If you’re like most of us, the next few weeks will find you wrestling with demons. Whether it’s dropping a few pounds, bidding farewell to cigarettes or alcohol, getting your finances under control, or finishing the novel, almost everyone starts the year with a noble personal goal or two.

All the more reason, then, to know about Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (Penguin Press, $27.95; e-book, $14.99). A well-considered review of more than a decade of psychological research—much of it conducted by one of its two authors, Roy F. Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University—Willpower moves beyond the usual magazine-style cheerleading. There’s a satisfying heft to the research findings, especially on the level of physiology: which parts of the brain are called on when temptation is resisted, and how a small jolt of glucose can replenish depleted willpower reserves (and why even so, straight sugar is not a good idea). Many of the findings are surprisingly counterintuitive, but have immediate practical use. Knowing, for instance, that there’s only one fund of personal willpower for everything—from resisting dessert to being diplomatic about the boss’s new haircut—can help us allocate it more wisely, and narrow down an endless list of resolutions to the one or two we most want to achieve.

Many readers will turn immediately to Chapter 10, “The Perfect Storm of Dieting,” to discover why even those with iron wills sometimes have trouble shedding pounds (and what to do about it). But it’s worth starting at the beginning. The first few chapters lay an interesting foundation for topics in the rest of the book, which include strategies for successful budgeting, raising children with a healthy sense of self-discipline, and overcoming addictions.

While Baumeister provides much of the scientific research, Willpower’s second author, New York Times writer John Tierney, makes it a fun read. Tierney has a journalist’s flair for keeping things moving, a light, humorous style, and a way of making complex information accessible without dumbing it down.

If one of your resolutions this year is to read more, Willpower is a great place to start. It could be just the boost your other resolutions have been waiting for.

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  • Susan Delson January 6, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    Hi, Roz. Yes, I’d say this is a useful book, especially at this time of year. For me, one of the most interesting concepts is that there’s only one store of willpower for everything, and that you want to conserve it for your most important goals. I’d encourage you to take a look at the book–maybe put it on reserve at your library?–and let us know what you think.

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  • RozWarren January 6, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    “The Perfect Storm of Dieting” is a great chapter title. Sounds like a useful book. Is there anything you learned from the book that you’re going to apply to your own life?

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