Reading List: What You Need to Know about Yourself to Be Successful


NES graduate, co-founder and director of Funexpected Math Natalia Pereldik shares the list of her favorite books about psychology, achieving success (let's start with useful habits), working with facts, and the origins of great companies.


Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely (2008). Also, a collection of his works Irrational Bundle

Dan Ariely is a living classic of behavioral economics, and his books are a must-read for understanding decision-making processes. Spoiler: we are all often irrational, and, as the title of the book suggests, predictably irrational. 

Here is what Ariely writes about himself: “My immersive introduction to irrationality took place many years ago while I was overcoming injuries sustained in an explosion. The range of treatments in the burn department, and particularly the daily “bath” made me face a variety of irrational behaviors that were immensely painful and persistent… I became engrossed with the idea that we repeatedly and predictably make the wrong decisions in many aspects of our lives and that research could help change some of these patterns.”

Ariely is a great storyteller who illustrates all the conclusions with fascinating experiments. For example, he describes

 - how people perceive the value of a product or service (and how marketing specialists make use of it);

 - the power of the “free offer” and what it actually costs us;

 - why more expensive aspirin works better than cheap one;

 - why many companies use social incentives that work better than a simple wage increase.

Can we get rid of irrationality? Probably not. But we can learn to pay attention to our irrational behavior.


That Will Never Work, Marc Randolph (2019)

Today, almost everyone knows Netflix. Many popular movies and TV series begin with the demonstration of this name. It is not surprising that according to survey results of 2019, a Netflix subscription was the most desired gift among teenagers. This company has changed the way we consume video content. Therefore, it is incredibly interesting to read the story of its co-founder and first CEO about how it all started. The book describes which difficulties are there on the way to success, and how the company has changed along this way: from sending DVDs by mail to online streaming.

The book is easy to read and it is full of vivid and funny stories, for example (spoiler!) how it had mixed up DVDs, and instead of Bill Clinton's speech sent out to clients…porn. After this, you will probably stop worrying about an email sent by mistake.


How the World Really Works: A Scientist's Guide to Our Past, Present and Future, Vaclav Smil (2022)

This is an interesting review that tells how the world around us works: how much we are dependent on minerals and how this dependence has changed; how we produce food; what globalization is and how it works, and many other things. In a way, this book is the result of 40 works by Smil on various topics. For the most part, they were interesting to fairly narrow groups of readers: for example, anyone who likes to think in numbers would be interested in reading his research on energy. 

This book was created as a popular overview of his reflections on the processes that shape our present and future. Smil has a very pronounced point of view, with which many can disagree, but great interest in reading the book is guaranteed as it does offer the reader a lot of unexpected facts.

Smil urges readers to study the facts carefully so as not to live in a world of stereotypes, unverified information and theories that are as beautiful as they are false. One of his books about understanding facts is called Numbers Don't Lie.


Tiny Habits, BJ Fogg (2020)

The book by a behavior scientist at Stanford University tells about how small steps can change everything. He offers a ready-made system for acquiring new habits based on modeling human behavior.

The tiny things may not look so attractive, but they really help to succeed. Fogg suggests forgetting about the principle of "all or nothing" which is the key to self-criticism and disappointment. We already know that the motivation monkey pushes us to take serious actions, and then runs away as soon as it gets hard, the author notes.

The BJ Fogg's system is built on these tiny things. There are a lot of practical tips in the book, although, we should admit, it may seem as if it drags in some parts. But if you still have unfulfilled New Year's promises to yourself, this book is a must-read. "Welcome to the behavior design course!" invites Fogg. 

Spoiler: In order to design successful habits and change your behaviors, you should do three things:

 - stop judging yourself;

 - take your aspirations and break them down into tiny behaviors;

 - embrace mistakes as discoveries and use them to move forward.