These 8 Books Will Teach You About Empathy

*Note: Closed Captioning is available on this YouTube video.

Today in this short video (and podcast episode), we’re going to be talking about empathy.

Yes, empathy.

I’m working on a new book called “Empathy Every Day.” It is 366 short vignettes, stories, quotes, and research about listening, learning, and leading with empathy.

As I’m going through this writing process, I’ve been reading a lot about empathy. Particularly, I want to share eight books that spoke to me in different ways about empathy, gave me the science behind it, stories behind it, perspectives that I didn’t have on empathy.

In the video (and podcast) I share my thoughts on these 8 books that I list below. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Empathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric 

A popular speaker and co-founder of The School of Life, Roman Krznaric has traveled the world researching and lecturing on the subject of empathy. In this lively and engaging book, he argues that our brains are wired for social connection. Empathy, not apathy or self-centeredness, is at the heart of who we are. By looking outward and attempting to identify with the experiences of others, Krznaric argues, we can become not only a more equal society, but also a happier and more creative one.

Through encounters with groundbreaking actors, activists, designers, nurses, bankers and neuroscientists, Krznaric defines a new breed of adventurer. He presents the six life-enhancing habits of highly empathic people, whose skills enable them to connect with others in extraordinary ways – making themselves, and the world, more truly fulfilled.


The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill by Karla McLaren 

What if there were a single skill that could directly and radically improve your relationships and your emotional life? Empathy, teaches Karla McLaren, is that skill. With The Art of Empathy, she teaches us how to perceive and feel the experiences of others with clarity and authenticity―to connect with them more deeply and effectively.

Informed by current insights from neuroscience, social psychology, and healing traditions, this book explores:

Why empathy is not a mystical phenomenon but a natural, innate ability that we can strengthen and develop
• How to identify and regulate our emotions and boundaries
• The process of shifting into the perspective of others
• How to provide support in a sensitive and healthy way
• Insights for navigating our hyper-connected social landscape
• Targeted chapters for improving family, workplace, and intimate relationships
• Ways to expand our empathy to our community, global levels of society, and the natural world

Empathy, reflects Karla McLaren, is the skill that builds bridges a skill that not only creates connection, but that helps us to be more effective in all areas of our lives.


UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World by Dr. Michele Borba 

UnSelfie by Dr. Michele Borba explains what parents and educators MUST do to combat the growing empathy crisis among children today—including a 9-step empathy-building program with tips to guide kids from birth through college, and beyond.

Teens today are forty percent less empathetic than they were thirty years ago. Why is a lack of empathy—which goes hand-in-hand with the self-absorption epidemic Dr. Michele Borba calls the Selfie Syndrome—so dangerous? First, it hurts kids’ academic performance and leads to bullying behaviors. Also, it correlates with more cheating and less resilience. And once children grow up, a lack of empathy hampers their ability to collaborate, innovate, and problem-solve—all must-have skills for the global economy.

In UnSelfie Dr. Borba pinpoints the forces causing the empathy crisis and shares a revolutionary, researched-based, nine-step plan for reversing it.

The good news? Empathy is a trait that can be taught and nurtured. Dr. Borba offers a framework for parenting that yields the results we all want: successful, happy kids who also are kind, moral, courageous, and resilient. UnSelfie is a blueprint for parents and educators who want to kids shift their focus from I, me, and mine…to we, us, and ours.


The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison 

Beginning with her experience as a medical actor who was paid to act out symptoms for medical students to diagnose, Leslie Jamison’s visceral and revealing essays ask essential questions about our basic understanding of others: How should we care about each other? How can we feel another’s pain, especially when pain can be assumed, distorted, or performed? Is empathy a tool by which to test or even grade each other?

By confronting pain―real and imagined, her own and others’―Jamison uncovers a personal and cultural urgency to feel. She draws from her own experiences of illness and bodily injury to engage in an exploration that extends far beyond her life, spanning wide-ranging territory―from poverty tourism to phantom diseases, street violence to reality television, illness to incarceration―in its search for a kind of sight shaped by humility and grace.


Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom 

We often think of our capacity to experience the suffering of others as the ultimate source of goodness. Many of our wisest policy-makers, activists, scientists, and philosophers agree that the only problem with empathy is that we don’t have enough of it.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, argues Yale researcher Paul Bloom. In Against Empathy, Bloom reveals empathy to be one of the leading motivators of inequality and immorality in society. Far from helping us to improve the lives of others, empathy is a capricious and irrational emotion that appeals to our narrow prejudices. It muddles our judgment and, ironically, often leads to cruelty. We are at our best when we are smart enough not to rely on it, but to draw instead upon a more distanced compassion.

