Social help: Five of the best self-help books for busy readers

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Freakonomics

By Steven Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

The thinking man's beach read, Freakonomics has sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. In it, the "rogue economist" Levitt applies economic principles to unusual subjects such as crack dealers, sumo wrestlers and the Ku Klux Klan. Credited with doing the impossible – making economics sexy – the book casts its net widely as it searches for the hidden motivations behind all manner of human behaviour.

The Wisdom Of Crowds

By James Surowiecki

This 2004 statistical-economic study sets out to disprove Nietzsche's theory that "Madness is the exception in individuals but the rule in groups". And, unlikely as it may sound, it does so using the TV game-show, Who Wants to be a Millionaire? as its model. Citing the phone-a-friend and ask-the-audience options available to contestants, the New Yorker columnist posits that collective decision-making wins out every time over individual judgement calls.

The Black Swan

By Nassim Nicholas Taleb

What do 9/11 and the immense success of Google have in common? They are both, according to Taleb's theory, black swans: that is, an unpredictable event which makes an immense impact and after which we search for an explanation or narration to make it seem more predictable than it was. Imagine how different life could be if we opened our eyes to randomness. The Black Swan has been translated into 27 languages. His follow-up, Tinkering, earned Taleb a $4m advance.

Blink

By Malcolm Gladwell

Subtitled 'The Power to Think Without Thinking', Gladwell's 2005 follow-up to The Tipping Point explores human instinct and the positive effects of split-second, snap decisions based on a narrow band of past experience. He backs up his thesis with the help of examples of this "thin-slicing" from firemen making intuitive decisions which save lives to the sub-conscious perception that tall people make good leaders. Leonardo DiCaprio is set to star in a movie adaptation.

Emotional Intelligence

By Daniel P Goleman

EI is the ability to perceive, assess and manage the emotions of one's self and others and according to psychologist and New York Times science writer Goleman, it matters more than one's IQ – and is the true key to a successful life. Gordon Brown take note. Since we are not born with a fixed level of EI, Goleman offers tips on how to hone it in all areas of life, from the workplace to marriage and child-rearing.

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