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15 life-changing books that will stay with you forever

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A Psalm for the Wild-Built hardcover with flowers
Photo by Sanne Vliegenthart

I’m a firm believer that good books never truly leave you. Books can stay with you forever, subtly (or obviously) changing your direction in life, your ideas about the world, and your habits.

When I was suffering from anxiety during university, reading War and Peace unexpectedly helped put my worries into perspective.

In the years that followed, The Overstory and Prodigal Summer reminded me that life can be stunningly beautiful and simple.

Self-help books such as Quiet and The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down guided me towards accepting myself exactly as I am.

In essence: books have been one of the most inspiring and impactful companions on my journey so far.

Read on for my collection of the best life-changing books I’ve read, including inspiring books, the best self-improvement books, beautifully written novels, life-changing classics, and more.

Whether you’re searching for the most life-changing books to read in your 20s, 30s, or beyond (or if you’re still in your teens), I hope these books can change your life as much as they have mine…

The most life changing books that you’ll never forget

Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals by Oliver Burkeman

Four Thousand Weeks

Read Four Thousand Weeks for… one of the most life-changing non-fiction books that will encourage you to think about what’s most important to you – and give it the attention it deserves.

There are some books I always recommend (and please accept my apologies if you’re getting fed up with these). Four Thousand Weeks is one of them, but it really is extremely good.

It’s a book about productivity, but a different type of productivity than the definition we’re used to. Oliver Burkeman defines productivity as prioritising what matters to us in the grand scheme of things: the four thousand weeks we have to live our lives.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning

Read Man’s Search for Meaning for… the classic tribute to hope, purpose, and strength during impossible times.

There are a few books that come up on every single list of must-read books to read in your lifetime. Man’s Search for Meaning is absolutely one of them.

This is Viktor Frankl’s account of his harrowing time in a concentration camp, but it’s also an exploration of logotherapy: his theory that the primary human drive is the discovery and pursuit of what we find meaningful.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers

Read A Psalm for the Wild-Built for… a comforting and gently philosophical short read, offering feel-good vibes and hope for the future.

Can modern fiction be life-changing? I think so. If you lurk in the bookish corners of Reddit, you’ll find this book recommendation everywhere.

In this hopeful sci-fi world, it’s been centuries since the robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, wandered together into the wilderness, and faded into myth and urban legend.

But one day, the life of a tea monk is turned upside down by a robot at their door. And most problematically, the robot wants an answer to the question of “what do people need?”

I May Be Wrong: And Other Wisdoms From Life as a Forest Monk by Björn Natthiko Lindeblad

Read I May Be Wrong for… a quietly life-changing book about embracing uncertainty to live freely and find comfort in difficult times.

In this lovely book, Björn Natthiko Lindeblad, a former forest monk in Thailand, relates his unique experience and training to the real world.

As Björn wonderfully explains, it’s not a book about religion, telling you how to live your life, or taking on a new set of beliefs. But it is about how to respond to the natural ebb and flow of living, on both good days and the difficult ones.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Read The Overstory for… a 502-page Pulitzer Prize winner that will open your eyes to the world’s beauty, delicacy, and interconnectedness.

At least in my eyes, The Overstory is one of the best modern novels of the century so far. It took me a few attempts to get into the story, but when I did, I didn’t want it to end.

This magnificent book is a paean to the vast and marvellously intricate world that we depend on in so many ways: the world of trees.

With stunning writing and ambition, Richard Powers weaves together interlocking fables that range from antebellum New York to the late twentieth-century Timber Wars of the Pacific Northwest and beyond. 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air

Read When Breath Becomes Air for… one of the most life-changing books about living well, being a good human during the time we’re given, and coming to terms with our mortality.

When talking about books that change your life, I have to include at least one end-of-life memoir. When Breath Becomes Air is one of the most well-known for a good reason.

One day Paul Kalanithi was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient coming to terms with the little time he had left. What follows is a stunningly raw and poignant book that’s practically guaranteed to shake up your life.

Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Read Wind, Sand and Stars for… Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beautiful memoir of his life as an aviator and a welcome reminder that life really is fleeting.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is one of my favourite authors of life-changing books. His crowd favourite, The Little Prince, is packed with lessons about kindness and living well, but Wind, Sand and Stars is also utterly beautiful.