Basing his argument on groundbreaking scientific findings, Bloom makes the case that some of the worst decisions made by individuals and nations—who to give money to, when to go to war, how to respond to climate change, and who to imprison—are too often motivated by honest, yet misplaced, emotions. With precision and wit, he demonstrates how empathy distorts our judgment in every aspect of our lives, from philanthropy and charity to the justice system; from medical care and education to parenting and marriage. Without empathy, Bloom insists, our decisions would be clearer, fairer, and—yes—ultimately more moral.

Brilliantly argued, urgent and humane, Against Empathy shows us that, when it comes to both major policy decisions and the choices we make in our everyday lives, limiting our impulse toward empathy is often the most compassionate choice we can make.


The Empathy Effect: Seven Neuroscience-Based Keys for Transforming the Way We Live, Love, Work, and Connect Across Differences by Helen Riess MD with Liz Neporent

Empathy is undergoing a new evolution. In a global and interconnected culture, we can no longer afford to identify only with people who seem to be a part of our “tribe.” As Dr. Helen Riess has learned, our capacity for empathy is not just an innate trait―it is also a skill that we can learn and expand. With The Empathy Effect, Dr. Riess presents a definitive resource on empathy: the science behind how it works, new research on how empathy develops from birth to adulthood, and tools for building your capacity to create authentic emotional connection with others in any situation.

Dr. Riess emerged as leading researcher on empathy by creating a breakthrough training curriculum now used internationally in health care, business, and education. Drawing from this successful program and the latest science, she presents:

• The E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.® method―a powerful seven-step system for understanding and increasing empathy, starting with Eye Contact and ending with Your Response
• How empathy works―a comprehensive synthesis emerging from neuroscience, sociology, developmental psychology, and evolutionary theory
• Tools for recognizing and promoting empathic behavior in yourself and others
• Parenting and teaching empathy in kids―guidance for every stage of development
• Texts, emojis, and digital empathy―the modern challenge of authentic connection in the information age
• Empathy through art and literature―exploring the power of creative expression to expand our emotional experience
• Leading with empathy―how political and business leaders can combine compassion with efficiency through group empathy skills and shared mind intelligence
• Digging deep for empathy―how to reverse scapegoating and recognize shared humanity with those we normally keep at a distance
• Self-compassion―why your ability to express love toward yourself affects every other relationship in your life

“Nourishing empathy lets us help not just ourselves,” says Dr. Riess, “but also everyone we interact with, whether for a moment or a lifetime.” The Empathy Effect is a life-changing book that will revolutionize the way you understand yourself, relate to your loved ones, and connect to every person in your life.


Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World: How One Family Learned That Saying No Can Lead to Life’s Biggest Yes by Kristen Welch 

“But everyone else has it.” “If you loved me, you’d get it for me!” When you hear these comments from your kids, it can be tough not to cave. You love your children―don’t you want them to be happy and to fit in?

Kristen Welch knows firsthand it’s not that easy. In fact, she’s found out that when you say yes too often, it’s not only hard on your peace of mind and your wallet―it actually puts your kids at long-term risk. In Raising Grateful Kids in an Entitled World, Kristen shares the ups and downs in her own family’s journey of discovering why it’s healthiest not to give their kids everything. Teaching them the difference between “want” and “need” is the first step in the right direction.

Note that this book does have a focus on faith throughout. It is the lens the author writes through as both a blogger and a writer.


How to Raise Kind Kids: And Get Respect, Gratitude, and a Happier Family in the Bargain by Thomas Lickona 

Can you teach a child to be kind?

This vital question is taking on a new urgency as our culture grows ever more abrasive and divided.

We all want our kids to be kind. But that is not the same as knowing what to do when you catch your son being unkind.  A world-renowned developmental psychologist, Dr. Thomas Lickona has led the character education movement in schools for forty years. Now he shares with parents the vital tools they need to bring peace and foster cooperation at home. Kindness doesn’t stand on its own. It needs a supporting cast of other essential virtues—like courage, self-control, respect, and gratitude.

With concrete examples drawn from the many families Dr. Lickona has worked with over the years and clear tips you can act on tonight, How to Raise Kind Kids will help you give and get respect, hold family meetings to tackle persistent problems, discipline in a way that builds character, and improve the dynamic of your relationship with your children while putting them on the path to a happier and more fulfilling life.

What Is Next?

I am more excited about this project (my new book Empathy Every Day) than anything I’ve ever worked on before. And it’s way different than anything I’ve ever worked on before. So thanks again for your support and for being there, and for being an awesome community of educators, parents, and leaders. Keep being empathetic.

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Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • Alfred van Bergen says:

    Hello A.J. I’ve got two more titles for you: Born for Love – Bruce D. Perry, it’s a standard, definitely must read and The War for Kindness -Jamil Zaki. And visit the website, organization Roots of Empathy, an Canadian program for schools.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Hi Alfred, thanks for the recs! Currently reading Born for Love and will definitely put The Ware for Kindness on my list! Also, love Roots of Empathy, post on their work coming soon 🙂

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