What are books that have changed your life? From inspiring memoirs to stunning fiction, here are the books that have changed my life, according to my readers.
Recently, I posted my list of life changing books, and it got me thinking. What if I asked my readers for the best books that changed your life.
After polling my newsletter subscribers and sorting through the answer, I sorted through the answers to see which inspiring books my readers recommend.
Unsurprisingly, religious texts like the Bible were heavy on the list, but I want to collect for you some possibly unheard of life changing books to read. From nonfiction to fiction, my readers find inspiration in books from all kinds of genres.
Here are some of the most life-changing books to read, at least according to my readers. Be sure to let me know in the comments your answer to the prompt: “The Books That Changed My Life Are…”
Books That Changed My Life
When you think of castes, India’s strict caste system likely comes to mind. In Caste, Wilkerson argues that America has its own hidden caste system, a hierarchy that has influenced the United States both historically and currently. Using fascinating stories, Wilkerson points out that on top of race and class, our understanding of caste systems must also change if we are to better ourselves as a nation.
This is How it Always Is
The youngest of five brothers, Claude is your average little boy who loves wearing dresses and pretending to be a princess. As Claude grows, he tells his parents he wants to be a girl. Rosie and Penn just want what’s best for their child, though they aren’t sure they are ready to share that with the world. Soon the whole family is keeping Claude’s secret until everything explodes.
“This book changed my life because I found it to be an intimate, gentle, and profound look at 2 parents as they struggled to raise a healthy, assimilated transgender child. The compassion and patience shown as they waded through life’s complicated and delicate hurdles is told in a way that was moving and inspiring to me. Far too many young people are left to battle their sexual orientation without support.” Name Withheld from South Carolina
The Handmaid’s Tale
After the fall of the United States, the theocratic patriarchal society Gilead is now in power. Due to an epidemic of infertility, most of the elite women cannot have children. Instead, they use handmaids, women of the lower caste forced to submit to men to bear children. The Handmaid’s Tale is written as the diary of one such handmaiden, Offred, as she struggles to survive in a brutal society, hoping to one day escape.
“It’s an especially important book today because of the ongoing struggle for women to have the right of responsibility for their own reproductive rights in a world of almost 8 billion people. In addition, I remember when I first read the book and realized how powerless the main character was when men blocked her bank account, and I made sure none of my partners could ever do that to me — it has defined my life.” Trisha from Cave Creek, Arizona
White Tears/Brown Scars
Ruby Hamad passionately argues that for years, white feminism has been a tool of white supremacy used to suppress women of color. Hamad takes you through a history lesson, showing the impact of white feminism from slavery to colonialism to the modern workforce, giving cultural criticism to how the patriarchy has used white women to negate minority voices.
“Feminism. It’s an action word for our generation, but let’s be honest here…what we are really saying is White Feminism. This book lays it out…examples, experiences, history, queries for your own self, all tools to open the reader’s eyes to the racism in our own lives. It’s not enough to not be racist, we must all strive to be ANTI-racist.” Biana from Oregon
As a young idealistic lawyer, Bryan Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice defending the most desperate of clients. Over the years, he helped the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women with nowhere else to turn. One case in particular stands out: Walter McMillian, a young man on death row who insists he is innocent, and very well may be. Stevenson inspires his readers to consider how compassion is needed for true justice to be served.
“Just Mercy eloquently talks about the death penalty as a flawed system. Even when there is no doubt someone is guilty, the book shows the necessity of mercy that’s required to truly be humane.” Tamela from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
Black Like Me
John Howard Griffin
If you are looking for books that make you think about race relations in the United States, Griffin’s nonfiction book is a great place to start. In October of 1959, journalist John Howard Griffin spent six weeks traveling across the Deep South with one major change: he medically darkened his skin to look like a black man. His journal of the experience is an incredible read discussing race relations in the United States. Though much has changed since then, you’ll find yourself pondering how much has unfortunately stayed the same.
“Growing up in the sixties in rural Iowa, I had not previously encountered many people of color and this book opened my eyes for the first time to the privilege the color of my skin allowed me. After reading this book in a multi-cultural class in college, I was inspired to get involved in the movement for equity in education through desegregation.” Pat from Charles City, Iowa
The Cider House Rules
At the orphanage in St. Cloud’s Maine, Dr. Wilbur Larch takes in troubled mothers and either helps them provide care for their child or assists in an illegal abortion. Having grown up in the orphanage, Homer Wells has become Dr. Larch’s assistant, helping in running the facility but refusing to participate in abortions. Until a young man and his beautiful fiance arrive and Homer begins to rethink his worldview.
