Non-Biz Books to Help You Think More Clearly in a Crisis

Reading off topic booksIn stressful circumstances the brain works in wonky ways. In fact, those who are most likely to survive in the wilderness are not the ones with the proper tools and training, but the people who are able to control their state-of-mind.

In Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, author Laurence Gonzales shows in case after case evidence that mental fortitude makes the difference between life or death; between surviving or thriving. The parallels to investing -- especially in volatile markets -- are striking, not only in Gonzales's book, but other not-about-investing-but-still-applicable books about the inner workings of our brains.

Here are nine other reads will help you work through the tricks your mind plays on you in stressful situations (couldn't come at a better time, eh?) and show you how to overcome them. Not only will they make you a better investor, but they'll also help you learn to make smarter decisions in other parts of your life.

1. How the Mind Works

For those of us without doctorate degrees, this is a great read on the progress of modern brain science. Steven Pinker argues that how our minds work is best understood as part evolution, part computer-program, illustrating his lessons with phenomena ranging from the correlation of height to salary to optical illusions. Understanding how our brains work helps us understand how we make decisions -- and allows us to improve the shortcomings of that process.

2. Synectics: The Development of Creative Capacity

Published in the '60s amid "exciting new research" about what spurs creativity, this book is just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago. Author William Gordon makes a compelling argument that creativity is boosted dramatically when people understand the psychological process behind that creativity, and he explores factors that contribute to creativity in individuals and groups.

3. Innumeracy

Author John Allen Paulos sets about trying to close what he considers an appalling gap between the numerical dependency of our society (think science and computers, for starters) and the mathematical illiteracy of its citizens. Investing is by no means all about the numbers, but just as you should learn French before trying to read L'Étranger in the original, you should make sure you understand the intricacies of the numerical lexicon before entering the market.

4. No Two Alike: Human Nature and Individuality

Where do our personalities come from? Judith Harris dispels a number of theories, including one of general differences in "environment." She offers her own theory, laced with scientific research, arguing that we are a function of what she calls our "systems" of relationships, socialization, and status. For anybody curious about why they are the way they are, this book is tremendously thought-provoking.


5. The Selfish Gene

The Selfish Gene does not reject common evolutionary ideas but rather builds on them. Richard Dawkins takes a fresh look at natural selection and argues that a world defined by selfishness is not necessarily a world only of ferocious competition, deception, and exploitation, but also one of altruism and progress. Written for the public and not just for disciples of Darwin, this is book offer insights into the forces that shape our world -- and that certainly encompasses investors.

6. Drive

Common knowledge about what motivates us is wrong. Drawing from a mix of psychology, economics, and sociology research, Daniel Pink debunks the logic behind carrot-and-stick incentives and argues that once basic survival needs are met, we are motivated primarily by a desire to develop and the prospect of mastery. Whether you want to make sure your own motivations are aligned or are trying to motivate someone else, Drive is a must-read.

7. The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making

How do we reach decisions? More importantly, are we any good at making decisions? This book takes on these questions directly and offers specific ways to improve your own decision-making process. It's so relevant to investing that The Motley Fool requires all new investing analysts read it.

8. Genome

With the human genome now mapped, people have a ton of questions -- and Matt Ridley gets right into the juicy ones, focusing on how our DNA affects things as disperse and contentious as intelligence, sex, and cancer. Ridley isn't writing for scientists, and he isn't presenting new theories; he simply takes a hard look at the evidence now available and makes connections.

9. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

What makes a person say "yes" to another's request? Influence is a well-researched look at the tactics that work and why, breaking them down into six categories of psychological influences on our behavior. Invaluable to anyone who wants to make a convincing argument (and that pretty much includes everyone), this book also offers a tremendous edge to you when you are the one being convinced, allowing you to understand the ploys being played against you.

Alex Pape is an analyst on Motley Fool Pro and Motley Fool Options. You can follow all Alex's articles on Twitter.


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