Literature often deals with the big mysteries of life. When it comes to making the most of your life, how to change your life, and looking for new things to learn, books will provide that and more. However, there are some books that transform the way you think thanks to brilliant writing, evocative storytelling, and transformative ideas.
We’ve compiled a list of books that range widely across genres, styles, and tastes. No matter what you like, you’re sure to find something that tickles your fancy here.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Life-Changing Self-Help Books
- Life-Changing Books About Philosophy
- Life-Changing Fiction Books
- Life-Changing Books About Your Body, Health, and Wellness
- Life-Changing Books About the World and History
Life-Changing Self-Help Books
Self-help sometimes gets a bad rap for being too "touchy-feely." These books will help you make real changes if that’s what you want to do.
1. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
In Western society, we’ve put an aura of mystery around creative people. Many stories are told about the "requirements" of creativity. Living a miserable life, pushing away friends, abusing substances, possibly committing suicide seems like the cost of a creative life, yes?
Gilbert answers this with an emphatic no in Big Magic. Creativity can change your life, but if you harness it, only in good ways.
2. Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
Hollis’ tone mimics Instagram captions: sometimes inspirational, sometimes heartfelt, always readable. She covers issues that women everywhere face.
From balancing family guilt to child-raising to careers, she covers it all. With a relatable tone and a focus on hard work, this is an easy read by Hollis. If you like this book, she wrote another called Girl, Stop Apologizing.
3. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
We’ve all heard about "gifted kids." Sometimes, it turns out that gifted is just a synonym for the rich, which can be discouraging before you even start. Duckworth disagrees.
She acknowledges, of course, the benefits of having a secure home, food security, and wealthy parents. But she believes in a quality called grit, which she defines as "passion and perseverance." Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance serves as a case study in where grit can take you.
4. Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes
Rhimes rocketed to TV writer fame with her work on popular shows like Grey’s Anatomy. But her scope as a writer goes beyond TV.
Year of Yes chronicles the story of a year, in which she vowed to say "yes!" to everything that scared her. Her journey to places she couldn’t even imagine is inspiring.
5. G’morning, G’night by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Have you heard about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s infamous positive tweets? He wishes his followers good morning and good night with quick bursts of inspiration in G'morning, G'night. With bits of wisdom like "Don’t get stuck in the comments section today," this is perfect for a quick read.
Life-Changing Books About Philosophy
Sometimes, it feels like you should do a little soul-searching. Examining what you believe, and why, is an important part of getting older.
6. Five Dialogues by Plato
In the philosophy world, Plato ranks with Socrates, Aristotle, and other greats. It’s easy to assume that his work is only digestible by geniuses.
Who sits down to read Plato on their lunch break, anyway? Surprisingly, Five Dialogues isn’t too hard to read. With plenty of wisdom that will stretch your mind, it’s still comprehensible by the average reader. Plato focuses on life and death, two subjects that might inspire you to start end-of-life planning.
7. A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton
Philosophy is multi-faceted, crazy, and exciting. It’s been influenced by social climate, religions, wars, and independent minds that refused to conform to any mold.
It’s hard to get a handle on, though. Things have changed so much in the past decade, let alone the past millennia. The easy-to-comprehend history in A Little History of Philosophy serves as a great intro to the world of philosophy.
8. Nature and Selected Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Emerson was one of the greatest American essayists of all time. He examined the world through the lens of his Transcendentalist beliefs and became wiser for it. By considering how man impacts nature, and vice versa, Emerson has a lot of wisdom to share in his Nature and Selected Essays.
9. At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell
Do different schools of philosophical thought seem too highbrow for you? Consider reading this book. Bakewell’s book relies on a simple premise: personalization.
At the Existentialist Cafe sets the stage in 1933 Paris, where a group gathers over cocktails. Each character represents a philosophical concept or school of thought: humanism, existentialism, and more.
10. The Problems of Philosophy by Bertrand Russell
The Problems of Philosophy is often included in introductory philosophy syllabuses. That’s because it’s easy to read and provides breadth, not depth. If you’re a beginner to philosophy, Russell orchestrates a life-changing introduction.
Life-Changing Fiction Books
Fiction has the power to change our worldviews, relationships, and even our lives.
11. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Don’t be scared away by the size of this novel. Rand challenges popular conceptions of free will, mankind, and individuality in Atlas Shrugged.
By championing free will, she challenges the reader to consider just how much control they have over their own life.
12. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles the rise and fall of a mythical town and the people that live in it. Truth and magic, as championed by one family, take center stage in this gripping novel.
It tackles greed, wealth, the power of love all through the generations of this family who run this town.
13. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Despite the controversy sparked by Huckleberry Finn, it’s easy to dismiss it. An adventure down the Mississippi River, narrated by a boy who can’t stay out of trouble, with no doubt, many have heard about it.
But Twain uses Huck, as his boyish narrator, to examine a lot of truths about humanity. Why are we sometimes so willing to be fooled? What is honor, and why does it matter? What makes someone good? Twain examines all these questions, and more, under the guise of a romp down the Mississippi.
14. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
One of Shakespeare’s most classic plays, Hamlet deals with concepts of responsibility and mortality. What should filial loyalty require? How far should it go?
As a tragedy, Hamlet’s life is headed downhill from the start. But the lessons he imparts along the way, through clever twists and lengthy monologues, are unforgettable.
15. All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater
This magical realism novel deals with miracles and the desert. A wild, strange book, All the Crooked Saints examines trauma recovery through an odd, poignant lens. In the story, the Soria family has been performing miracles for years.
Miracles are a two-part business, though. If someone comes to them to be healed from inner darkness, the Sorias can only perform one miracle. The second part, confronting and moving on from the darkness, can only be done by the pilgrim themselves.
Life-Changing Books About Your Body, Health, and Wellness
Making sure you have a healthy relationship with your body is crucial.
16. Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
Gawande, a Boston surgeon, knows all about end-of-life decisions. He’s the one who sometimes has to break the tragic news to families. And while his top priority is doing so with empathy and compassion, it’s still difficult. If you’re interested in children’s books on death, this might not be a great option. But that very angle sparked Being Mortal.
It’s an examination and a critique of modern attitudes and systems set up to handle aging and end-of-life in our society. If you’d like to get a more in-depth take before you read, we’ve created a Being Mortal book review.
17. WomanCode by Alisa Vitti
Women’s health and bodies are sometimes considered taboo. WomanCode focuses on hormonal health from a holistic perspective, which can revolutionize your body.
With a detailed plan, Vitti provides a food-based plan, not a restrictive diet. Vitti promotes listening to your body and achieving balance. Prior to writing her book, Vitti dealt with PCOS. She developed a food-based plan to help herself get better, which provided a test drive for the plan.
18. The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington
Have you ever heard anyone brag about how they don’t get enough sleep? Huffington challenges this mindset in her groundbreaking book The Sleep Revolution. The Internet brims with tips and tricks.
Turn off your devices before bed, go to sleep at the same time every night…Does any of it work? Huffington’s book isn’t another “how to get to sleep” book. It exposes societal attitudes toward sleep—often treated like a waste of time—and how that impacts every corner of our lives.
19. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Sometimes, being brave is all it takes to revolutionize your health, wellness, and confidence. If you’re struggling with these things, Daring Greatly might be exactly what you need. If you’re an avid Netflix watcher, you might recognize this. Netflix produced and retitled it as The Call to Courage.
Brown examines the power of vulnerability. Some of us have been taught to avoid it at all costs. Brown talks about how this costs us socially, professionally, and personally. Even though it’s about vulnerability, it’s also one of the best books on grief.
20. It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell
Self-love seems to be a buzzword these days. In It Was Me All Along, Mitchell examines its importance when it comes to our relationships with our bodies.
We’re all familiar with dieting slogans and fads. And that culture has produced extreme TV shows, books full of "advice," and more. But as a society, we’re slowly realizing how this approach can foster eating disorders and other issues.
Mitchell’s book doesn’t fall into those pitfalls, though. Rather than adopting extreme measures, this is a story of balance and acceptance.
Life-Changing Books About the World and History
History helps us to understand how the world we live in today came to be, and it deserves examination.
21. Art in Time: A World History of Styles and Movements by Gauvin A. Bailey, Stella Paul, Alistair Rider, Matthew P. McElway
Does art influence people, or do people influence art? The answer is both. Art has always been informed by the religious, social, and political climates surrounding its creation.
Art in Time provides a comprehensive history of the art that has changed our world.
22. The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World by Niall Ferguson
There were plenty of options to pay aside from cash, credit, or check back in the day. However, in The Ascent of Money, Ferguson examines how the exchange of money changed the world.
Our governments are centered around economic systems, and that can change everything. Your salary, life quality, career, opportunities: They all stem back to money and economics. And that’s always been in constant flux.
Centuries ago, paper money held no sway. Plastic was unheard of. Societies relied on barter systems. But as currency changed, so did careers, personal lives, and more.
23. The Making of the Middle Ages by R. W. Southern
The Middle Ages are often dismissed as a vague, bleak time period. That isn’t true! Southern examines the vivid Middle Ages with the attention they deserve in The Making of the Middle Ages.
By reviewing the Middle Ages, you can see how much they impacted your modern life today. At a time of religious and social conflict, they informed the way we think. From the Crusades to the Anglican Church, and more, the Middle Ages impacted Western thought more than any other time period.
24. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
Many American histories can erase or ignore the stories of minority groups. Women and men of color are equally ignored when narrating a national history.
A People's History of the United States takes a different tack, by revising popular "truths" in our history books. When reading a history book, you might wonder what isn’t being told. That happened to Zinn, too. Then he grew up and wrote a book himself, about everything that wasn’t shared in your typical U.S. history book.
25. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer
World War II influenced the modern age like no other period in history. The impact is still being felt today, and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich examines how and why.
Today, we worry about past conflicts sowing seeds for future ones. Where did that come from? World War II largely sprung from World War I. And what about the women’s movement? Or the insistence on a national identity for Jews everywhere? World War II pushed all these things into motion.
Finding The Perfect Book
You might love nonfiction books only, or love a good graphic novel. No matter what you like, definitely keep searching around. You’re sure to find a life-changing book, waiting for you on the shelves of your local library or bookstore.
Even after reading this and you’re still stumped, there are plenty of recommendations from other friends about these books. You’ll never know what changes your life until you try!