If you are looking for books that will change your life, look no further than these powerful life changing books that belong on everyone’s reading list.
What’s a book that changed your life?
It’s a pretty personal question, isn’t it? I mean, by the very nature of the expression, life changing books must be something more. Something vital and extraordinary, with deeper meaning and further insight.
Yet, sometimes the most ordinary book can be life-changing. It all comes down to your very needs at the time you read it.
Given that this is almost an impossible question to ask, I thought I’d do my best to compile a list of life changing books. I’ve gathered world changing books that will change your perception of the world around you, books about life to help you better live yours, and even books about changing your life so you can create better habits and routines.
While I can’t promise that these are books that will change your life, they are at least a good starting point to better your life. What more can you ask?
World Changing Books
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.
Yuval Noah Harari
Narrowing down the best life changing books about science isn’t easy, and I might have chosen wrong. Yet there is something enduring about Harari’s look at the history of humans. How did our species survive so long and what does that mean for us today? Taking discoveries from numerous scientific fields, Harari has whittled down 100,000 years of human history into an insightful 500-page book.
If you are looking for books that change your life view, your first stop should be Bill Bryson’s easy-to-read tome covering … well, nearly everything. In his quest to expand his knowledge, Bryson sets out to interview and study with some of the greatest minds. Covering the big bang theory, the rise of civilization, and everything in between, Bryson’s humorous adventures into the depths of human knowledge are one not to miss.
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.
Ibram X. Kendi
Ibram X. Kendi has penned the premier work on racial justice in America. Kendi’s premise is that the opposite of racist policies is antiracist policies that actively aid in creating more equity between races. Using history, law, ethics, and science, Kendi shows what an antiracist society would look like and helps illustrate how we can contribute to the building of a more equitable world.
Technology reporter Sarah Frier gives an in-depth look at the social media giant Instagram. When creating Instagram, founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger wanted to blend art and technology. From its founding days to its explosive growth and purchase by Facebook, Frier shows how Instagram became an unlikely success story that has changed how we perceive social media. Frier raises some thought-provoking philosophical questions about how social media shapes our world but leaves it to the reader to consider what, if anything, can be done about them.
Ibram X. Kendi
On top of teaching you how to be an antiracist, Ibram X. Kendi has written the top life changing book on the history of racism in America that will cause you to think differently about American history. Covering the Puritans and the Founding Fathers all the way to the civil rights movement and modern-day activists, Kendi shows that racist ideas and discriminatory practices have permeated American history since its inception.
Best Books for Life Change
Did you know that intelligence is not a very accurate predictor of success? Psychologist Angela Duckworth puts forth an insightful new predictor for success: grit. That perseverance through obstacles and sheer determination to get ahead. With numerous studies and interesting anecdotes, Duckworth has written one of those books that make you think about where you fall on the scale. How gritty are you? And since grit isn’t fixed, you’ll find in yourself a desire not only to develop it in yourself but also to encourage it in your children.
As a therapist, Lori Gottlieb spent all day helping others with their problems. Yet, when her longtime boyfriend unexpectedly broke up with her, she found herself on the receiving end of therapy. Gottlieb’s memoir is top-notch with exceptional pacing, slyly weaving in explanations of therapy within the fascinating story of Gottlieb’s therapy sessions. You’ll quickly become attached to finding out what happens to her patients – a narcissistic tv producer, a dying newlywed, and a depressed senior citizen.
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.
You must be comfortable with reading profanity for this book for changing your life. As Manson introduces his topic, he drops F-bombs left and right, almost like a blogger keyword stuffing for SEO. The swear words tailed off considerably once you get into the meat of the book, which allows Manson’s original idea to fully shine. He hypothesizes that the key to life is not to be happy. Instead, the key is to embrace the limitations, flaws, and suffering of life. You’ll be left with plenty to think about after reading this anti-self-help book.
Did you know that vulnerability can be a strength? Based on years of research, Brown argues that it is only by being vulnerable that we can find the courage to engage in meaningful connections, whether in our relationships, our communities, and our careers.
