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  • Jeff Harry

TOP BOOKS ON PLAY - A COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE

Updated: Nov 18

...And How It Relates to Creativity, Curiosity, Positive Psychology, and Rediscovering Who You Are


When you search the top books on the concept of PLAY, there are only a few lists that come up and they do not seem comprehensive enough. So, I decided to create this new PLAY Books list. Hopefully, this will help in your adventure through the world of PLAY.


The Play Book List is broken down into 6 sections:

  • Rediscovering Who You Are Through Play

  • Following Your Curiosity Through Play

  • Exploring Creativity Through Play

  • Giving Kids Permission To Discover Who They Are Through Play

  • Delving Into Play Through Positive Psychology

  • Building Community Through Play

Rediscovering Who You Are Through Play


Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, Dr. Stuart Brown - 2010

This is the book on PLAY written by the Dr. of Play himself, Dr. Stuart Brown. This is a groundbreaking book on the science of play, and its essential role in fueling our happiness and intelligence throughout our lives.


Dr. Brown has spent his career studying animal behavior and conducting more than six-thousand "play histories" of humans from all walks of life-from serial murderers to Nobel Prize winners. Backed by the latest research, Play explains why play is essential to our social skills, adaptability, intelligence, creativity, ability to problem solve and more. Particularly in tough times, we need to play more than ever, as it's the very means by which we prepare for the unexpected, search out new solutions, and remain optimistic.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Play-Shapes-Brain-Imagination-Invigorates/dp/1583333789



Rules of the Red Rubber Ball: Find and Sustain Your Life's Work, Kevin "Katalyst" Carroll - 2005


"...adult’s version of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go! -— a pocket-size guide to finding your way in life." -- Newsweek


With simple but delightful storytelling, Kevin Carroll channels his childhood passion for sport and play into a universally appealing blueprint for life. Drawing wisdom from the playgrounds of his youth, where he spent hour upon hour sharpening his body and his mind, Carroll shares with readers his Rules of the Red Rubber Ball - how to achieve maximum human potential through the power of passion and creativity. Finding your own -red rubber ball+ and chasing it to your heart+s content, he argues, is the surest route to peace, prosperity, and happiness.

Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Rules-Red-Rubber-Ball-Sustain/dp/1933060026



Wishcraft: How to Get What You Really Want, Barbara Sher - 2004

“One of the most popular books among those who want their lives to count for something. Barbara Sher is to be commended for making hope practical.”—Richard Nelson Bolles, author of What Color Is Your Parachute?


“The most irreverent and refreshing self-help manual now on the market . . . Feisty, funny, and down-to-earth, this book is bound to benefit all those who sense they may have temporarily lost track of their true goals.”—New Age Magazine


Cindy Fox was a waitress. Now she’s a pilot. Peter Johnson was a truck driver. Now he’s a dairy farmer. Tina Forbes was a struggling artist. Now she’s a successful one. Alan Rizzo was an editor. Now he’s a bookstore owner.


What they have in common—and what you can share—are Barbara Sher’s effective strategies for making real changes in your life. This human, practical program puts your vague yearnings and dreams to work for you—with concrete results.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Wishcraft-How-What-Really-Want/dp/0345465180


The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level, Gay Hendricks - 2010


With over 100,000 copies sold, New York Times bestselling author Gay Hendricks demonstrates how to go beyond your internal limits, release outdated fears and learn a whole new set of powerful skills and habits to liberate your authentic greatness. Fans of Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, Marianne Williamson, and Gabrielle Bernstein will discover the way to break down the walls to a better life.


“Hendricks provides a clear path for achieving our true potential and attaining not only financial success but also success in love and life.”


In The Big Leap, New York Times bestselling author Gay Hendricks reveals a simple yet comprehensive program for overcoming our one barrier to happiness and fulfillment, providing a clear path for achieving our true potential and attaining not only financial success but also success in love and life.



Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Big-Leap-Conquer-Hidden-Level/dp/0061735361




Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, The Uses of Boredom, & The Secrets of Games

How filling life with play-whether soccer or lawn mowing, counting sheep or tossing Angry Birds -- forges a new path for creativity and joy in our impatient age


Life is boring: filled with meetings and traffic, errands and emails. Nothing we'd ever call fun. But what if we've gotten fun wrong? In Play Anything, visionary game designer and philosopher Ian Bogost shows how we can overcome our daily anxiety; transforming the boring, ordinary world around us into one of endless, playful possibilities.


