10 books flourishing forensic psychologists should consider investing in

Ian A. Elliott

Books are expensive. However, it’s tough to navigate a career in forensic psychology without any hard-copy reference materials and relying on journal articles alone. I recently noticed that my rare expenditure on books (I am neither senior enough nor expert enough to be inundated with freebies!) has shifted away from ‘topic’ books and further towards ‘methods’ books. Given that many students have only a limited budget to allocate to books, here are a few recommendations from my own experience on where you might want to invest as your career progresses.

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t represent an advertisement for the books I’ve picked from my own “library” in particular and nor does it suggest that this list would, as is, suit every student or early-career researcher in every sub-field of forensic psychology. As such, I’m not going to link to any of these books here. Thanks to the algorithms of online bookstores, expect there to be a slight U.K. bias here too.

Consider this to be my experience and take from it what you will!

1. The APA Style Manual

Scientific writing is such a niche skill. Despite sucking all of the joy and flair out of writing, the APA Style Manual provides the most common framework within which to document any work that you wish to communicate to the wider criminal justice community. It does so in plain language and with plenty of examples that you can apply to your own situation.

2. A good introductory forensic psychology textbook

It’s essential to have a forensic psychology textbook that articulates the application of psychology conceptually to criminal behavior and practically within the criminal justice system. I plumped for The Psychology of Criminal Conduct by Andrews and Bonta due to the comprehensive discussion of the popular RNR framework, but I would stress that it is by no means the only quality option available (Blackburn, Howitt, Davies and Beech, etc). For those with a bent towards legal psychology, there’s Bartol and Bartol, Huss, etc. It may also be worth pairing this with an offence-type specific book if you work with one particular sub-field – for example, I also have a well-worn copy of Ward, Polaschek, and Beech’s Theories of Sexual Offending since that’s in my wheelhouse.

3. One or two general psychology textbooks

Forensic psychologists are applied psychologists and just because you’ve finished your undergraduate studies it doesn’t mean leaving your core psychological roots behind. By this I mean it is of use to have some psychology textbooks that cover the psychological processes that govern the work that you do. For example, if you do CBT with a focus on antisocial thinking styles, you might want to consider a good social cognition textbook. Or if you work within the criminal mental health system, then a good abnormal psych textbook will probably help.

4. A reference for clinical practice

Being a forensic psychologist typically involves some form of clinical practice: unless, like me, you have zero people-skills and prefer spreadsheets to group work. A good reference text that outlines the philosophy, ethics, and core competencies of professional psychological practice is essential. (If anyone wants to tweet us a good one @NextGenForensic we will defo RT it!) I would also obviously throw the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – currently in its 5th guise – in here too: although I don’t know many students who wouldn’t be able to get hold of a copy of that if necessary, without having to buy your own!

5. A good quantitative statistics book (and/or a good qualitative statistics book)

With a handful of high-profile outliers, very few forensic psychologists are also mathematicians. But an effective understanding of statistics can be obtained through simply understanding the aims and concepts of statistical procedures, rather than the underlying formulae. I happen, most likely a habit picked up as an undergraduate, to use Andy Field’s Discovering Statistics Using SPSS (there is also now an edition for R users) but again there are many good texts to choose from, all typically incorporating the popular statistics software programs. If you’re into qualitative methods, it’s also worth seeking out a reference guide like Constructing Grounded Theory by Kathy Charmaz or Sidnell’s Conversation Analysis depending on your data.

6. A good reference for evaluation methods

Much of the application of psychology in criminal justice relates to interventions aimed at identifying, targeting, and reducing/enhancing relevant psychological processes. These interventions need to be evaluated for their effectiveness: programmes found to be effective in their stated aims should be promoted and those found to be ineffective (or harmful) should be modified or abandoned. Programme evaluation is a trickier business than it’s often given credit for and poor evaluation can hold back the spread of legitimately promising programmes. I’ve paired a copy of Evaluation by Rossi et al. with Designing Randomised Trials in Health, Education and the Social Sciences: An Introduction by Torgerson and Torgerson. Along the way I’ve also picked up some cheap used copies of texts covering propensity score matching and meta-analysis techniques.

7. The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing

Perhaps one for the early-career folk rather than students. Published jointly by the American Educational Research Association, the American Psychological Association, and the U.S. National Council on Measurement in Education, The Standards… provides a comprehensive systematic framework for establishing and measuring the validity of psychological tests. Given the prevalence of psychological and risk-related testing that goes on in criminal justice this really is an indispensable reference to ensure that you can evidence the quality and suitability of the tests that you use in your work. If you’re feeling flush, you might want to pair this up with something on measurement statistics (e.g., item response theory) or diagnostic performance (e.g., ROC analysis).

8. Two or three specific overviews of your more niche topics of interest

A wise academic once said to me that a forensic psychologist should have three clear topics of interest on which to focus. Similarly, Michael Seto recently stated that he has sought to focus primarily on one topic per decade. However you structure your workload, as a forensic psychologist you’re going to have your own multiple topics of interest – whether that’s an intrinsic interest in a topic or a topic into which, by chance, you are professionally thrown. So you’re going to want a couple of overviews of your particular topic of interests. For example, my Ph.D. thesis focused on users of indecent images on the internet, and I leant heavily on Child Pornography by Quayle and Taylor in the early days (the very last book I would recommend you pull out and read on public transport). More recently, I’ve picked up excellent overviews of desistance theory and violent extremism based on changes in my workload.

9. A book on project management

Not specific to forensic psychology, but having a reference text that helps you to work at your most efficient is valuable. Being able to effectively plan, execute, and deliver a project – particularly within a team environment and often with finite resources – will be a key to your success as a forensic psychologist. I have a little 100-odd page book called Project Management Lite by Juana Clark Craig that is subtitled “Just Enough to Get the Job Done… Nothing More”. It’s perfect for my needs, but again there are ample great books out there on this topic.

10. Novels (or novellas)

Don’t sleep on the importance of reading outside of your work. Reading proper literature will not only entertain you, challenge your perceptions, help develop empathy, and all those things that a good book should do, it will also improve the way that you yourself communicate. Reading various examples of creative writing will expand your vocabulary and provide you with new ways in which to articulate your thoughts and ideas. I gave up on full novels long ago, as they so often got abandoned for other priorities, and recently switched to classic novellas that can be read in a short period of time. Why fall-in with the snoreseoisie pretending Orwell’s 1984 isn’t a drier read than The Standards… and instead read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin (the same basic principle, published in 1921) in a 10th of the time.

Obviously, this was not intended to be an exhaustive list and I’m sure other forensic psychologists and criminologists would suggest their own “essential” reading. Feel free to debate these on social media (we’re @NextGenForensic and I’m @ianaelliott) and share the books that have been vital to your professional lives.

Suggested citation (Not that I think you would ever want or need to cite this!):
Elliott, I. A. (2017, Feb 14). 10 books flourishing forensic psychologists should consider investing in [Weblog post]. Retrieved from

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