In the last few years, society seems to have embraced the idea of living a creative life. Find your passion in art, music, writing, or whatever pursuit has hold of your heart. Thus, Elizabeth Gilbert’s series of essays about creative living is perfectly fitting for books on changing your life. In it, she describes her thoughts on the creative life and firmly disagrees with the idea of suffering for your art.
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Everywhere I turn someone is talking about the Enneagram. It’s an ancient personality test that describes how you interact with the world. The Enneagram is split into nine personality types, each that can lean toward one of its neighbors and takes on different characteristics when it’s stressed or when it feels secure. Although this personality test has been around for ages, its surprisingly insightful stereotyping makes it a great addition to the books for changing your life.
Best Life Changing Books
If you want to find success in your career or your life, 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.
If you asked me about books that changed my life, I would first respond with this decluttering guide from the queen of modern minimalism books. With her KonMari method, decluttering became a huge craze in the United States and throughout the world. Her premise centers on the question, “Does it Spark Joy?” Of all the minimalism books, she goes for the big win. She has you declutter by category, taking all your books out and sorting through them at the same time. You create a big mess, but you end up with big rewards.
What makes extremely successful people different from others? Is it talent, intelligence, or hard work? Gladwell uses statistics and interesting real-life examples to show how closely success is tied to not only natural ability and hard work but also opportunity and timing. It’s one of those books that get you thinking about how much culture, upbringing, and just plain luck play into your life.
A must-read for any woman embarking on her career, Sheryl Sandberg’s book will inspire you to fully lean in to your profession. Lean In is one of the books that will make you think of the realities of the workplace for women versus what it should be like. Sandberg gives great advice on how to combat bias against women in the workplace and manage a career, a marriage, and a family.
Greg McKeown encourages you to bring the pursuit of less into all aspects of your life. Described as essentialism, McKeown urges you to learn how to decide what is most essential and then cut out anything else. All about reclaiming your life through powerful choices, McKeown will make you realize it’s not about having more time, it’s about doing the right things with the time you have.
If you want to change your life, you need to make your money work for you. Dave Ramsey’s book is the best starting point to get you thinking about finances. His book clearly explains the dangers of debt – especially credit card debt – and is a great how-to guide to get you out of debt and ready to be financially free. If Ramsey isn’t your style, try other life changing books on personal finance like Rich Dad Poor Dad, Your Money or Your Life, or The Millionaire Next Door.
Can you have it all? Laura Vanderkam thinks you can, as long as you plan for it. Vanderkam has written multiple time management books, and in 168 Hours she teaches you how to make the most of every single hour. With plenty of statistics to test your assumptions about how we actually spend our time, Vanderkam will convince you that you have more time than you realize. A great read for all, but especially helpful for women trying to balance career and family.
In his bestselling allegorical novel, Paula Coelho tells the story of a young Andalusian shepherd who sets out on a journey through the Egyptian desert to find a treasure he saw in a dream. Along the way, he meets various characters who point him in the right direction, until he finally realizes the treasure he seeks is within. Full of insightful comments on life, The Alchemist is one of those life changing books that is simple yet profound.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
If you aren’t in the mood for long allegory books, The Little Prince is a short illustrated story full of morals – if only you have eyes to see them. It’s one of those classic books in which you can get out of it as much or as little as you want. This short allegory follows a young boy, the Little Prince, who decides to give up his pleasant life on his tiny planet to go discover the universe. Along the way, he encounters a strange place called Earth and learns about some of the absurdities of the adults.
Growing up, Piscine “Pi” Patel loves spending his time at the zoo his parents own. When his parents decide to move their zoo from India to Canada, he finds himself on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, never suspecting that a storm will leave him stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific struggling to survive for months at sea with a Bengal tiger as his only companion. With just a few simple sentences near the end, suddenly Martel makes you pause and reevaluate everything you just read.
On the surface, Animal Farm is just a simple tale of animals revolting against the cruel farmer to set up their own government. In reality, Animal Farm is the perfect parable for the danger of giving up our freedoms for the sake of security. If you’ve ever wondered how a dictatorship comes to be, this classic short novel will show you. To get the most of this short classic, you’ll want to pair it with my favorite book of all time, George Orwell’s 1984.