The key to this playful mindset lies in discovering the secret truth of fun and games. Play Anything, reveals that games appeal to us not because they are fun, but because they set limitations. Soccer wouldn't be soccer if it wasn't composed of two teams of eleven players using only their feet, heads, and torsos to get a ball into a goal; Tetris wouldn't be Tetris without falling pieces in characteristic shapes. Such rules seem needless, arbitrary, and difficult. Yet it is the limitations that make games enjoyable, just like it's the hard things in life that give it meaning.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Play-Anything-Pleasure-Limits-Boredom/dp/0465051723



SuperBetter: The Power of Living Gamefully, Jane McGonigal - 2016

An innovative guide to living gamefully, based on the program that has already helped nearly half a million people achieve remarkable personal growth


In 2009, internationally renowned game designer Jane McGonigal suffered a severe concussion. Unable to think clearly or work or even get out of bed, she became anxious and depressed, even suicidal. But rather than let herself sink further, she decided to get better by doing what she does best: she turned her recovery process into a resilience-building game. What started as a simple motivational exercise quickly became a set of rules for “post-traumatic growth” that she shared on her blog. These rules led to a digital game and a major research study with the National Institutes of Health. Today nearly half a million people have played SuperBetter to get stronger, happier, and healthier.



Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/SuperBetter-Living-Gamefully-Jane-McGonigal/dp/0143109774



Michael Rosen's Book of Play: Why play really matters, and 101 ways to get more of it in your life, Michael Rosen - 2019


These days, we seem to have less and less time for play. At school, children are focused on exams, while at home we're all glued to our phones and iPads.

Here, Michael Rosen shows us why we need more play in our lives. He explores the influence of play on everyone from Shakespeare to Dickens and Dali, delving into the history of play via puns, nonsense, improvisation and physical toys. He also explains why play is a core part of child development, proven to bolster creativity and resilience.


Above all, play should be fun - and this book is full of silliness and laughter. Every chapter features exercises and prompts for creative indoor and outdoor play for all the family, with specially designed pages for scribbling, word play and more, illustrated by Charlotte Trounce.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Michael-Rosens-Book-Play-matters/dp/1788161904




Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson - 2016

From the New York Times–bestselling author of How We Got to Now and Unexpected Life, a look at the world-changing innovations we made while keeping ourselves entertained.


This lushly illustrated history of popular entertainment takes a long-zoom approach, contending that the pursuit of novelty and wonder is a powerful driver of world-shaping technological change. Steven Johnson argues that, throughout history, the cutting edge of innovation lies wherever people are working the hardest to keep themselves and others amused. 


Johnson’s storytelling is just as delightful as the inventions he describes, full of surprising stops along the journey from simple concepts to complex modern systems. He introduces us to the colorful innovators of leisure: the explorers, proprietors, showmen, and artists who changed the trajectory of history with their luxurious wares, exotic meals, taverns, gambling tables, and magic shows.  


In Wonderland, Johnson compellingly argues that observers of technological and social trends should be looking for clues in novel amusements. You’ll find the future wherever people are having the most fun.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Wonderland-Play-Made-Modern-World/dp/0399184481


Following Your Curiosity Through Play


Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Adam Grant - 2016



The #1 New York Times bestseller that examines how people can champion new ideas in their careers and everyday life—and how leaders can fight groupthink, from the author of Think Again and co-author of Option B

With Give and Take, Adam Grant not only introduced a landmark new paradigm for success but also established himself as one of his generation’s most compelling and provocative thought leaders. In Originals he again addresses the challenge of improving the world, but now from the perspective of becoming original: choosing to champion novel ideas and values that go against the grain, battle conformity, and buck outdated traditions. How can we originate new ideas, policies, and practices without risking it all?


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Originals-How-Non-Conformists-Move-World/dp/014312885X



A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life, Brian Grazer & Charles Fishman - 2016


#1 New York Times bestselling author and Oscar–winning producer Brian Grazer has written a brilliantly entertaining and eye-opening exploration of curiosity and the life-changing effects it can have on every person’s life.


