Reading the right book at the right time can have a profound effect on a human being. The best books leave a reader with a shifted perspective, about the world, society, or himself. Although many books on this list chronicle some awful and disturbing events in history, they all offer a glimmer of hope for humanity in some way, and act as guides to how we should live our life.
Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
What it’s about: 16-year-old Holden Caulfield drops out of school, flees to New York City, and searches for a meaning to his life in a world in which it seems, to him, that nobody cares either way.
Why it will change your life: For many high school students, it’s the first (and only) assigned book they can actually relate to. Salinger truly captures the nuances of being an adolescent, unsure of where his life will lead him. If you re-read the book in adulthood, you’ll find you can no longer relate to poor Holden, but you definitely still sympathize with the poor guy.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky
What it’s about: 15-year-old Charlie tells the story of his freshman year: the friends he meets, the ups and downs, and a life-altering realization about his past.
Why it will change your life: While it probably won’t ever be assigned reading, every high school student should read this book before they’re too old to relate to Charlie, because we’ve all felt happy and sad at the same time and wondered how that could be – because we all deserve to feel infinite.
Make Lemonade, Virginia Euwer Wolff
What it’s about: 14-year-old LaVaughn begins working as a babysitter for Jolly, a teenage high-school dropout who is barely scraping by while raising her two young children.
Why it will change your life: Jolly’s transformation throughout the novel will inspire those from all walks of life, especially those who feel like they’ll never amount to much. Make Lemonade also teaches readers to recognize their accomplishments in life, no matter how small they may seem at the time.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg
What it’s about: Two children run away from home in New York, and find shelter in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While there, they hope to uncover the mystery behind a sculpture of an angel believed to have been created by Michelangelo himself.
Why it will change your life: The magic of The Big Apple is never quite the same as it was when you’re a child. The thought of two young children surviving on their own in New York, let alone figuring out a mystery that plagues even museum curators, is enough to keep that sense of wonder alive in even the most “grown-up” of adults.
The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien
What it’s about: I would imagine anyone reading this knows what The Hobbit is about, but just in case you don’t: A loner hobbit who reluctantly goes on an adventure with thirteen dwarves and the magical Gandalf.
Why it will change your life: Even those who aren’t into fantasy will be able to dive right into this prequel to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s possibly the finest adventure tale ever written. Anyone who’s ever said “no” when propositioned with a day trip to parts unknown will surely think twice the next time they’re asked after reading this masterpiece.
Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
What it’s about: Professional businessmen and women fighting against government corruption that inhibits production in America, ultimately leading to the country’s downfall.
Why it will change your life: No other novel (except maybe Rand’s The Fountainhead) captures the ideals of putting in a hard day’s work in such a blunt fashion. Warning: After getting through this massive novel, you’ll have a tough time dealing with idiocy in the workplace for a very long time. You won’t tolerate laziness, ineptitude, or the “not my job, not my problem” attitude that plagues many businesses throughout the country.
First They Killed My Father, Loung Ung
What it’s about: A first-hand account of the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s.
Why it will change your life: When you hear the word “genocide,” you probably think “Holocaust.” This eye-opening novel reveals the atrocities of one of the most brutally calculated mass-murders in modern history, a topic your history teachers probably never even mentioned. The book is also a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, and to the idea that, although there will always be evil in this world, good will always prevail in some way.
The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
What it’s about: A personal journal kept during World War II by Anne Frank, a Jewish teenager who would ultimately be captured and killed by the Nazi regime.
Why it will change your life: Though the Holocaust is well-documented and understood as one of the most atrocious events in human history, Anne’s diary puts a name, face, and reality to the horrors that occurred during World War II at the hands of Adolf Hitler. However, we can also find solace in Anne’s words: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Night, Elie Wiesel
What it’s about: A young man’s struggle to survive while also protecting his father after being captured by the Nazi regime and sent to Auschwitz.
Why it will change your life: In less than 100 pages, Wiesel paints a vivid picture of the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, as well as his internal struggle of becoming caretaker to his father, his coming to terms with the loss of God, and his disgust with humanity. His words articulate what it is to be a true victim of war.
A Higher Call, Adam Makos and Larry Alexander
What it’s about: The historical novel recounts interweaving stories from two World War II pilots from opposing sides of battle.
Why it will change your life: We tend to see the two sides of a war as “good” and “bad.” This historical account shatters that image, as it sheds light on the life of a typical German man who was forced to fight for his country, regardless of whether or not he supported the cause. The heroic actions taken by both men exemplify courage at its finest.
