If you’re looking for the best books about self-discovery then these 15 books about travel and self-discovery are a great place to start! These are books to help you find yourself and your purpose when you’re feeling lost.
A lot of people will roll their eyes when they hear the words “self-discovery” or “finding yourself”. And, yes, there is plenty of wishy-washy “advice” out there with absolutely no basis in fact or real-life experience.
But there are some books about self-discovery that can really help change the way you think about your life. These books can comfort, inspire and motivate as readers on similar journeys rifle through their pages.
I’ve compiled a list of fiction and non-fiction self-discovery books that I believe are worth their salt. Some are inspiring, some are educational, but all will help you feel a little less lost.
Non-Fiction Books about Finding Yourself
These non-fiction books about finding yourself are a mix of memoirs and personal experiences as well as informative non-fiction books.
Wild is the true story of Cheryl Strayed as she tries to get her life back after the sudden death of her mother and a string of extramarital affairs.
She makes the bold decision to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in the hopes that along the way she will find herself and life’s purpose again.
The author alternates between telling the reader about her journey on the PCT and the significant events in her life that brought her to the trail.
We learn about her family’s suffering and how she acted out by sleeping with lots of men, leading to the breakdown of her marriage.
She’s not prepared at all for such a momentous journey but off she goes on a three-month long hike with nothing but a large backpack.
She loses a few toenails along the way but she gains much more as she learns a lot about herself, strangers, strength, family and more.
READ MORE: Wild by Cheryl Strayed Review
Prior to reading this, I used to roll my eyes at the thought that people would read this story and then feel the sudden need to go and “find themselves”.
But then I read it and, you guessed it, all I wanted to do was pull my hiking boots on, walk off into the distance and just spend some time with… me.
Cheryl Strayed’s story is both heartbreaking and inspiring and a must for anyone looking to set off on a solo adventure. The Reese Witherspoon film adaptation is also well worth a watch!
Becoming by Michelle Obama offers a brilliant look back over an ordinary woman’s extraordinary life so far.
The story starts in the former first lady’s childhood and takes us all the way up to the moment that Donald Trump is elected and Barack Obama leaves the White House.
The reader is given an insight into her family, career, marriage and time as First Lady.
We see the ups and downs of her life, what each new chapter taught her and how they shaped the formidable and inspirational woman she is today.
It’s full of tidbits about her life with Barack Obama and how the pair managed to shape a life for themselves, supporting each other whilst still being able to fulfil their individual dreams and goals.
This book is rather lengthy so it may take a little while to get into it but it is 100% worth it. This book spreads such a positive message and is full of hope, which makes it perfect for the times we live in.
I’d highly, highly recommend listening to this on audio as the book is narrated by Michelle Obama herself. If you’ve ever listened to her speak, you’ll know she’s a great orator. This is a five-star read and not one to be missed!
As a companion to this memoir, Michelle Obama published a 365 day guided journal for reflection and discovering your own voice too.
Educated is an astonishing memoir by Tara Westover, which details her life growing up with survivalist Mormon parents. Her childhood is not a happy one.
Her family are completely isolated from the rest of society so there is no one to protect her from her violent brother or fanatical father.
Westover is continually exposed to trauma and horrific accidents during her formative years as her father doesn’t believe in hospitals and doesn’t trust the State.
Westover takes it upon herself to start learning but it’s not until Tara turns 17 years old that she first steps foot inside a school.
Despite this, she goes on to study at Brigham Young University then 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.
It’s really heartbreaking to read about her struggle to lead a satisfying life for herself whilst knowing that it is one her family would not accept at all.
“Have you ever thought maybe you should just let them go?”
All in all, Educated exceeds expectations by far and is just as good as the reviews suggest.
It’s crazy to believe that these events took place recently in the 21st century as Westover’s life story is so remarkable that it sometimes reads like fiction.
Even if you don’t typically read memoirs, this one is well worth a try. It is a fascinating (sometimes horrifying) read about family, perspective, education and self-development. I’d highly recommend it.