A wounded war veteran, Edie has lived an uninspiring life fixing rides at an amusement park. When he is killed on his 83rd birthday while saving a little girl from a runaway ride, Edie finds himself in heaven. There he meets five people whose lives he has changed in this heartwarming novel.
Novels That Will Change Your Life
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.
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter works hard to find balance in her life between her poor neighborhood and the elite suburban prep school she attends. Yet, when Starr is the only witness to the fatal police shooting of her best friend, she finds herself in the middle of a national headline. With all the recent coverage of police shootings, Thomas’ novel adds a new layer to the conversation on the Black Lives Matter movement.
When Kate develops leukemia as a child, her parents decide to have another child – one specifically with a perfect bone marrow match for Kate. Thus, all Anna’s life, she has undergone countless procedures to help her older sister. But now Anna has had enough and is ready to live her own life unconstrained by Kate’s illness. As Anna makes a life-or-death decision, you’ll feel torn between Anna’s needs, Kate’s needs, and the love and desperation of their mother. It’s a book that will make you question how you would react. Hopefully, you will never have to find out.
One of the top life changing books on racism, Toni Morrison’s horror story shows the scars left behind by slavery. Although she escaped slavery by running to Ohio, Sethe is still not a free woman. She can’t seem to get the horrors of Sweet Home out of her mind and is haunted by the ghost of her baby. When a teenage girl arrives claiming to be Beloved, Sethe’s past finally catches up to her.
How much does higher intelligence give you a better life? The tale of a mentally disabled man who undergoes an experiment that increases his IQ to an insanely high level will make you ponder the benefits and drawbacks of both high and low intelligence. Keep tissues handy, it’s a book that will make you cry.
A sobworthy middle-grade read based on the author’s childhood, Where the Red Fern Grows tells the story of Billy Colman, who saves up all his money for two years to purchase two coonhounds. Soon, Billy, Little Ann, and Old Dan become the best hunting team in the Ozark Mountains where glory and tragedy await them.
I’m sure you’d didn’t expect to find Agatha Christie’s classic mystery on my list of life-changing books. This infamous whodunit about a group of strangers gathered at an isolated island mansion who begin dying one by one is a quick read. Yet, after discovering the answer to this locked room mystery, you’ll forever begin to expect the unexpected in every other novel you read.
Life Changing Memoirs
At only 36 years old, Dr. Kalanithi was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Suddenly, he found himself thrust from the role of a neurosurgeon to that of a dying patient. Coming face-to-face with his mortality, Kalanithi decided to write his memoir and wrestle with the question: “What makes life worth living in the face of dying?” Easily one of the best memoirs, When Breath Becomes Air will likely make you sob uncontrollably.
With the Nazis occupying Holland, thirteen-year-old Jewish girl Anne Frank and her family went into hiding in the secret annex of an old office building. For two years, they hid with another family until they were betrayed to the Gestapo. Anne Frank’s diary gives a moving account of how a teenager experienced these world-shattering events and teaches of the Holocaust in such an intimate manner.
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.
Sometimes it takes doing something crazy, like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, for you to truly put your life in order. By 22, Cheryl Strayed’s life felt out of control, so she decided to make a life-changing decision to hike the PCT. You’ll laugh at Strayed’s mishaps, be in awe had her stupidity and bravery, and, if you are like me, really want to go for a hike.
There is no excuse to not read Tara Westover’s spectacular memoir. In my opinion, Educated is one of the best books of the last decade. Westover grew up in the rural mountains of Idaho with no formal education. Despite her extremist survivalist parents and violent older brother, Westover managed to make her way into college, eventually earning a PhD. Her amazing determination is inspiring while the circumstances of her childhood are incredibly sad.
In one of the most powerful memoirs of recent years, Jeannette Walls recounts the story of her tumultuous childhood. She opens the book with the account of how at 3 years old, she ends up hospitalized with severe burns after pouring scalding water on herself when cooking hot dogs for lunch. You meet her charming father Rex, equal measures brilliant and paranoid; her mother Rose, selfish and depressed; and her three siblings, trying their best just to survive. To quote my husband, “Sometimes someone’s train wreck of a life is fascinating.”
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 Birds Sing makes my list of books that will change your life.