To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
What it’s about: The events leading up to, and the fall-out from, the trial and conviction of an innocent African American during Depression-era Georgia, as seen through the eyes the six-year-old daughter of the man’s attorney.
Why it will change your life: One of the most important novels in American history, To Kill a Mockingbird sheds light on the realities of race relations before the Civil Rights movement, as well as the injustices and corruption of our judicial system. Seeing all of this through the eyes of a young child who doesn’t quite understand everything makes the events of the novel that much more poignant.
Oh! The Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss
What it’s about: Life. Period.
Why it will change your life: Whether you’re 5, 18, or 50, this book resonates with you in some way. Think of all that you’ve accomplished, all you hope for; all the time you’ve wasted, all the time you’ve spent working hard; all the times you were scared, and all the times you were elated. Everything you’ve ever felt and known is touched on in this silly book full of made-up words.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
What it’s about: A boy lives his life, always coming back to the tree he had climbed, swung on, and eaten apples from as a child. The tree is always eager to provide whatever she can to help the boy as he grows.
Why it will change your life: The way the boy’s needs and wants change as he grows simplifies societal life changes, and how, too often, we take, take, take, without ever appreciating what we have, or what we’ve been given. There are many interpretations of this short children’s story, but it’s well-agreed that it is not just for children.
The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch
What it’s about: Based on Randy’s “last lecture” to students at Carnegie Mellon University upon his diagnosis of terminal cancer, the book relates all the knowledge and wisdom the professor wishes to pass along to his children after his death.
Why it will change your life: His lessons revolve around one central theme: Have fun with life. Don’t let anyone, or anything, stop you from enjoying every precious second you have on Earth. You never know when it could all be taken away from you.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
What it’s about: Life inside an insane asylum in 1950s America, as told through the eyes of one of the institution’s patients, “Chief” Bromden.
Why it will change your life: Kesey sheds light on the atrocious conditions of asylums in the 1950s, as well as the horrific treatment of the patients within them. The novel also portrays the characters as they are (human), rather than how they are perceived by the nurses and general public (crazy humans). Kesey also works his commentary on the inhumane practices of electroshock therapy and lobotomies as “treatment” for mental patients.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
What it’s about: The popular self-help book discusses approaches to all aspects of life that will lead to a person to success.
Why it will change your life: Covey offers advice that pertains to friendships, relationships, personal goals, and professional careers in such a way that makes everyone involved a winner. The book discusses the importance of continuous improvement; once a goal is reached, a person must set another goal, therefore guaranteeing constant growth. A great book for those who feel stagnant in life and in need of improvement.
Gratitude: A Daily Journal, Jack Canfield
What it’s about: A journal focused on seeing the beauty in everything around you, and appreciating what you have.
Why it will change your life: Gratitude allows readers to take stock in their surroundings: What do they have? What do they need? Do they actually have too much? Am I as appreciative as I should be? In our daily life, it’s easy to get caught up in “how awful our week’s been” or how we don’t have the perfect job, house, etc., but by looking at what we do have, we gain an appreciation for all of it, and realize that our happiness is not something defined by others, but by ourselves.
Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon
What it’s about: Kleon’s message to the world that “nothing is original,” and that writers, authors, poets, and musicians must free themselves from the idea that they must reinvent the wheel with every piece they create, and instead use influential works to create their own voice.
Why it will change your life: Especially in the digital age, in which almost anything a person can think of has already been done, Steal Like an Artist allows artists get past the idea that their idea is not original, and move on to the realization that, since it is their idea, it surely is original. It also helps artists realize that sometimes simply going through the motions is the best inspiration for that creative break they’ve been looking for.
What it’s about: A celebration of introverted people, from the everyday college student to successful actors, authors, musicians, and businessmen.
Why it will change your life: American society often celebrates the extroverts who flaunt their accomplishments and make themselves known to the world, overlooking the accomplishments of those who did so quietly with little fanfare. Cain examines this phenomenon and why it persists, and also celebrates the lives of many self-proclaimed introverts, many of whom are household names.
Ishmael, Daniel Quinn
What it’s about: A man and a gorilla converse about the preconceptions of modern society based on the mythological beliefs of religion, and the effect these preconceptions have had on humanity and the planet.
Why it will change your life: Ishmael will absolutely shatter any preconceived notion you may have had about why we humans are here, where we have been, and where we will be in the future. It challenges the notion that we’re number one, top of the food chain, the Supreme Being that the planet was waiting for billions of years for, and warns us as to what will come if we continue to think this way. If any book on this list will change the way you see the world, this is the one.
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