“I was raised in a religiously conservative family/community. This book completely flipped my world-view on women’s reproductive health rights. I read The Cider House Rules in college and I had never really considered before how status, privilege, and race play in to access to healthcare and the societal ills that result from limiting bodily autonomy.” Name Withheld from Upstate New York
Books That Help with Trials
Life and Death in Shanghai
Nien Cheng gives a first-hand account of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Fluent in English and the widow of an official under Chiang Kai-Shek’s regime, Cheng worked for Shell Oil in Shanghai until she was arrested by the Red Guards in 1966 and accused of being a British spy. Throughout her six years in solitary confinement, Cheng held to her beliefs and refused to confess to crimes she didn’t commit or give in to the indoctrination of the Maoists.
“Even though a grownup, reading this autobiography showed me I knew little; we have so much more courage, willpower, strength, and spirit than we know. Unsurvivable situations can be survived. A bonus was learning about the true China and Cheng’s amazing, astonishing later life.” Karen from Chicago, Illinois
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Poet Maya Angelou’s memoir of the early years of her life is touching and heartbreaking all at the same time. Growing up with her grandmother in a small Southern town, she details how affecting the segregation was as a young black girl, as well as the feeling of abandonment from her mother. Covering many hard topics – including her sexual assault at a young age – I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings makes my list of books that will change your life.
“As a child I also suffered from sexual abuse. When my mother gave me this book, it helped me to know that if Maya could not only survive her childhood, but prosper and inspire others, then so could I. We both picked ourselves up through the love of books and reading.” Jasmine from Michigan
Crying in H Mart
A powerful memoir about growing up a Korean American from the indie singer known for her Japanese Breakfast project. Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, Michelle Zauner struggled to fit in as the only Asian-American student in high school, burdened by the high expectations of her mother. Moving East, she began working in the restaurant industry and joined a fledgling band. But not until her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis did Zauner feel like she discovered her identity and understood her Koreanness.
“I have always struggled with my relationship with my mom in my young adulthood. I love her, but we often butt heads in our opinions and in our world view (I grew up outside my home country), and sometimes I feel like there is a huge cultural barrier in communication. It hurts that that exists with someone I am so close to, and this book helped me relate to it and offered me so much comfort.” Name Withheld from Boston, Massachusetts
Testament of Youth
If you asked me what is the absolute saddest book ever, hands down the answer would be Vera Brittain’s autobiography. When the First World War comes to Britain, Vera’s older brother and all his friends enlist in the military. Not to be left behind, Vera herself ends up leaving school to become a nurse, serving in London, Malta and the Western Front in France. By the end of the war, almost all the men she ever knew are dead.
“It’s the memoir of a young woman before, during, and after WW1. It shows how even the most sheltered background (middle-class England in the 1910s) cannot protect one against immense tragedy, and then how sheer willpower and effort can help you rise above events beyond your control. Inspirational doesn’t begin to describe it!” Jade from Israel
What Alice Forgot
Alice Love wakes up after collapsing in spin class to discover that she is not a newly married 29-year-old pregnant with her first child. In actuality, she’s a 39-year-old mom of three children going through a brutal divorce. With no memory of the last decade, Alice must try to figure out where it all went wrong.
“I read this book shortly after getting divorced and it really helped me make peace with where we started vs where we ended.” Katie from Littleton, Colorado
Books That Comfort You
The Comfort Book
Matt Haig knows that we often learn the best life lessons when we are at our lowest. Over years, he collected notes, lists, and stories to remind his future self that everything isn’t all bad. The Comfort Book offers reassurance to those at their lowest that we can slow down and appreciate the beauty even in the unpredictability of life.
“I came across it during covid/ being isolated. Gave me perspective and helped me manage anxiety and a reminder of all I have to be thankful for. ” Brenda from Manitoba, Canada
The Book of Joy
The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Do you feel like joy is missing from your life? In this book, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu met together for a week with Douglas Abrams to teach you how you can find lasting happiness in a changing world. These two holy men discuss the nature of joy, the obstacles to joy and the foundation you need to find joy in your life. From the start, the love that these selfless men have for each other is apparent – they truly are best friends. Funny and enlightening, this book will leave you with a desire to find joy within yourself.