From Academy Award–winning producer Brian Grazer, New York Times bestseller A Curious Mind offers a brilliant peek into the “curiosity conversations” that inspired him to create some of the world’s most iconic movies and television shows.He shows how curiosity has been the “secret” that fueled his rise as one of Hollywood’s leading producers and creative visionaries, and how all of us can channel its power to lead bigger and more rewarding lives.

Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Curious-Mind-Secret-Bigger-Life/dp/1476730776




Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Hector Garcia - 2017

Bring meaning and joy to all your days with this internationally bestselling guide to the Japanese concept of ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy)—the happiness of always being busy—as revealed by the daily habits of the world’s longest-living people.


*And from the same authors, don’t miss The Book of Ichigo Ichie—about making the most of every moment in your life. What’s your ikigai?


“Only staying active will make you want to live a hundred years.” —Japanese proverb


According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai—a reason for living. And according to the residents of the Japanese village with the world’s longest-living people, finding it is the key to a happier and longer life. Having a strong sense of ikigai—the place where passion, mission, vocation, and profession intersect—means that each day is infused with meaning. It’s the reason we get up in the morning. It’s also the reason many Japanese never really retire (in fact there’s no word in Japanese that means retire in the sense it does in English): They remain active and work at what they enjoy, because they’ve found a real purpose in life—the happiness of always being busy.


In researching this book, the authors interviewed the residents of the Japanese village with the highest percentage of 100-year-olds—one of the world’s Blue Zones. Ikigai reveals the secrets to their longevity and happiness: how they eat, how they move, how they work, how they foster collaboration and community, and—their best-kept secret—how they find the ikigai that brings satisfaction to their lives. And it provides practical tools to help you discover your own ikigai. Because who doesn’t want to find happiness in every day?


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Ikigai-Japanese-Secret-Long-Happy/dp/0143130722


Exploring Creativity Through Play


The Artist's Way: 25th Anniversary Edition, Julia Cameron - 2016


“Julia Cameron invented the way people renovate the creative soul.” –The New York Times


Over four million copies sold!


Since its first publication, The Artist's Way phenomena has inspired the genius of Elizabeth Gilbert, Tim Ferriss, and millions of readers to embark on a creative journey and find a deeper connection to process and purpose. Julia Cameron's novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery.


The program begins with Cameron’s most vital tools for creative recovery – The Morning Pages, a daily writing ritual of three pages of stream-of-conscious, and The Artist Date, a dedicated block of time to nurture your inner artist. From there, she shares hundreds of exercises, activities, and prompts to help readers thoroughly explore each chapter. She also offers guidance on starting a “Creative Cluster” of fellow artists who will support you in your creative endeavors.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Artists-Way-25th-Anniversary/dp/0143129252


Creativity: A Short and Cheerful Guide, John Cleese - 2020



The legendary comedian, actor, and writer of Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, and A Fish Called Wanda fame shares his key ideas about creativity: that it’s a learnable, improvable skill.


“Many people have written about creativity, but although they were very, very clever, they weren't actually creative. I like to think I'm writing about it from the inside.”—John Cleese


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Creativity-Short-Cheerful-John-Cleese/dp/0385348274









Playing and Reality (Routledge Classics), D.W. Winicott - 2005



What are the origins of creativity and how can we develop it - whether within ourselves or in others? Not only does Playing and Reality address these questions, it also tackles many more that surround the fundamental issue of the individual self and its relationship with the outside world. In this landmark book of twentieth-century psychology, Winnicott shows the reader how, through the attentive nurturing of creativity from the earliest years, every individual has the opportunity to enjoy a rich and rewarding cultural life. Today, as the 'hothousing' and testing of children begins at an ever-younger age, Winnicott's classic text is a more urgent and topical read than ever before.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Playing-Reality-Routledge-Classics-86/dp/0415345464




Giving Kids Permission To Discover Who They Are Through Play


Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life, Dr. Peter Gray - 2010




“A compelling and most enjoyable read. Gray illustrates how removing play from childhood, in combination with increasing the pressures of modern-day schooling, paradoxically reduces the very skills we want our children to learn. The decline of play is serious business.” - Roberta Michnick Golinkoff


