1. "Stumbling on Happiness" by Daniel Gilbert
This important book is one of my all-time favorites. Gilbert, a Harvard psychology professor, explores modern research on how people think and get by in this world. The book is dense in studies on how we all think, feel, and function---and they explode a lot of myths. As Gilbert's subject matter bears on self-understanding and thinking, this book has indirect relevance to the enterprise of education, and is a great read. Moreover, it provides a broad and useful framework for understanding of how we find happiness, and deal with the setbacks and frustrations of daily life. An understanding of these things is crucial for education.
2. "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman
Kahneman's insightful book, copyrighted in 2011, is another look at new research on how humans think and feel, and how our brains function as we engage in daily activities. It's fascinating, and has many parallels with the works of Gladwell and Gilbert ("Blink," and "Stumbling on Happiness"), both of whom are mentioned in this book. Kahneman's premise is that there are two systems of thought, one that reacts quickly, automatically and intuitively and another that moves slowly and logically. He discusses how these two interact, and the ways that each system both benefits us and leads us astray, as we go about the business of making judgments and decisions in our lives.
3. "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" by Malcom Gladwell
This book seemed immediately to be an instant classic and a must-read for anyone interested in understanding how people think. Gladwell has a likeable, easy-going tone and manner (in interviews as well as in writing!), yet he doesn't shy away from controversial subjects. The back cover of the paperback version says this book draws on "cutting-edge neuroscience and psychology to reveal that the difference between good decision-making and bad has less to do with how much information we process than with our ability to focus on a few, particular details. Gladwell shows how we all can become better decision makers---in our homes, in our offices, and in everyday life."
4. "Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores The hidden Side of Everything" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
On the front cover of this book, there is a quote from Gladwell: "Be prepared to be dazzled." I felt that the key message of this book was that life operates on incentives---people do the things they are motivated to do so they achieve ends they desire. That doesn't mean that people look out only for themselves, as it is enriching thus personally desirable, to help others, for example. But we do spend our energy mostly doing things that advance our goals and ends.
The remarkable (dazzling is not exaggeration) thing about this book is the range of oddball subjects to which the authors turn their attention and the sometimes startling results their analyses yield. For example, there is a chapter on the economics of drug dealing, titled, "Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms?" Drawing on the work of Sudhir Venkatesh, a grad student in sociology at the U of Chicago, the authors look at the economics of drug dealing with stunning results. (Venkatesh further fleshes these matters out in his sometimes hilarious and always poignant book, "Gang Leader For a Day" describing how this academic hung out for years with a hard-core gang and was put in charge as an experiment one day.) Other questions examined are why crime rates decline in some eras, how hard real estate agents work to sell your house versus how hard they work to sell their own, etc.