Goodbye, Things by Fumio Sasaki is a decluttering book with advice about how to lead a minimalist existence. It’s one of the best books of its kind, potentially even better than Marie Kondo’s famous work The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying.
It’s probably not what you’d expect to find on a list of books for self-discovery but it’s all about adopting a healthier mindset when it comes to material objects and living with only the objects that hold purpose in your life.
It contains 55 digestible tips, each accompanied by a short description or anecdote and the most impactful for me was the idea of an “invisible” to-do list created by all the unnecessary stuff we surround ourselves with.
For example, if you keep the knitting pack you bought 5 years ago saying you’ll get back round to it one day, you are adding an item to your invisible to-do list which you carry around with you whenever you are at home.
RELATED: The Best Books About Minimalism
If you rid yourselves of excess material items then you may find a mental burden lifts too and it’s clear to you what you truly enjoy doing with your time.
If you’re concerned that this book is all about living on a duvet in the middle of an empty living room then there’s no need to be. The author is not preachy and does not demand that you get rid of everything in favour of the bare minimum.
It’s all about what YOU can cut down on so that YOU feel lighter. Different people will stop at different points along the minimalism path.
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking does not exactly fit into books of self-discovery as such but if you’re an introvert then this is essential reading.
Cain argues that society dramatically undervalues introverts, who make up one third of the population.
From a young age, we are generally encouraged to speak up and be outgoing and sociable. It is generally seen as something to work on if a child does not volunteer answers in class, lacks confidence when public speaking or has a small number of friends.
Cain uses examples and anecdotes in a number of different scenarios such as parenting, schooling, the office, socialising and more. In each of these, she explains how introversion may be viewed and why it’s not a problem that needs to be fixed.
Instead, it can be a valuable asset to all those involved if introverts are presented with an environment in which they are able to thrive.
RELATED: 10 Life-Changing Books to Read
In creating a world that favours extroverts, we only hinder our own progress, as other valid and innovative ideas may be stiffled by those who are simpler louder.
As an introvert, this book helped me to really understand myself and my behaviour and stop perceiving myself as “weird” for preferring to be quiet or alone rather than going out and socialising.
I firmly believe that this book should be required reading for parents, teachers and CEOs so they can better understand and nurture the people that they’re working with.
If you’re an introvert then Quiet will likely be one of the best books you ever read. Every single page had me exclaiming to myself: “I feel seen!”
The Body is essential reading for a bit of literal self-discovery.
The Body is a non-fiction book that takes us through every part of our being and explains how it works and the history of various scientific discoveries about it.
In reading this, I found that I knew shockingly little about my own bodily functions or any medical history so I’d recommend this to all.
Furthermore, The Body makes for especially pertinent reading right now. Although it was published in October 2019, it contains lots of really interesting information in relation to epidemics that are very relevant in today’s world.
It’s a stark reminder that plenty of people knew that an outbreak was a real possibility and yet no nation was prepared for this.
Eat, Pray, Love has got to be one of the most famous novels about self-discovery and is one of the top recommendations for women looking for books on finding yourself.
It’s the kind of book that a lot of people will laugh about and refer to in the context of a mid-life crisis, but it’s so famous for a reason. It’s great.
Elizabeth Gilbert had everything that was supposed to make her feel happy and fulfilled: a husband, a beautiful home and a successful career. What more could the modern woman want?
Instead of feeling content, she felt confused. She decided her marriage wasn’t working and filed for divorce before setting off on a year-long journey of self-discovery.
Her trip is divided into three parts as she seeks to explore three aspects of her nature in three different places: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and balance in Bali.
Eat, Pray, Love is the memoir of magazine writer Elizabeth Gilbert but it’s so interesting and well-written that at times you could be forgiven for thinking this were fiction.
It’s easy reading and contains a multitude of important life lessons that might just make you sit up and reconsider your own life.
The book is not preachy and it doesn’t tell you how to live your own life, it’s simply the funny account of one woman’s personal journey. I guarantee this book will make you want to hop on a plane!
After you’ve read the book, check out the film adaptation starring Julia Roberts.
