Can a book change your life? Absolutely. While the term “life-changing” is going to mean different things to different people, there are definitely life-changing books that inspire most folks. Here’s some that everyone should read in their lifetime.
20 Life-Changing Books Everyone Should Read
What makes a book life-changing, anyway? It’s something that’s going to be highly subjective; not every book will change everyone’s life. It could be a provocative fiction story that resonates with you, or your life-changing book might be something in the self-help section.
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Here’s a variety of life-changing books that span different genres, subjects, and interests that will change your life:
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
You’ve probably been seeing this book everywhere, and there’s a reason it’s so popular right now. Sapiens covers the history of humankind from hunter-gatherers to modern society. But it’s not written like a history textbook; instead, each chapter is engaging, light, and relates to our lives today.
Read this if: You want more insight on the history of humans and how it relates to our future.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones
With its easy to digest format and actually useful information, Atomic Habits continues to be a bestseller since it came out in 2018. Changing a habit is more than willpower, and this book will help set you up for success.
Read this if: You need help starting or keeping up changes (big and small) in your life
The Glass Castle: A Memoir
A true story, the Glass Castle is the memoir of Jeannette Walls’ turbulent childhood. When sober, her father would spend time with the children teaching them science and life skills, but when drinking it would turn to destruction. With her mother being a free spirit who couldn’t be burdened with raising a family, the children were forced to learn to care for themselves.
Read this if: You need an inspiring true story of traumatized children overcoming obstacles and sticking together.
The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts
While the subject of love and relationships may seem unhelpful for happy couples, books like this one stand the test of time because their usefulness stretches beyond trying to repair a relationship. You’ll get insight about yourself and your partner, family, friends, and children about how they experience affection and love, which may be different from you.
Read this if: You want to be better at understanding people around you or want the language to help describe to your partner how best to show you affection.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking
How can cookbooks be life-changing books? Because according to Julia Child, “if you can read, you can cook.” If you’ve ever wanted to master more complex recipes or learn French cooking, this book has it all. Including tips for how to shop for French ingredients in American stores.
Read this if: Cooking intimidates you but you want to learn
Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself
Yes, we all need to make changes in our lives, but maybe it’s time you start being kind to yourself too. Whether you’re struggling with trauma, weight loss, work, parenting, or just life in general, psychologists are moving away from self-esteem and towards teaching self-compassion.
Read this if: You punish yourself, have a lot of self hate, or need to build your self-compassion.
The Color Purple: A Novel
Set in rural Georgia during the early twentieth century, The Color Purple is about two Black sisters who were separated young and sent along to live very different lives. Now almost 40 years old, this book broke the silence on domestic violence and sexual abuse.
Read this if: You want an emotional story about sensitive topics, redemption, family, and love
Thinking, Fast and Slow
This book challenges everything you believe about the way we think and our intuition. Instead of being overconfident or instinctive, we should instead practice slow thinking to help make better decisions.
Read this if: You want to take a better approach to decision making in business or your personal life
Man’s Search for Meaning
A true classic, Man’s Search for Meaning is another one of those life-changing books that everyone should read. Based on Viktor E. Frankl’s real experiences during WWII in Nazi concentration camps, this book continues to inspire new generations to rise above suffering.
Read this if: You want a true story about a man overcoming even the most difficult obstacles, and the words of wisdom he shares to tackle your own
Educated: A Memoir
This is another story that you’ll find in most people’s top books lists. It’s the true story of Tara Westover, who was raised by survivalists without stepping foot in a classroom until she was 17. From there she overcame huge obstacles to attend university – and what that means for her relationship with her family.
Read this if: You want a shocking insight into how some people live even in America, and how education can change a person’s life
The Book Thief
Although technically young adult fiction, The Book Thief is a story that anyone (and everyone) can find something in. It follows the story of a young girl who, during Nazi Germany, finds comfort in one thing: reading. With the help of her foster father, the main character shares her stolen books with those around her.
Read this if: You want a life-changing book about the duality of Nazi Germany and how haunting humans can be
What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing
Written by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Perry, this book discusses how traumatic events in childhood affect us throughout our lives. By opening up and talking about the past, we can then work on healing in the present day.
Read this if: You or someone you’re close with has experienced trauma, especially during childhood
One Hundred Years of Solitude
Spanning a century, One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of a family in the mythical town of Macondo. By exploring these generations, you’re left with a feeling of what’s important and profound (and what isn’t) in life.
Read this if: You’re looking for a life-changing work of fiction that focuses on family
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
What makes people do what you want them to? Influence and persuasion, of course. This book approaches both in a practical and ethical way, while delving into the psychology of persuasion.
Read this if: You want to understand how people make decisions from a scientific perspective
What does it mean to be a woman today? Glennon Doyle’s Untamed isn’t a self-help book filled with fluff and fake inspiration, she actually challenges the pressures that modern women undergo to be “good” wives and mothers. You’ll learn to set boundaries, make peace with yourself, and live authentically.
Read this if: You’re unhappy with your life and need a wake-up call to what living really means
How to win Friends & Influence People
You can’t have a list of life-changing books without this classic. How to Win Friends & Influence People has been helping people for over 60 years. Somehow the tips and principals in this book still hold up today.
Read this if: You want to make yourself more likeable and successful
Where the Crawdads Sing
A coming of age story, Where the Crawdads Sing is about a girl who grows up in a marsh alone. When someone turns up dead, everyone blames “marsh girl.” The story gives perspective on what’s important in life, the value of kindness, and the beauty in this world.
Read this if: You need a captivating story about survival and nature
The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
A self help and spiritual cornerstone, The Four Agreements is a code of conduct for our own behavior that’s meant to change our lives. This is one of those books that you really get what you need out of it, but the four principles are more about protecting yourself and living a happier life than anything else.
Read this if: You need some words of wisdom to help set up emotionally boundaries with other people
The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream
A fairy tale for adults, this modern classic is about a shepherd boy who dreams of traveling the world in search of treasure. On his adventure, he discovers that the riches he finds more satisfying weren’t what he was looking for.
Read this if: You want an inspirational story about following your dreams, seizing opportunities, and finding happiness
How to Be an Antiracist
It’s no longer enough for people to not be racist, but actively antiracist. This book helps change your thinking of how you help break down barriers not just people of color but those of different cultures, gender identities, and sexualities too.
Read this if: You want to better understand the real barriers to racial justice and what you can do about it
The life-changing books you choose are going to depend on what you’re trying to change in your life. Maybe you need some inspiration or a how-to guide. The more you read, the more you’ll find out what you like. Try a variety of genres and literary styles, and see what small (or big) changes you can make!