Empowering Books That Will Change Your Life
Caroline Criado Perez
Caroline Criado Perez shows that we live in a world designed for men that systemically discriminates against women. With overwhelming statistics, Perez exposes the prevalent gender-data gap in countless fields, including medicine, technology, and urban planning. The staggering evidence will blow your mind and make you rethink everything you thought you knew. If you have a chance, Perez’s audiobook narration is spectacular, catching every hint of sarcasm, disbelief, and anger in the author’s voice.
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.
Inspired by her TED Talk, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, empowers women to be brave enough to embrace imperfection. From a young age, girls are conditioned to be nice – to be kind, considerate, and not offend. Yet, what works well in elementary doesn’t translate into real-life creating women who feel like they are never good enough.
Tired of how much more she does managing her house than her husband, Eve Rodsky turned her frustration into a Sh*t I Do List which evolved to become a game called Fair Play. Women tend to bear an unfairly large portion of the household management – not because they are innately better at it but because that’s how we have been socialized to view motherhood. Good communication between spouses is vital to a successful marriage, and miscommunications and resentments tend to arise when we are clear about who is in charge of what.
Should you have it all and be the perfect version of you or should you ignore what others think and do whatever? Kendra Adachi implores you to take a third path – the lazy genius way. By being a genius about what matters to you and lazy about what doesn’t, Adachi promises to help you avoid overwhelm and discover a better way of life. Combining the best advice in a unique way, Adachi always emphasizes the importance of doing what’s best for you.
It’s the first thing you reach for in the morning and the last thing you touch at night before falling asleep. The smartphone has become a ubiquitous part of our modern lives, and if you want to be more productive, it’s time for that to change. Catherine Price has a realistic 30-day plan to help you break up with your phone. Price eases you into your phone breakup by helping you slowly use mindfulness and planning to your advantage.
Classic Books That Change Your Life
Victor Hugo’s tale of Jean Valjean – the peasant convicted for stealing a loaf of bread – will leave you breathless. From the example of forgiveness of the priest to the unrelenting determination of Inspector Javert, the story has so many outstanding themes to learn from. Yes, the musical is fantastic, but if you have a chance, be sure to pick up the original life changing book. While it might drag in some spots, overall, the story is simply unforgettable.
There’s a good reason that practically every school makes you read this book. Voted the Great American Read and one of Goodreads’ best books, To Kill A Mockingbird is a timeless classic that everyone should read. The story of young Scout and Jem watching their father Atticus Finch defend an innocent black man will make you want to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.
Published in 1949, George Orwell’s terrifying vision of the future is just as important today as when it was written. Telling the story of Winston, a depressed Party worker who longs to join the Resistance, 1984 shows the horror of a totalitarian society continually at war. Commonly referenced in modern culture (i.e., Big Brother, doublethink, thoughtcrime,), 1984 is one of the best dystopian novels of all time and my all-time favorite book.
Famous orator and former slave Frederick Douglass penned his memoir and treatise on abolition in 1845. Douglass started his life under the ownership of a cruel master and then moved between masters of varying levels of kindness before ending up as a field hand from which he eventually escapes. Douglass’s important text shows that although the kindness of masters varies wildly, slavery is morally wrong under every one of them.
This memorable classic about friendship follows eternal optimists George and Lennie who share a common dream – to own some land of their own. When life leads them to work on a California ranch, they bump up against the reality that life can be extremely unfair. Steinbeck is a brilliant writer, and this story will stick with you long after you’ve read it.
Steinbeck’s epic on the Great Depression is a must-read classic book. After being released from prison, Tom Joad finds his family crippled by the Dust Bowl and ready to give the promise of California a try. Instead, the Joad family finds the harsh realities for migrants and begins to fall apart as they each handle the injustices of life in different ways.
If you enjoy psychology at all, Crime and Punishment is the must-read of the classic books to read before you die. Take a step into the troubled mind of Raskolnikov, a poor student who decides to murder an old woman. The psychological probing of Raskolnikov’s mind is fascinating as he deals with the decision to kill, the guilt of the crime, and the fear of being caught.
What Books Have Changed Your Life?
What do you think? What life changing books would you recommend? Do you agree or disagree with my list of life-changing books? As always, let me know in the comments!
More Nonfiction Books to Read: