45+ Most Inspirational Books of All-Time (Fiction & Non-Fiction)

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Some of the most inspirational books and authors from around the globe are listed below. Read through some of the descriptions to see how each one has contributed to the fabric of human hope, gratitude, and drive.

Jump ahead to these sections:

Choose one and you’ll find stories that may forever become part of your internal canvas. Maybe, you’ll discover a bit about what drives you forward. 

Best Inspirational Non-Fiction Books

Take a journey alongside someone extraordinary. You can learn about happiness, forgiveness, or mindfulness, depending on which book you choose. Some listed will help you rediscover yourself through the lens of the natural world. No matter the path, each story will inspire something new.

1. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

A poor upbringing, the death of her mother, and a lifetime of terrible decision-making marked Strayed with a brutal internal struggle.

Her book Wild is a manual for looking inside your tough past and finding insight into your journey and subsequent growth.

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2. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

Tao Te Ching was written for those seeking philosophical or spiritual guidance to discover the "Way," become more connected with naturalness, and understand non-action. 

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3. The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama XIV and Howard C. Cutler

You may or may not agree with the interpretations of Cutler, but the messages of the Dalai Lama are solid. In The Art of Happiness, you’ll find advice, strategy, and guidance for living a better, happier life, making it one of the most life-changing books you’ll ever read.

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4. The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold for Healing Ourselves and Our World by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu

If the opposite of forgiveness is holding onto pain in some way, then the only way to heal is to forgive.

In The Book of Forgiving, you’ll read about stories from Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu, both of whom survived apartheid and its injustices.

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5. The Universe Has Your Back: Transform Fear to Faith by Gabrielle Bernstein

Bernstein positions the world in your favor in The Universe Has Your Back. She writes from a place of peace and hopes to help others find inner peace as well.

The underlying themes of meditation, prayer, and mindfulness are meant to guide you as you turn to love and away from the things that don’t serve you and toward all the things to be grateful for.

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6. Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson

Jane Goodall is a must-read if you’re a fan of Jane Goodall, the primatologist, and her contribution to all sentient beings. One voice can make a difference, and Jane’s dedication has shown that.

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7. Stronghold: One Man's Quest to Save the World's Wild Salmon by Tucker Malarkey

It’s not a stretch to say that Stronghold one of those books to read before you die, especially if you know nothing about the salmon crisis.

Tucker Malarkey is trying to help save this unique anadromous fish from extinction, knowing full well that their fate is invariably linked with our own. 

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Best Inspirational Fiction Books

Authors from Russia to Nigeria to the United States are highlighted below with subjects ranging from love to loss and death.

They’ll guide you through these tough topics and more. While most of the books are a heavy read, their messages are strong enough to carry the weight. 

8. Colourblind: Inspirational African Fiction by Uzoma Uponi

The themes of Colourblind are centered around Christianity and Nigerian culture. In it, marriage, family, and religion each play a part in this sometimes heartbreaking, but honest look at the socio-economic differences that separate people.

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9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Set in Afghanistan, A Thousand Splendid Suns demonstrates the levels of the destructiveness of decades of war and occupation.

From the perspectives of two women, you’ll discover the ravages of a nation that, inspiringly, has not fully broken despite years of hardship.

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10. The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

The Five People You Meet in Heaven tackles the common struggle of finding purpose in one’s life and tells it through the lens of those you will meet in heaven. 

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11. The Walk by Richard Paul Evans 

The Walk is one man’s search for hope after losing everything. Not only will his journey resonate with anyone who has had to navigate purpose amidst struggle, but the author is generous in memorable quotes.

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12. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri

The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a story about two Syrian refugees forced to leave their country to seek solace in Yorkshire. They have lost their son, he has lost his eyesight, and now they must find each other. 

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13. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Yuri and Lara’s love drive the story of this Russian novel, which is revered as one of the greatest love stories ever told. As a result, Doctor Zhivago will do nothing less than inspire you to hold a little closer to the one you love.

