895, still holds significant validity in today’s world, revealing the stark reality that humanity has not progressed as much as one would hope. Moreover, among the three books, this particular one carries the most serious and harsh commentary.
In the first two books, we strive to understand whether our decisions genuinely belong to us. However, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind reveals how our decision-making mechanisms undergo a 180-degree transformation when we become part of a crowd. It asserts that you can engage in actions within a crowd that you would never undertake when sitting alone at home, and you can find the courage to do so. Le Bon suggests that your individual existence may hold little value, and you may not perceive yourself as intelligent, but once you become part of a collective, you become neutralized and conform to the group. Even a seemingly harmless person can turn into a vandal within a crowd. The most striking examples of this can be observed in ideological masses, sports fans, and political formations.
In today’s world, especially with the unifying power of social media, Gustave Le Bon’s warnings have started to come to light. In the past, people would sit at home and merely imagine wild thoughts that crossed their minds. Now, with just a few clicks on your phone, you can reach hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded individuals, organize with them, and engage in actions that you never even thought possible, fueled by the energy you receive from them.
And once again, as Gustave Le Bon also mentions, being part of a crowd brings individuals a sense of confidence and happiness. Flat Earthers, political Islamists, Illuminati believers, and many other groups may continue to embrace extremism despite doubting the realism of their beliefs and the purpose of their existence, simply due to the confidence derived from being part of a crowd. Perhaps one of the most compelling examples in recent years is the events that took place in the United States on January 6th. Driven by the power of collectivism, many individuals found themselves embarking on an adventure they would regret for a lifetime.
Why should you read it: there is a simple reason. Due to the modern world, we constantly encounter crowds, and within these crowds, our actions can occur unconsciously. To better understand yourself and determine whether the group you’re entering is dangerous or not, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind is an essential read. It is also a successful book for observing from an outsider’s perspective. You can learn about the potential of crowds, how they operate, and how they can be influenced from economic, temporal, religious, and various other angles.