“The modern educational system is like a wish made in a folk tale gone horribly wrong. Peter Gray's Free to Learn leads us out of the maze of unforeseen consequences to a more natural way of letting children educate themselves. Gray's message might seem too good to be true, but it rests upon a strong scientific foundation. Free to Learn can have an immediate impact on the children in your life.” - David Sloan Wilson, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Biology and Anthropology, Binghamton University


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Free-Learn-Unleashing-Instinct-Self-Reliant/dp/0465025994


Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era - Tony Wagner/Ted Dintersmith - 2016


The basis for a major documentary, two leading experts sound an urgent call for the radical reimagining of American education so we can equip students for the realities of the twenty-first-century economy. “If you read one book about education this decade, make it this one” (Adam Braun, bestselling author and founder of Pencils of Promise)...Most Likely to Succeed presents a new vision of American education, one that puts wonder, creativity, and initiative at the very heart of the learning process and prepares students for today’s economy. “In this excellent book...Wagner and Dintersmith argue...that success and happiness will depend increasingly on having the ability to innovate” (Chicago Tribune), and this crucial guide offers policymakers and opinion leaders a roadmap for getting the best for our future entrepreneurs.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Most-Likely-Succeed-Preparing-Innovation/dp/1501104322



How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, Julie Lythcott-Haims


"Julie Lythcott-Haims is a national treasure. . . . A must-read for every parent who senses that there is a healthier and saner way to raise our children." -Madeline Levine.


A provocative manifesto that exposes the harms of helicopter parenting and sets forth an alternate philosophy for raising preteens and teens to self-sufficient young adulthood

In How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims draws on research, on conversations with admissions officers, educators, and employers, and on her own insights as a mother and as a student dean to highlight the ways in which overparenting harms children, their stressed-out parents, and society at large. While empathizing with the parental hopes and, especially, fears that lead to overhelping, Lythcott-Haims offers practical alternative strategies that underline the importance of allowing children to make their own mistakes and develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination necessary for success.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/How-Raise-Adult-Overparenting-Prepare-ebook/dp/B00OO2LJS2


Well Played: The Ultimate Guide to Awakening Your Family's Playful Spirit, Meredith Sinclair - 2016

From Today Show contributor, Meredith Sinclair, comes this ultimate resource for awakening your playful spirit, jumpstarting your relationships, and upping your happiness quotient. 


In our age of digital addiction, many of us have lost our ability to be spontaneous. More parents are complaining that they no longer even remember how to play…with their children, their spouse, and even with their own friends. Don’t fret! In Well Played, expert Meredith Sinclair helps families relearn what used to come naturally and shows how to find happiness through play.


For children, playing comes naturally…or at least it used to. But today that kind of easy-going fun is harder to come by, for both kids and their parents. With hectic lifestyles and constant technology overload, families have simply forgotten how to play. The solution? Relearn how to integrate fun and creative play into our day-to-day lives.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Well-Played-Ultimate-Awakening-Familys/dp/0062391364


Theater Games for the Classroom: A Teacher's Handbook, Viola Spolin - 1986



Viola Spolin (1906-1994) is the originator of theater games. Her improvisational techniques changed the very nature and practice of modern theater. Spolin was introduced to the use of games, storytelling, folk dance, and dramatics as tools for stimulating creative expression in the 1920s while a student of Neva Boyd at Chicago's Hull House. During her years as a teacher and supervisor of creative dramatics there, she began to develop her nonverbal, nonpsychological approach. Her son, Paul Sills, was the founding director of The Second City, where Spolin trained the company and served as Director of Workshops until 1965. The first two editions of "Improvisation for the Theater" sold more than 100,000 copies and inspired actors, directors, teachers, and writers in theater, television, film. These techniques have also influenced the fields of education, mental health, social work, and psychology.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Theater-Games-Classroom-Teachers-Handbook/dp/0810140047


Purposeful Play: A Teacher's Guide to Igniting Deep and Joyful Learning Across the Day Illustrated Edition, Kristine Mraz, Alison Porcelli, Cheryl Tyler - 2016


Play is serious business.