Fiction Books About Self Discovery
These are some of the best fictional self-discovery books available with allegorical and inspirational tales that we can all learn from.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is about the place between life and death. In this case, that place is a library. Every book on these shelves is another life that Nora could’ve lived.
Through each book, she gets to see where different decisions would’ve taken her in life and she’s surprised to find that each one is peppered with different difficulties and losses.⠀⠀⠀⠀
It’s so easy to focus on your regrets and imagine how much better life would be if you’d just done X, Y, or Z in the past instead.
The Midnight Library is a beautiful story that reminds us there’s no point yearning for a life we don’t, and never will, have.
All we can do is move forwards on the path we’re on and see where it leads!
Of course, this is easier said than done but dwelling on your regrets gets you nowhere and it’s important to remember that these other versions of our lives we might fantasise about will come with their own set of problems.
Reading this book felt like the hug that I needed after a difficult and unprecedented year and is perfect for anyone feeling a little listless. It’s one of the best “finding yourself” books ever written!
The Little Prince is an iconic children’s book, published in French in 1943 by Antoine de Saint-Exupery and one of the best books on self-discovery. Despite the fact it is branded as a children’s book, I firmly believe that it is an important novel for adults to read too.
The story is about a little boy who leaves the safety of his small planet to discover more about the universe. On each new part of his journey, he encounters new people and questions their ideas and way of living.
In this way, The Little Prince reveals the absurdities of adult mannerisms and societal norms.
As we grow older we think we become wiser but The Little Prince is a stark reminder that the older we get, the less everything makes sense.
RELATED: Books Like The Little Prince
Why are adults obsessed with possessing meaningless objects or being admired by their peers?
Children are often made to feel that they are too young to understand how the world works but we see in The Little Prince that often things are most clear when seen through a child’s innocent eyes.
“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.”
This is the most translated book in the French language and for good reason – it’s required reading!
The Alchemist is frequently cited as one of the best books for finding yourself. It tells the story of Santiago, a young shepherd boy who has a dream about treasure awaiting him in Egypt.
He embarks on a journey to find this treasure but he finds his riches in the people he meets along the way, which turns out to be more satisfying than he could have imagined.
Each teaches him a valuable life lesson and there’s wisdom on every page of Paulo Coelho’s bestseller.
This story is so simple but that’s part of what it makes it so striking. This magical and mythical tale is a reminder to follow our dreams but also that those dreams can change shape along the way.
The Alchemist can be a love-hate book but I believe it can be insightful for reading for all if read at the right point in life.
Jane Eyre is a timeless novel and one of those classics that sticks with you long after you’ve left school. This story of an orphaned girl who becomes a governess is one of the more readable English classics and is a great place to start if you find classics intimidating.
Jane Eyre has been an outcast for her entire life but her most challenging test comes when she is hired by the proud Mr Rochester to care for his ward Adèle at Thornfield Hall.
She falls for her new employer but he’s hiding something from Jane and Gothic Thornfield Hall is holding a dark secret.
This novel is a bildungsroman, a classic tale of self-discovery that follows the struggles a character faces from childhood to adulthood. The odds are stacked against Jane having been orphaned from a young age and being a young woman without riches in Victorian society.
However, she learns from each adversity she faces and is surprisingly intelligent and discerning for someone so young. Jane Eyre is the story of one young governess’ journey of self-discovery and finding fulfilment.
Rooney’s popular novel, Normal People, tells the story of Connell and Marianne. They meet in high school where Connell is part of the popular crowd whilst Marianne is considered to be a social pariah.
Connell’s mum is Marianne’s family cleaner and so he is often at her house after school. They strike up a secret relationship, opening up to each other in ways neither of them have before.
After leaving high school, they both go on to study at Trinity College Dublin. The tide has turned Connell finds it difficult to fit in but Marianne is surrounded by (sort-of) friends.
It’s a simple story; indeed, not a lot happens in terms of plot. As the title suggests, this book is about normal people.
However, there’s something about it that gripped me from beginning to end. To make something so normal, so moving is quite a feat and Sally Rooney is now one of my autobuy authors.
RELATED: Books Like Normal People
This novel is adored by some, hated by others. I’m very much in the former category and this book is usually one of my top recommendations.
I think each reader’s response to this novel will very much be based on their own life experiences and to what extent they can relate to the inner turmoil experienced by the protagonists.
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.
Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is one of my all-time favourite stories and I return to it time and time again. It’s an absolutely heart-wrenching story that will make you cry buckets and if you haven’t already read this then I’d highly recommend it.
The first story leaves Louisa Clark devastated as she loses the love of her life.
In the second story, we see her try to come to terms with that loss and continue on.
But it’s in the third book, Still Me, that Louisa really learns what it means to live again. Lots of people say this third one is actually the best in the series!
In Still Me, Louisa moves to New York, ready to embrace her new life whilst keeping her relationship with Ambulance Sam back in England alive.
She’s working for the insanely rich businessman, Leonard Gopnik, and his much younger wife, Agnes or Mrs G. As she mixes amongst the rich and glamorous, she learns what it is she really finds important and, crucially, who Louisa Clark really is.
I guarantee you’ll laugh and cry along with her on her journey of self-discovery.
This Jojo Moyes series is about how to carry on after you have experienced grief and heartbreak like no other and is one of the very best romance series ever written.
The story follows the titular Eleanor Oliphant through her perfectly scheduled existence. Nobody’s ever told her that life could be anything more than just “fine” and she’s not aware that she’s missing out on anything.
Then, Raymond, the IT guy, enters her life and things change forever. They save an elderly man, Sammy, from a fall and jointly help him on his road to recovery.
Eleanor Oliphant has a traumatic past but with the help of Raymond’s big heart, she is able to face some of her demons. Raymond, Eleanor and Sam each have a role to place in saving each other from isolation.
This book is wonderfully funny and heartwarming and whilst some difficult themes are discussed, these are dealt with delicately and appropriately.
This story is all about isolation, loneliness, self-discovery, grief, friendship, and the journey towards understanding yourself and your life. You can’t help but want to cheer for Eleanor as she comes out of her shell and faces her demons.
What’s more, Reese Witherspoon is producing a film adaptation of this novel so add this to your reading list ASAP!
Set in the early 1990s, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is all about Charlie Kelmeckis, a freshman in high school, struggling to find his way after his best friend takes his own life.
Charlie’s just a little bit different from other teenagers. He’s not really what you’d call geeky, just different.
His family consider him to be a bit of an oddball and so does everyone else at school.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie as he tries to navigate the world of first dates, parties, teen drama, mental health and more.
This book probably sounds like all the other coming-of-age dramas out there, but this book really is something special.
READ MORE: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Review
It is told from Charlie’s point of view as he writes anonymous letters to a stranger. He has a unique voice; he’s the sort of character that is always on the sidelines, watching, but never participating.
Despite the fact that this book details what it’s like to go through high school, something that most people experience and many people have written about before, the raw and honest narrative make this a refreshing read.
Charlie is brutally honest about everything. Literally everything. I assume this is why some people love this story and others hate it.
Personally, I found that I could relate to Charlie and his experiences in a way that I’ve never related to a fictional character before.
Chbosky puts on paper what most are too afraid to say out loud and I am convinced that what he describes are universal feelings felt by all on some level.
This is a coming-of-age story that encompasses all aspects of high school troubles – friends, family, mental health and more. For this reason, this book was placed on many high school reading lists. For the very same reason, this book was banned in other schools.
There’s something about Charlie’s story that just felt so very real, which is why so many people can relate to it, adults and teenagers alike.
What I loved about this story is that Charlie went from an oddball with no friends, shunned by his peers, to an oddball with supportive friends. This story isn’t about changing who you are or conforming to fit in, it’s about finding your own people and being accepted for who you are.
READ MORE: The Perks of Being a Wallflower Film Review
Other books about self-discovery worth exploring:
There you have my 15 recommendations for books to find yourself and books about discovery! Do you have any others to share? Drop your recommendations in the comments below.