“It is a simple book about happiness and how to achieve it in your life. Conversation between two great religious leaders about friendships and loving one another” Gillian from Venice, Florida
A Little Life
Four classmates from a small Massachusetts college all find themselves in New York City trying to make their way in life: wannabe actor Willem, aspiring painter JB, entry-level architect Malcolm, and Jude who holds them all together. Over the decades, their friendships deepen but also darken – fighting addiction, coping with trauma, and balancing ambition and success.
“This book, both simultaneously heartwarming and brutal, was beautifully composed. The character-driven story of deep, lifelong male friendships was, for me, a new perspective and I was swept up in the connections, the struggles, and the triumphs. Initially daunted by the book’s length, I found myself so involved that I read increasingly slower as it neared the end.” Name Withheld from South Carolina
Tuesdays with Morrie
Mitch Albom had never forgotten his college professor Morrie Schwartz, so he jumped at the chance to rekindle his frienship with Morrie twenty years later. Knowing his life was drawing to an end due to ALS, Morrie met with Albom every Tuesday to teach him one final class: lessons on how to live.
“Tuesdays with Morrie is the most touching book I have ever read. Morrie’s lessons are something I think about nearly every day. I get goosebumps just thinking about the story.” Macie from Iowa
With the End in Mind
With thirty years experience in palliative care, Dr. Kathryn Mannix has spent a lifetime caring for the dying. Although advances in medicine have helped people live longer, death has also gone from a familiar subject to uncomfortable one. Mannix proposes ways to approach the inevitable with openness and understanding instead of fear.
“It helped me to prepare for the death of my Papa. I knew what to expect and could prepare for it so I wasn’t anxious or distressed. It also meant I could focus on enjoying the time I had left with him.” Clare from Scotland
Books About Choices
The Midnight Library
In the Midnight Library, there are two books – one book for the life you’ve lived and one for the one you could have lived. After attempting suicide, Nora Seed finds herself there. Now she must decide which book to choose from. What if she had made different choices? Would her life have been any better? All of us have regrets, and by allowing Nora the possibility to redo her life, Haig does a brilliant job showing how we can never predict the outcomes of our choices. A thoroughly enjoyable read that intimately talks about the pain depression and second-guessing has on our life.
“It put life into perspective in the most beautiful way. It shows that you may think things would be better if you had this or that, but in reality, things work out the way they are supposed to.” Dana from Kentucky
If you want to find success, you need to establish solid habits. In Atomic Habits, Clear outlines in detail the steps you can take to build good habits and break bad ones. With excellent insights and workable tips, Clear’s methodology will allow you to design your habits to improve your life. Instead of looking for books about self-discipline, learn how to build correct habits in this must-read life-changing book.
“It made me feel like I am worth something and that I can celebrate the small things. It is helping me to become the person I want to be and has had a very beneficial effect on my mental health.” Janet from Manchester, United Kingdom
In An Instant
In an instant, sixteen year old Finn Miller is killed in a car accident that sends her and ten others over a cliff. The impossible choices that were made in the accident still tormet the survivors. Caught between this world and the next, Finn can only watch as her family try to rebuild their lives after the tragedy, needing to move on but desperate to help her family.
“It made me really think about what I would do in a life-or-death situation when your family is with you. This book involved two families and how they made decisions in a crisis. It changed how I prepare for family outings.” Cassie from Illinois
Make Your Bed
Admiral William H. McRaven
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.” In 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven’s graduation speech at UT Austin went viral. In an expanded version of his speech, McRaven shares ten principles he learned as a Navy SEAL that have helped him overcome challenges in his career and his life.
“it made me more productive and inspire to take actions without prejudice or fear for the unexplored things. Also it made me get out of my comfort zone and try new things without hesitation.” Asif from Kolkata, India
The setting: North Dakota, summer of 1999. The tragedy: Landreaux Iron accidentally kills his neighbor’s 5-year-old son Dusty Ravich when hunting deer. The complication: According to Ojibwe tribe tradition, Landreaux gives his own 5-year-old son, LaRose, to be raised by the Ravich family. Thus sets up Louis Erdrich’s powerful novel of two families striving to overcome a horrible tragedy in the far reaches of North Dakota.
