At the top floor of Waterstones, I looked over to one man reading a science book, and another scanning the history aisle. Outsiders, known as nonfiction readers. Maybe we were introverts escaping the awkward closeness that happens when two people stare at the same book section in close proximity. This doesn’t occur in nonfiction – there isn’t enough people. Not even the plush leather chairs and Instagram worthy table at my local store can persuade shoppers to ride up the escalators and purchase a factual story. Nonfiction books have taken over my bookshelf and I believe more of us should be buying them.
Why is it important to read nonfiction books?
There are lots of reasons. But the main one involves looking smug when an intellect brags about their knowledge. As a girly-girl – once a makeup artist who likes wearing pink, I’ve dealt with assumptions regarding my intelligence. How I love to watch people’s faces as I describe how our brains make decisions based on confidence surrounding memory and sensory input. Education learnt through reading.
With my nonfiction books, I hold my own. I always have something interesting to say on a date and with friends – me and my sister enjoy deep discussions on what we’ve learnt. Plus, I can create conversation away from discussing celebrities, life problems and work.
According to Blinkist Magazine, reading nonfiction books can make you a better communicator and expand analytical skills. While fiction feeds our imagination, nonfiction adds truthful value in a social media world concocted on fantasy.
Most recommended nonfiction books are popular titles: The Secret, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Milk and Honey, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. I want to share some less talked about, worthy-reads. Here are 3 nonfiction books that will make you smarter:
Please note: I have bought each of these copies. Clicking a book’s Amazon link may give me a small commission at no extra cost to you. For more details, read my disclaimer.
How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain, by Lisa Feldman Barrett
Last year, I was browsing books and came across this title. The blurb’s “When you feel anxious, angry, happy or surprised, what’s really going on inside you?” caught my eye. Written by award-winning neuroscientist (NIH Director’s Pioneer Award for emotion in the brain research) and Professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, Lisa’s breakthrough research questions how scientists understand emotion.
The classical view (as Lisa describes) suggests evolution has hardwired a set of uncontrollable, universal emotions in our brains. From birth, these basic emotions are automatically recognisable. Happiness, anger, sadness, fear etc. This theory teaches humans react the same to particular feelings, and we each recognise how these feelings are expressed.
But Lisa’s research suggests there is no brain region containing a fingerprint for a single emotion. Meaning, there isn’t a region in our brains that naturally sets off a chain reaction to make us all react the same to certain emotions. Instead, Lisa believes in constructed emotions: learnt and constructed in our brains based on past experience.
So, how you react to life – and how you express yourself, is based on upbringing and environment. As you read How Emotions Are Made, you’ll understand how to apply this information and how to ultimately master your thoughts.
In every chapter, you’ll find analogies and examples to help make sense of what you’re reading, and you’ll come across the theories of other experts.
Some favourite things I’ve learn:
- Everything our brain does is based on predictions using our experiences to make judgments. The sensations we feel don’t always reflect what’s happening.
- Our brains predict everything based on childhood. As children, we look to others to learn how we should react and feel to things.
- Smiling became popular in the 18th century when dental work improved. The Romans never use to smile to show happiness. (That’s why there is no Latin word for smile).
- Most people link depression and anxiety together, even though the feelings are entirely different.
There is no doubt this book will make you smarter. It challenges you to rethink how you understand your thoughts, and how much our feelings affect our sight, hearing, actions and decisions. You can’t beat scientific evidence – it’s all good reading about the power of thoughts and staying positive – it’s a different ball game to travel through a professor’s research and get to the nitty gritty. I’m forever telling friends about the incredible knowledge this book has taught me.
The Incurable Romantic and other unsettling revelations by Frank Tallis
I’m often asked: where do I get my blog ideas from? Well, here is one source. This book is for romantics, and by that, I mean anyone who has struggled to get over someone, felt earth-shattering heart-break, and analysed for hours: Why did they do that?
Frank Tallis is an award-winning writer and clinical psychologist who specialises in OCD. His book explores obsessive love, using the stories of past patients as case studies. The blurb summarises as a “candid clinical memoir” which “demonstrates that love dissolves the divide between what we judge to be normal and abnormal”.
Compelling and fascinating – I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed reading the tales of his patients with Frank’s explanations and humour. The book features twelve different stories of people struggling with what we’d define as unhealthy romantic thoughts. From a happily married woman who became convinced her dentist loves her (without any proof), to an elderly woman who keeps seeing her husband (he passed away).
You’ll learn the psychology of love – how it can make us mentally unwell, and psychologically addicted. I covered this on my blog: what makes a relationship healthy, where I used the example of stalking. What separates someone scrolling their crushes social media to someone stalking outside their house?
Disturbingly, you may read some of the stories and realise you relate to the patients. With brilliant descriptive language, “The colour of her hair matched the sky and her expression suggested vacancy”, you’ll uncover the mind of a psychologist (it will feel as though you’re sat beside him) and uncover what makes people tick. Arguably, knowing this makes you smarter.
Life’s A Game So Fix the Odds, by Phillip Hesketh
An Amazon number one best-seller, Life’s A Game is a funny, well-researched book on persuasion and influence. It’s author, Phillip Hesketh, runs a multi-million, UK based advertising agency – clients include Disney and Nestle. Phillip has become a motivational speaker, speaking in more than 20 countries.
Even if you’ve read similar non-fiction books such as How to Win Friends, I recommend giving this a chance. The book covers how to develop profitable relationships, how to get your way more often, why and how we are persuaded, and the overall influence process. Sometimes it’s difficult to read through advice books because you can get weighed-down with suggestions.
Phillip has made his tips straight-forward and simple to follow. I’d define as “easy reading” – lots of bullet-points, numbered steps and case studies. What sets this book apart and makes you continue to read, Phillip’s casual, light-hearted tone of voice. I smiled when Phillip shared how he asked his son if he needed help on his maths homework:
“He said, ‘I’m looking for the lowest common denominator.’
‘Have they not found that yet? They were looking for that when I was your age.’ Which I thought was really funny but he didn’t think it was funny at all.”