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Best Inspirational Books for Women

Although the list below varies in its themes of racial identities, religious constraints, science, war, and even engendered violence, each novel approaches feminism as its underlying construct. While some of the themes can be tough to get through, the strength of the women herein cannot be overlooked.

14. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers a brief commentary on the devastating effects of female marginalization in her home in Nigeria, around the world, and in the United States. In a brief 52 pages, We Should All Be Feminists will introduce you to the reasons why feminism is needed now more than ever.

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15. Kindred by Octavia Butler

Butler’s story demonstrates the perception of history, identity, character, and fate in this time-traveling novel.

In Kindred, the protagonist is constantly traveling back in time to save her ancestor from ill-fate, but also perpetually ensnared in an identity created for her.

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16. The Imam's Daughter by Hannah Shah

Hannah Shah wrote her story to help those who have lived through similarly harrowing lives. The Imam's Daughter tells us what it means to suffer horrific mental and physical abuse by the hands of a father, as well as what it takes to survive and escape the instilled fear his society constructed.

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17. Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

Shockingly, only 3% of science Nobel Laureates have been women. With that in mind, not only does Nobel Prize Women in Science dive into the gender disparity behind this number, it can also help you better understand who these women were and what struggles they overcame to accomplish their goals.

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18. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This story is woven together using letters written by the islanders of Guernsey during the Nazi occupation in WWII. And you will discover a mix of inspiration, love, war, sacrifice, and more. 

In The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, you’ll discover the immense capacity humans have to survive and overcome adversity, even when facing isolation and fear.

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19. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and the Millennium Series) by Stieg Larsson

While the novels are written as graphic thrillers with intense twists and sometimes violent turns, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the subsequent series take a hard look at how tough, intellectual, and fierce women are born not from ripples, but earthquakes that create mountains of fortitude. 

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Best Inspirational Books for Kids, Students, and Teens

Great YA inspirational books often develop as a commentary to struggle. In the selection below, you’ll discover gender and cultural bias, socio-economic disparity, and a lot of fear. However, you’ll also find persistence and survival.   

20. Spriggles Motivational Books for Children: Inspiration by Jeff Gottlieb and Martha Gottlieb 

Inspiration is a great rhyming book for kids who are four to six years old to help them develop better self-esteem as well as increased self-awareness, positivity, and all-around motivation.

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21. Grace for President by Kelly DiPucchio and LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

Instead of feeling like it’s too big of a hurdle, Grace is actually motivated by the fact that there has never been a female president.

While the boys’ vote seems to be clinched for the boy candidate, Grace decides to inspire others with her courage and independent thinking in Grace for President.

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22. A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

Young Scarlett Chen is sent to America to provide her unborn son with a better life. A River of Stars is about her struggles with identity, socioeconomic divides, and the enduring will to survive in order to better understand privilege.

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23. Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras

Fruit of the Drunken Tree is set in 1990s Colombia when the country was struggling with Pablo Escobar, guerilla drug lords, rampant kidnappings, robberies, and murders. The story is told from two very different socioeconomic backgrounds, where life has two dissimilar definitions.

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24. Catch the Whisper of the Wind: Inspirational Stories and Proverbs from Native Americans by Cheewa James

Inspirational Native Americans from across the US and Canada tell their stories in this compilation book. In Catch the Whisper of the Wind, you’ll read about Olympians, political leaders, and more as they describe the challenges that their different tribes have endured.

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Best Inspirational Books for College Students and New Graduates

Many college students will achieve a diploma and head straight into the workforce. However, some graduates will take alternate roads towards spiritual awakenings, travel, or continued study. No matter which, each path is valid, so we've chosen books worthy of all aspects of the study.

25. You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life by Eleanor Roosevelt

You Learn by Living is the former first lady's book of tangible advice for anyone seeking to live a fulfilled life. Of those bits of wisdom comes the courage to face your fears, becoming a helpful member of society as a path to happiness, and approaching life as an adventure.

It's an excellent book for college students trying to find their voice or path in a demanding world.