When I opened my eyes I saw nothing but the pool of nocturnal sky, for I was lying on my back with out-stretched arms, face to face with that hatchery of stars. Only half awake, still unaware that those depths were sky, having no roof between those depths and me…

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne

Read Winnie the Pooh for… a life-changing children’s classic that’s delightful to read alone, but also wonderfully complemented by Benjamin Hoff’s soothing philosophical guide, The Tao of Pooh.

One of the best sources of life-changing books? Children’s books. Whether we tumble into childhood classics for the first time or the hundredth, they can be such a wonderfully wise source of comfort, joy, and simplicity.

I love what one reader shared on Reddit: “I read [Winnie-the-Pooh] as an adult and it’s still my go-to when I’m feeling cynical. It’s a reminder that things can be simple and joyful. […] Children’s literature is really beautiful to me because it allows for a world where imagination is enough.”

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The Brothers Karamazov

Read The Brothers Karamazov for… one of the most important pieces of classic Russian literature, as well as an incredibly transformative book that can change the way you live.

If you haven’t read anything by Dostoevsky before, Brothers Karamazov is a great place to start. Dostoevsky portrays human experience through the story of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons – Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha.

Set during both a golden age and a tragic turning point in Russian culture, read this to witness a changing country and think about where you are in your own life, too.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic

Read Big Magic for… one of the best books for inspiring creativity and taking a step forwards with your ideas and dreams.

Big Magic is my go-to book for nurturing creativity. When I need inspiration, courage, or a kick in the pants, I pick up my copy (or listen to the fantastic audiobook read by Liz Gilbert.)

The main message of the book is that you are creative just by being a human. And you can create, be, and do so much during your lifetime. If someone else is doing the things you dream of, why can’t you?

The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

Read The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down for… a beautifully illustrated and gently wise book about slowing down and noticing the beauty in the world.

If you want to breathe more deeply, open your heart, and calm your anxiety, this delightful guide by Haemin Sunim is a wonderful choice.

It’s one of my favourite self-help books for soothing and beautiful writing that you can dip into whenever you need it. (It was especially helpful for me to read during a breakup a few years ago.)

Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization by Neil deGrasse Tyson

Read Starry Messenger for… Neil deGrasse Tyson’s cosmic antidote to the divided political and cultural views in our world.

In this excellent non-fiction book, Neil deGrasse Tyson ponders: what better way to shine new light on the fault lines of our time – war, politics, religion, gender, and race – than by viewing our planet through the lens of science?

As deGrasse Tyson reminds us, when we look at Earth from a cosmic perspective, human life and priorities look very different. What’s more, it’s also one of the best ways to highlight the unity we share.

The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

Read The ONE Thing for… a fantastic reminder of the power of focus and single-tasking in your life and work.

I don’t want to fill this list up with popular self-help books, but if you read anything in this genre, The ONE Thing is a great choice.

I read this productivity book early in my twenties and it’s stuck with me ever since, especially when I find myself overwhelmed and unfocused.

It will hone your focus and help you prioritise the one thing that will make everything else easier. In my eyes, that’s life-changing.

The Sun is a Compass by Caroline Van Hemert

Read The Sun is a Compass for… one of the most life-changing books about adventure, the beauty of nature, and the power of following your courage and curiosity.

The Sun is a Compass is Caroline Van Hemert’s memoir of the 4000-mile, human-powered journey she undertook with her partner, Pat, when she was unsure whether to stay in academia or pursue other callings.

It’s a stunningly honest and inspiring book – and one of the rare reads to really speak to my love for adventure, boldness, and the world’s wild places. It’s also perfect to read when you’re feeling lost and directionless in life.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace

Read War and Peace fora huge, all-encompassing, and life-changing classic book that’s a superb depiction of what living really feels like.

As you might be able to guess, reading War and Peace is what inspired me to start this website. I first read it during one of the most anxious periods of my life, but Tolstoy’s timeless words unexpectedly helped me find perspective and calm.

It’s not exactly got a reputation for being easy to read, but choosing the right translation can help a lot. (TLDR: I love Anthony Briggs’s translation – on each read, I’ve been reminded of just how immersive the book can be and usually finish it in a couple of weeks.)

For more of the most inspiring, poignant, and beautiful books that will stay with you forever, you might also like reading…

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