“I’ve never read a book that is so well-orchestrated that it feels as inevitable as life itself. LaRose’s kind actions ripple outward to eventually affect everyone in the narrative. Sometimes it seems like our individual lives are too insignificant to make a difference, but given enough time and momentum, one person truly can change the world for the better.” Audrey from Rhode Island
A Weekend to Change Your Life
After years of focusing on others’ needs, Joan Anderson realized it was time to focus on herself. Anderson spent a year by the sea rediscovering herself and recommitting to her dreams, then returned to create weekend workshops to help women change their own lives. Condensing her seminar into a book, Anderson helps women rediscover the passions and talents they sacrificed to the demands of family life and find a new way forward.
“A lot of times we follow the patterns of others. After reading the book I knew I wanted to learn to accept my feelings, and my wants, and my decisions. I started challenging myself more often.” Renee from Ontario, Canada
Seeking to create a modern-day The Lord of the Rings, Stephen King penned what is often considered one of the best dystopian books ever written. After an influenza-like pandemic kills most of the world’s population, the remaining survivors must choose between good and evil. With a heavy dose of supernatural in typical Stephen King fashion, this dark fantasy is his longest standalone novel.
“As a teenager, this book stood out as a battle between good and evil and the idea that the choices you make, both good and bad, have impacts that can change lives.” Martini from Virginia Beach
Books That Help You Understand Yourself
The Gifts of Imperfection
We all have that ideal image of ourselves in our heads, but in The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown shows you how to let go of being perfect and accept who you are. Discussing her ten guide points to a whole-hearted life, Brown helps you embrace your inner flaws and find the courage to engage with the world unashamedly.
“Gave me the courage to stand up for myself and not feel guilty. Also to be honest with confidence and move on. I like to read or reread one of her books every couple of years.” Susan from Washington State
For years, society has idolized extroverts, overlooking the many benefits of introversion. Well-researched and thought-provoking, Cain not only shows the power of introverts but also addresses the struggles introverts face and how to overcome them. Whether you are introverted or extroverted, this is one of those books that will change your life and make you see people in a different light.
After writing about recovering from a marriage rocked by infidelity in Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle has a new memoir about her love story with US soccer star Abby Wambach. Doyle details how she found herself by realizing her true power comes from within and not from the expectations others put on her. If you’ve read Love Warrior, you’ll have an interesting time discussing the public face we put on our lives. If you haven’t, you’ll still have a great time debating how much you agree with Doyle’s opinions.
Pride and Prejudice
It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve seen the BBC miniseries or the Keira Knightley movie, you still need to read the book. Jane Austen’s witty novel is a fun reminder of the importance of marrying for love and not lust or security. Follow along as Elizabeth Bennett goes from loathing to loving Mr. Darcy in one of the best classic romance novels.
“It made me realize that not settling is ok even if it’s frowned upon. Be the hero of your own story.” Karis from Richland, Washington
Books That Change Your Worldview
The Kite Runner
An unforgettable story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy Afghan boy and the son of his father’s servant that beautifully describes love, friendship, betrayal, and redemption. Be warned that the novel is violent and graphic at times, so understand that while moving, the story is dark and disturbing. It’s that contrast between the worst of human nature and the best that truly brings out a remarkable tale that will stay with you for a long time.
“It made me realise what a dim and narrow view I’d held of Afghanistan. The book describes the landscape, the vivid streets, people, customs, and history…all as a backdrop to the story. I felt like I was seeing Afghanistan for the first time. Beautiful and haunting.” Joanne from Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
What is the What
Based on a true story, What the What describes the life of Valentino Achak Deng and thousands of “Lost Boys” just like him. At age seven, Valentino is forced to leave his Sudanese village and trek hundreds of miles across three countries seeking refuge. Yet, even after resetlling in the United States, Valentino finds himself facing a different set of challenges.
“It truly opened my eyes to the struggles and horrors of Sudan.” Bethany from Lancashire, United Kingdom
The Great Believers
In 1985, Yale Tishman is set to acquire a treasure trove of artwork for the Chicago art gallery where he works. When his friend Nico dies of AIDS, Yale watches as all his best friends begin dying, leaving Nico’s sister Fiona as the only friend left. Flash forward to 1985, when Fiona is in Paris trying to find her daughter and coming to grips with how AIDS has altered her life.
“It is such an incredible story of love, loss, and resiliency. I felt like the characters were my friends and I was heartbroken to lose them! Such a poignant story about the AIDS epidemic – my heart broke for everyone, real and fictional, who suffered through this tragic time.” Dawn from Austin, Texas
The Other Wes Moore
In December 2000, the paper ran an article about Wes Moore receiving a Rhodes Scholarship. Yet, another article captivated Moore’s attention. Another boy named Wes Moore was accused of killing a police office in an armed robbery. After following the other Wes Moore’s trial and conviction, Moore reached out to him in prison. Their correspondence revealed two boys with similar childhoods and similar trials whose choices lead them in very different directions.