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26. Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind by Yuval Noah Harari

Harari's Sapiens is surprisingly controversial, which means that if it can equally strike a chord and be celebrated among people, it's a good read.

Pick it up for philosophy, science, and the great opinions about humanity's past, present, and future. 

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27. The Forest Unseen: A Year's Watch in Nature by David George Haskell

Sure, Haskell's book is about one square meter of land, which he visits and studies over the course of the year. Yet, it's impossible to remove the science-based tenor with humanity's apparent relationship with planet Earth. 

If you're a recent STEM graduate, you'll find joy in both the ecosystem diversity and the stages of life.

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28. The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor by Eddie Jaku

The central premise to The Happiest Man on Earth is that despite the horrors of Auschwitz, it's still possible to choose a good life.

Leaving no stone unturned, Jaku recounts the horrors of the concentration camp but reminds readers that the key to happiness is in a blend of gratitude, tolerance, and kindness.

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29. The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan by Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller

The will to survive vast or untold atrocities is a lesson for living no matter who you are and what degree you receive. 

The only hiccup is at the end, when in place of a summary or thought based on experience, the author details spending and purchasing expensive items in The Broken Circle

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30. Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change by Stacey Abrams

Political books generally receive mixed reactions, and Lead from the Outside is no different. On one side, people see it as a political ploy to raise money, but others found it incredibly helpful and insightful, especially those inspiring minority leaders.

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31. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear

For greater focus, as you enter the workforce, pick up a copy of Atomic Habits and then seek to apply them over a short period to note their effectiveness. 

Clear's book isn't just for the office-seeking new graduate; it'll work for anyone seeking to improve their disciple no matter their chosen career. 

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32. Omoiyari: The Japanese Art of Compassion by Erin Niimi Longhurst

Longhurst writes that to have compassion for others, one must first care for themselves. Thus, the concept of Omoiyari has less to do with goals and motives and more to do with leaving a place better than it was found—ideal for such degrees as nursing, teaching, and sustainability.

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Best Inspirational Business Books

From sports to the fourth sector, business runs dynamically. Therefore, seek out a book from the following list that pertains most sincerely to your profession.   

33. Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming by Paul Hawken

Drawdown's 100 solutionary measures are a must-read for any economist, politician, or land and home developer when tackling the climate crisis. 

The techniques and practices are geared towards sustainability, carbon reductions and serving the bottom line.

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34. Achieving Excellence in Fundraising by Eugene R. Tempel, Timothy L. Seiler, and Eva E. Aldrich

Fundraising is the anchor of the fourth sector. Without it, the goals of many altruists would find little progress. Read this book if you're working towards your initial CFRE or if the executives in your nonprofit need a refresher on measures and tactics.

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35. Think Like a Warrior: The Five Inner Beliefs that Make You Unstoppable (Sports for the Soul) by Darrin Donnelly

For those of you feeling disenchanted by your career or current path, Donnelly's Think Like a Warrior will inspire you to find the strength to take charge once again.

Written with the wisdom of five famous coaches—John Wooden, Buck O'Neil, Herb Brooks, Bear Bryant, and Vince Lombardi—this book works for anyone hanging out on the sidelines and ready to get back in and play.

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36. In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from Over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs by Grace Bonney

Those located in the New York and California geographies will most enjoy these stories and highlights from notable women.

Additional insights on business application and time management in In the Company of Women will help anyone trying to make it happen.

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38. You Are Enough! Reclaiming Your Career and Your Life With Passion, Purpose, and Unapologetic Authenticity by Charlene Wheeless

A 1980s black female executive recounts her tale of what it was like to climb the ladder in a white, male-dominated sector.

Buy or rent You Are Enough! from a library for an abundance of thought leadership in the realm of corporate communications.

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39. Girl on Fire: How to Choose Yourself, Burn the Book, and Blaze Your Own Trail in Life and Business by Cara Alwill Leyba

Girl on Fire will light a match for you no matter if you plan to jump into the workforce headfirst or swim in a self-created entrepreneurial adventure. 

