Looking for a book that could very well change the course of your entire existence? These top 10 life changing books are a good place to start.
Books have the amazing power to totally transform one’s perspective on life. Whether that’s through learning something new or a story that you just can’t get out of your head, there’s a life-changing book (or fifty) out there for everyone.
Reading is a deeply personal experience and books can touch different people in different ways. These 10 books are some of the best life-changing books that I’ve personally read, and ones that I think will have a positive impact on any reader.
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Non-Fiction Life-Changing Books
Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki is a short read about decluttering but it’s packed with advice about how to lead a minimalist life. I’m a sucker for decluttering books (a niche category, I know!) but this is one of the very best. In fact, it may even be better than the most famous book in this genre, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo.
It’s probably not the first book you’d expect to see on a list of life-changing books but Goodbye, Things is all about adopting a healthier mindset when it comes to material objects. It encourages you to only keep objects that hold purpose in your life in your home.
Goodbye, Things is made up of 55 digestible tips, each accompanied by a short description or anecdote. The most impactful tip for me was definitely the idea of an “invisible” to-do list created by all the unnecessary stuff we surround ourselves with.
For example, if you keep the paint by numbers pack you bought 5 years ago and tell yourself you’ll get back round to it one day, you are adding an item to your invisible to-do list which is at the back of your mind when you’re at home.
By ridding yourself of excess material items that you do not want or need anymore, you may find that a sort of mental weight is lifted. It should then be much clearer to you what you want to spend your time doing, and you can do so without any encumbrances.
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I’m sure some of you are thinking that this book is the kind of thing that will tell you to keep nothing but your mattress in the middle of a room but that’s not the case at all. The author is certainly more of an extreme minimalist than I will ever be, but he does not demand that you get rid of everything you own.
His writing encourages you to cut down on those items that no longer hold a purpose for you specifically. All the advice needs to be tailored to your own situation and what makes you happy.
Educated by Tara Westover is an astounding memoir about the author’s life with her survivalist Mormon parents.
Westover grew up in rural Idaho in complete isolation from the rest of society. Her childhood is not a happy one and there is no one to protect her from her violent brother or fanatical father.
Her family live near the mountains and her father does not trust the government so the children do not go to school. Instead, he puts his family to work on their farm (/junkyard).
Members of the Westover family are involved in a number of quite horrific accidents over the years, which they deal with in private as Westover’s father doesn’t believe in hospitals.
As a teenager, Tara Westover takes it upon herself to start learning about the wider world but she is 17 years old the first time she steps foot inside a school.
Despite this late start to her education, she manages to gain a place at Brigham Young University. She excels there and goes on to do further study at Cambridge University and then Harvard University.
The tension between education and family is an ongoing one for Westover and she finds it harder and harder to accept her family as it is as she learns more about the world.
All in all, Educated exceeds expectations by far and is just as good as the reviews suggest, if not better. This book is for those that don’t typically read memoirs as it’s such a remarkable story that it almost reads like fiction.
Educated is a heartbreaking read about one woman’s discovery of the wider world and the importance of education.
Quiet is essential reading for introverts. And extroverts for that matter. Susan Cain argues that society painfully undervalues and misunderstands introverts.
To be labelled an introvert has often been considered to be negative. To mean one is quiet, shy, unsociable, or even weird.
But that’s not what introverts are at all. Introverts are people who are inward-looking and often prefer to recharge in solitude.
Whilst extroverts seek out external stimulation, often in the form of other people or large groups, introverts get their energy from being alone.
And we make up one-third of the entire population.
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Cain uses real-life examples in a number of different scenarios in the home, school, office and social environment to explain how introverts may act in each and why their sometimes quiet behaviour is not something to be fixed.
Instead, introversion can be a valuable asset, especially when introverts are given an environment in which they are able to thrive.
A world that favours extroverts and those who are loudest will lack diversity of ideas and may stifle innovative ways of thinking.
As an introvert myself, reading Quiet was somewhat of a revelation and it really helped me to understand myself and my behaviours. It forced me to start a process of unlearning to stop perceiving myself as “odd” for sometimes preferring to be alone rather than socialising.
I firmly believe that this book should be required reading for all parents, teachers and CEOs so they can better understand and nurture the people that they’re living and working with.
Why We Sleep is a must-read book that has completely changed the way I view sleep.
I’ve always thought of myself as one of those people who can survive on very little sleep.
However reading this book made me realise that I’m unlikely to be one of the lucky few that genuinely functions well on little sleep and am instead doing myself, my body, my brain, a massive disservice by failing to prioritise sleep.
This book forced me to take a look at my sleep patterns and analyse how that’s affecting every aspect of my daily life and health.
Sleep is nature’s healer and yet we are not taught anything about it at school when we are taught about nutrition, sex, mental health etc. Those topics are often neglected too, but sleep doesn’t usually even get a peep in.
This book grips you from the very beginning, which is not something you’d think someone would say in reference to a book about sleep.
My interest waned a little towards the end of the book but it’s full of fascinating insights into why we sleep and the incredible benefits on it.
Walker also sheds light on what happens when we don’t get enough sleep, a state we in modern society are all too familiar with.
The statistics in this book are truly shocking and I’d love for every school governor, CEO, doctor, politician, parent, everyone to read this.
We spend one-third of the day sleeping – it’s time everyone knew why!
Brit(ish) is a brilliant book about race and prejudice in Britain and it should be required reading in the UK.
As a mixed-race British woman with a similar educational background to Afua Hirsch, I found large parts of this book to be incredibly relatable.
Whilst Hirsch is now a journalist and writer, she initially trained to be a barrister after she graduated from Oxford University. She did a non-law degree there before going on to do the law conversion course, just like I did a few years ago.
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She describes in great detail her experiences growing up and attending these institutions as a mixed-race person. Although she herself is half Ghanaian, half English, the passages about identity and being mixed race will be relatable to all mixed-race people.
I found myself nodding along to many parts and it was both surprising and comforting to know that all mixed-race people, no matter what mix of cultures that is, have some things in common.
Of course, the bulk of this book is specifically about the Black British experience and I found this hugely enlightening.
Hirsch conveyed the history of Britain that has so often been swept under the carpet in a digestible format and revealed many shocking truths about Britain that most in power would choose to forget or ignore.
She shares personal anecdotes from her life and those she is close to as well as some general history lessons. This is the kind of stuff that should be taught in schools but isn’t. A must-read!
Atomic Habits by James Clear is one of the most popular books to date on the subject of habit formation. If you want to start forming good habits but aren’t sure where to begin then this is the perfect book for you.
Clear condenses some of the best theories for making good habits and being productive into a digestible and easy-to-read format.
The book is sprinkled with real-life anecdotes from some of the most successful types of people including Olympic gold medalists and business leaders.
I love self-help/personal development style books so as soon as I heard about Atomic Habits, I knew I had to read it. And it didn’t disappoint.
It didn’t necessarily tell me anything I didn’t already know but it reinforced some existing ideas I try to live by and inspired me to be more productive.
It clearly set out the steps to take to be more productive and his methods and systems have helped me to achieve many things that I may otherwise have never have done without his tips.
This book may well be the push you need to do that thing you’ve always wanted to do but have always put off. To achieve that goal that seems unattainable. To create the life that you want to lead.
I’d highly recommend listening to this on audio as it’s narrated by author James Clear himself and it feels like you’ve got your own motivational speaker in your ear.
You are much more likely to find a book on someone’s successes rather than their failures. That’s what makes Elizabeth Day’s book How to Fail so refreshing.
Clearly, lots of other people feel the same as her podcast of the same name racked up a massive 200,000 downloads after just eight episodes and also landed her this book deal.
This in itself embodies the underlying theme of Day’s book – it is our failures that lead to our successes.
Each chapter of How to Fail focuses on a different aspect of life from childhood to adulthood – family, school, exams, careers, relationships and more.
Through each, Day offers glimpses into her own failures, normalising them and showing that actually, they are all just part and parcel of who we are today.
A particularly raw chapter is one on Day’s fertility issues. This is not something I’d say I can personally relate to and yet I found this chapter deeply moving as Day exposed how her body “failed” her.
Perhaps this was what was the most moving of all because it is something out of her control, and sometimes that’s just the hand life deals you.
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The book is also interspersed with snippets from her podcast interviews, which were very interesting to me as I hadn’t listened to many of these podcast episodes before.
If you’re a fan of podcasts generally or have listened to Day’s podcast before, then I highly recommend listening to this book on audio as it is narrated by Elizabeth Day herself.
Day’s podcast was a brilliant idea and it turns out looking at how someone has failed is much more interesting and often more relatable than how someone has found success.
There is no success story without some failures to show too. Success is built upon failures.
Some might go as far as to say that there is no such thing as failure as long as you learn from it.
How to Fail is an inspiring book for anyone who has ever felt like a failure. It may help you realise that it’s not the end, but part of the journey.
Fiction Life-Changing Books
Whilst The Little Prince might appear to be aimed at children, it is arguably a much more important read for adults.
It’s thought that those who are older are usually wiser, but The Little Prince turns that theory on its head.
Indeed, the older we get, the more self-conscious we become and the more influenced we are by society’s norms.
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Why are adults obsessed with possessing meaningless objects or being admired by their peers?
Children are often told that they are too young to understand the world, but in The Little Prince, it seems that children see things most clearly.
“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
This simple story remains one of the most translated stories in the world and is one of my all-time favourite reads.
Noughts and Crosses is one of the most impactful books I’ve ever read and the story will stay with me forever.
In this world, society is divided according to skin colour. “Crosses” (black people) are the wealthy and privileged whilst “Noughts” (white people) are seen as inferior.
The story follows Sephy and Callum, who grew up together and are the best of friends.
But Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Nought.
As they grow older and begin to understand the prejudiced world they live in, their relationship becomes much more complicated.
There’s a romance brewing between the pair but they have polar opposite social statuses and the odds are stacked against them.
Noughts and Crosses is a thought-provoking and heart-wrenching read that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.
I know the fact that this is a young adult book will put some readers off but it really, really shouldn’t. There’s nothing childish about this book and it’s a very important story about first love, race, inequality, family and more.
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Normal People revolves around teenagers Connell and Marianne. They meet in high school where Connell is popular but Marianne is considered a loser.
They strike up a secret relationship, and it turns out both of them need each other just as much as the other does. They open up to each other about their feelings in ways neither of them has before.
Fast forward a few months and they’re both secured places at Trinity College Dublin. Now, it’s Connell who has a hard time fitting in amongst the generally rather middle-class student body whereas Marianne is quite popular.
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As the title suggests, this is a story about normal people. Indeed, very little happens in terms of the plot.
However, there’s something about this book that gripped me right from the very beginning. To make such a mundane and normal story so moving is quite a feat but Sally Rooney has done it.
Rooney has a way of putting into words exactly the way I’ve felt about love, relationships, friendships and more.
I felt like she could see into my very soul and I experienced that wonderful sensation when you realise someone has articulated your very thoughts and you feel less a bit less alone.