“How lives could seem so similar to start and end so different. Circumstance, choices, and life….. where it leads. My niece has the same name as me….. so different.” Sara from Nebraska
A feathered River Across the Sky
In the early nineteenth century, the Northern American skies were covered in passenger pigeons with flocks big enough to block the sun. By 1914, the last passenger pigeon died at the Cincinnati Zoo. Greenberg beautifully describes the lives of passenger pigeons and how their habits made them particularly vulnerable to humans as technology and men spread through North America. A thought-provoking tale of the consequences when men don’t harvest natural resources sustainably.
“Beautifully written and tragically sad, this book stings my heart to be aware of the environment. It made me serious about conservation.” Brenda from Columbus, Ohio
Books About Life Being Precious
Man’s Search for Meaning
How do you find meaning in your suffering? If anyone can find the answer, it’s psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. A memoir of his and others’ experiences in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl will help you cope with, find meaning in, and move past the trials in your life.
“I first read this book about 50 years ago and the message has inspired my life – that if you have a sense of purpose, the why, you will find the how. So far I have lived my life this way and feel filled with gratitude that I have been able to accomplish my diverse goals!” Cyndi from Sydney, Australia
We All Want Impossible Things
Since childhood, Edith and Ashley have been best friends, through childhood, marriages, infertility, and children. Sadly, Edi has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and is spending her last days in a hospice near Ash. As Edi and Ash remember their lives, Ash struggles to come to terms with her imperfections as a friend, a wife, and a mother.
“I lost a close friend last summer to cancer. This book handles the topic with humor and love. It gives you all the feels and thoughts that even when the world really sucks, there are really good people who will be there for you no matter what!” Wendy from Elgin, Illinois
One morning, everyone in the world wakes up to find a box on their doorstep that tells you how many years you will live. What do you do with the knowledge, or do you even open the box? As the world goes into a frenzy, lives are torn apart and unexpected friendships are created and a politician’s box becomes a powder keg.
“Made me think twice about how precious and valuable life is. It reminded me that tomorrow is not given and how important it is to really live in the moment.” Stephanie from Long Island, New York
The Road Less Travelled
M. Scott Peck
No one likes the painful process of confrontation, so instead of confronting our problems we tend to avoid. Yet avoiding our problems leads to great pain and suffering. Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck proposes ways we can work through the pain to face our difficulties and emerge with a higher understanding of ourselves.
“This book saved my life. I read The Road Less Traveled when I was about 20 years old (~30 years ago) soon after my dad had been killed in an accident. It helped me see that I could get through life’s many difficult circumstances.” Cat from Arkansas
Snow Falling on Cedars
On the remote San Piedro Island in the Pugent Sound, Japanese American Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with the murder of a local fisherman found mysteriously drowned. During the trial, San Piedro is forced to reconcile with its dark past, an entire community of Japanese Americans forced into exile during World War II.
“It defined the meaning of love for me. If you love someone enough to want them to be truly happy even at great heartbreak to yourself, you have achieved a new level of love. It helped me deal with my act of selfless love, making me feel like a hero instead of miserable.” Beth from Washington State
More Life Changing Books recommended by Readers
What’s The Best Books That Changed Your Life?
What do you think? If you were to answer the “Books That Changed My Life,” what would you say? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Nonfiction Books to Read:
An interesting and informative book that has changed my life forever is Empire of Pain
Great list! I’ve read many of these books and have added more to my TBR. This is the 3rd year I’ve done your challenge and I have 5 left to finish up this year. Do keep some “easy” challenges like a book with a blue cover. Pick a different color. Some ideas:
A book based during WWI
A book published in 1980s or 1990s
A book from Read with Jenna, Good morning America or Jimmy Fallon.
Set in Maine, or South Dakota or New Mexico
By a South African author
Book translated from another language
A book with an animal in the title
Set in a country you want to visit
A book set in 1950s
Under 200 pages
More than 400 pages
Thanks and I am looking forward to next year’s challenge.
More ideas for your book challenge:
During the civil war
Set in an art museum
Water in the title
Book about a female chef
A childrens book
Book about food
Book set in Alaska