Whether it's reenacting a favorite book (comprehension and close reading), negotiating the rules for a game (speaking and listening), or collaborating over building blocks (college and career readiness and STEM), Kristi Mraz, Alison Porcelli, and Cheryl Tyler see every day how play helps students reach standards and goals in ways that in-their-seat instruction alone can't do. And not just during playtimes. "We believe there is play in work and work in play," they write. "It helps to have practical ways to carry that mindset into all aspects of the curriculum." In Purposeful Play , they share ways to:

  • optimize and balance different types of play to deepen regular classroom learning

  • teach into play to foster social-emotional skills and a growth mindset

  • bring the impact of play into all your lessons across the day.

Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Purposeful-Play-Teachers-Igniting-Learning/dp/0325077886


Delving Into Play Through Positive Psychology


Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Martin Seligman, 2012


From the bestselling author of Learned Optimism and Authentic Happiness comes “a relentlessly optimistic guidebook on finding and securing individual happiness” (Kirkus Reviews).


With this unprecedented promise, internationally esteemed psychologist Martin Seligman begins Flourish, his first book in ten years—and the first to present his dynamic new concept of what well-being really is. Traditionally, the goal of psychology has been to relieve human suffering, but the goal of the Positive Psychology movement, which Dr. Seligman has led for fifteen years, is different—it’s about actually raising the bar for the human condition.


Flourish builds on Dr. Seligman’s game-changing work on optimism, motivation, and character to show how to get the most out of life, unveiling an electrifying new theory of what makes a good life—for individuals, for communities, and for nations. In a fascinating evolution of thought and practice, Flourish refines what Positive Psychology is all about.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Flourish-Visionary-Understanding-Happiness-Well-being/dp/1439190763


Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck - 2007


After decades of research, world-renowned Stanford University psychologist Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., discovered a simple but groundbreaking idea: the power of mindset. In this brilliant book, she shows how success in school, work, sports, the arts, and almost every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. People with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed. Mindset reveals how great parents, teachers, managers, and athletes can put this idea to use to foster outstanding accomplishment.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Psychology-Carol-S-Dweck/dp/0345472322




Flow: The Psychology of Happiness Paperback, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi - 2002


What really makes people glad to be alive? What are the inner experiences that make life worthwhile? For more than two decades Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied those states in which people report feelings of concentration and deep enjoyment. His studies revealed that what makes experience genuinely satisfying is 'flow' - a state of concentration so focused that it amounts to complete absorption in an activity and results in the achievement of an ideal state of happiness. Flow has become the classic work on happiness and a major contribution to contemporary psychology. It examines such timeless issues as the challenge of lifelong learning; family relationships; art, sport and sex as 'flow'; the pain of loneliness; optimal use of free time and how to make lives meaningful.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Experience-Perennial-Classics/dp/0061339202



Building Community Through Play


The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker - 2018

"Hosts of all kinds, this is a must-read!" —Chris Anderson, owner and curator of TED


From the host of the New York Times podcast Together Apart, an exciting new approach to how we gather that will transform the ways we spend our time together—at home, at work, in our communities, and beyond.


In The Art of Gathering, Priya Parker argues that the gatherings in our lives are lackluster and unproductive—which they don't have to be. We rely too much on routine and the conventions of gatherings when we should focus on distinctiveness and the people involved. At a time when coming together is more important than ever, Parker sets forth a human-centered approach to gathering that will help everyone create meaningful, memorable experiences, large and small, for work and for play.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Art-Gathering-How-Meet-Matters/dp/1594634920



Belong: Find Your People, Create Community, and Live a More Connected Life, Radha Agarwal - 2018

“If you want to belong, read this book.”

—Deepak Chopra, MD


“From the moment I opened this book I was hooked. This book is caring and tender, challenging and action-driven. It is now on my recommendation list.”

—Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity and The State of Affairs, host of Where Should We Begin? podcast


How is it that the internet connects us to a world of people, yet so many of us feel more isolated than ever? That we have hundreds, even thousands of friends on social media, but not a single person to truly confide in? Radha Agrawal calls this “community confusion,” and in Belong she offers every reader a blueprint to find their people and build and nurture community because connectedness—as more and more studies show—is our key to happiness, fulfillment, and success.


Book Details: https://www.amazon.com/Belong-People-Create-Community-Connected/dp/1523502053


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