Either way, Lebya's book is meant to inspire anyone who needs that rallying cry to arrive, see, and conquer.

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40. The Inspirational Leader: Inspire Your Team to Believe in the Impossible by Gifford Thomas

Comparing this book to those from other thought leaders takes away from the experience of Gifford Thomas, who nonetheless offers quotes to notable leaders in the force.

Instead, read it knowing that the path to outstanding leadership is wide and varied, a journey everyone takes, especially understanding that no notable leader began as an expert. 

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41. Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons on Creativity by Frances Palmer

For artists in any genre, check out Life in the Studio. From Palmer, you'll discover transformative advice suitable for right-brained thinkers. No matter the industry, note the options to grow within your wherewithal, dive deep into your art, come out alive, and be ready to succeed.

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Best Inspirational Travel Books

Look below for inspiration in the ancient Buddhist caves of India, foot races through the Gobi Desert, and compilation novels from renowned authors (and more).

42. Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard

Runner Dion Leonard competed in an ultramarathon race through the Gobi Desert when a sweet little dog decided to keep pace for 77 miles. After that, Leonard knew he had to do whatever he could to be part of her life and bring her home.

Read Finding Gobi if you're an ultrarunner, a world traveler, or anyone who loves dogs.

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43. The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

If your interests include fishing, marine biology, rare species, or traveling to the Bay of Bengal, check out The Hungry Tide. Author Amitav Ghosh weaves a romantic and suspenseful tale where political unrest matches the devastating tides on the Sundarban Islands.

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44. A Year at Otter Farm by Mark Diacono

Before you head to Devon in Southwest England, dive inside Mark Diacono's A Year at Otter Farm. Along with recipes, you'll gain insight into the culinary seasons and care for 17 acres of glorious patch and farm.

Dream about living a bucolic life through the prose, photos, and dishes anyone can cook up.

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45. An Introduction to the Ajanta Caves: With Examples of Six Caves by Rajesh K. Singh

The Ajanta caves in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state, described in this book, are a UNESCO world heritage site covered with ancient Buddhist paintings from over a century ago. 

Take a day trip to the 20,000+ acre site to learn about the history of Buddhism and the Vakataka rulers, part of the Brahmin dynasties.

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46. To See the Mountain and Other Stories by The Caine Prize for African Writing

The Caine Prize was developed to showcase new and inspiring African writers. In the 2011 compilation, To See the Mountain and Other Stories, you'll read:

  • Alex Smith's "Wolf Blue"
  • Olufemi Terry's "Dark Triad"
  • Beatrice Lamwaka's "Bottled Memory" 
  • Jide Adebayo-Begun's "Bridge" 
  • Dona Forbin's "No Blood, No Slaves" 

Read it before your next safari or trip to Marrakesh to appreciate the vitality and strength of African culture.

47. Road to Valor: A True Story of WWII Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation by Aili and Andres McConnon

If you've ever dreamed of training and riding the Tour de France or rural Tuscany, then Road to Valor is for you. It's the story of an unwitting hero who loved chianti, smoking, and took to the bike to change a nation.

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48. When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt by Kara Cooney

Egyptian culture relied on rulers like Cleopatra, Hatshepsut, and Nefertiti to enable the highest levels of government. What's notable about that is the society that developed beneath the strength and power of women. 

Pick up a copy of When Women Ruled the World if you're pining for a trip to the pyramids or if you just want to live vicariously through strong feminine rulers.

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49. World Travel: An Irreverent Guide by Anthony Bourdain and Laurie Woolever

No travel book list would be complete with something from Anthony Bourdain, where you'll gain insight on how to get where you're going as well as what to eat and where to stay.

If you appreciated his television show, traveling to destinations from a comfortable seat in your home, then you’ll delight in his book, too.

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Get Inspired

Sometimes it seems like we need a bigger boost than most days, so why not pick up a book that can help? Once you do, maybe you’ll have discovered a lot more momentum once you’ve read the final sentence.

Looking for more book inspiration? Read our guides on books about pandemics and spiritual books for beginners.

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