40 Most Life-Changing Books That You Need to Read 2022 – Good Housekeeping

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life changing books


Some of us like to unwind with a great fiction book that transports us to places we’ve never been, into lives that differ from our own. Others love the shiver that goes up your spine when you crack open a creepy ghost story that makes you think twice before turning off the light to go to bed. And who among us can resist a juicy romance novel that reminds us that chivalry isn’t dead? Of course, the best nonfiction books can also open our eyes to lived experiences far beyond our own perspective. Needless to say: books can change lives, whether they’re intended to be inspirational or just come to us at the moment we need them most.

I’ve always been a total bookworm. I was that kid with a thriller hidden under my desk during Math class, who’d rather curl up with a novel at recess than run around after a ball. Because I was painfully shy, the characters I met within those pages kept me company on lonely afternoons. They showed me I wasn’t alone when bullies tried to shatter my spirit and gave me context for experiences my still-maturing mind didn’t understand. As I grew older, I found my people, gained self-confidence and didn’t need that literary solace as much anymore. But they never lost their magic. I’m still a firm believer in the power of the page. These wonderful life-changing books will make you one too.

Note: We’re just scratching the surface with these recommendations and will continue to update this list. Leave a comment below to let us know what books have changed your life.

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1 Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

This novel about two men who have a secretive love affair that ends in tragedy was groundbreaking at the time, and it remains canonical in LGBTQ+ literature today.

RELATED: 40 Fantastic LGBTQ+ Books

2 The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

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This parable about following your dreams no matter what obstacles get in your way will get your brain churning. Buy a copy so you can reread it whenever you need its message the most.

3 When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

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This memoir by a neurosurgeon grappling with his own terminal cancer diagnosis is both gutting and illuminating. In this day and age, its message of making the most of the time you’re given is more impactful than ever.

4 Beloved by Toni Morrison

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One of Morrison’s most treasured novels, this one follows a formerly enslaved woman who escapes to Ohio. But the traumas she experienced, especially the loss of her baby, follow her in the form of both literal and figurative specters. It’s a stunning book that will stay with you forever.

RELATED: 20 Powerful Black History Books to Add to Your Reading List

5 Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

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This searing memoir follows a woman confronting the grief of losing her mother, her marriage and her own sense of self by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on her own. It will remind all of us that we’re more resilient than we think.

6 The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

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A friend of mine loves this quirky, honest look at growing up so much, he used to buy a copy before every flight and leave it in the seat back pocket for others to read. It’s a gift of a book, no matter where it finds you.

7 Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…And Maybe the World by Admiral William H. McRaven

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Sometimes, it’s not big, sweeping changes that can really make a difference. It’s the little things that start from the ground up. The wisdom in this book that started with a viral graduation speech will inspire and energize you.

8 Untamed by Glennon Doyle

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What would happen if you listened to that little voice inside yourself, instead of trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations? This memoir is both an account of what happened when Doyle began following her truth and a rallying cry for people everywhere to do the same.

9 How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell

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In our frenetic, productivity-obsessed society, focusing your attention on what really matters feels like a revolutionary act. This book is part self-help, part manifesto and totally perfect for our current moment.

10 Harper Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari

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If you’ve ever wondered what it is that makes humanity tick, Harari turns a wide historical lens on the question. It begins when consciousness does, and works its way toward the modern day on a sweeping journey that will broaden your mind.

11 Becoming Better Grownups: Rediscovering What Matters and Remembering How to Fly by Brad Montague
Brad Montague

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So many of us supposed adults spend our days just going through the motions. This inspiring book uses wisdom from kids, the elderly and everyone in between to help inject a little magic back into our lives. You’ll find yourself dog-earing every other page.

12 The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck by Sarah Knight

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Once again, the title of this one tells you just about everything you need to know. It’s a self-help book for people who hate self-help, and it’ll keep you laughing even if you realize you need to make a change.

13 Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

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A riveting account of his time in Auschwitz and what keeps humanity going in spite of everything, this book embodies hope. When you need something to get you through tough times, give it a read.

14 Keep Moving: Notes on Loss, Creativity, and Change by Maggie Smith

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With elements of meditation woven throughout inspiring essays, this beautiful little book will keep you moving forward, no matter what’s holding you back.

15 Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

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A meditative and often funny guide to writing, life and being human, this book will guide you through whatever you’re facing the best way the author knows how: one bird at a time.

16 The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

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Anyone who’s ever white-knuckled their way through a hard period of time (and that’s probably all of us) will find solace in this book about how Didion made it through a truly horrible year.

17 Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

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With elements of memoir, cultural criticism and plenty of wit, this essay collection explores Hong’s own reckoning with her identity as the daughter of Korean immigrants, as well as the role race plays in America as a whole.

RELATED: 30 Entertaining and Enlightening Books by Asian Authors

18 A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

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Tackle the big questions with a grin on your face as Bryson tries to figure out how everything came to be, well, what it is. Even if you’re not a science buff, this book will convert you.

19 Tuesdays with Morrie: An Old Man, A Young Man and Life’s Greatest Lesson by Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom

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When Albom reconnects with his former college professor, Morrie, in the final months of his life, he’s given a rare chance to absorb some of the old man’s wisdom before it’s too late. With this book, so can we.

20 The Book of Delights: Essays by Ross Gay

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Poet Ross Gay challenged himself to notice one thing that delighted him every day for a year and this insightful, uplifting book of essays is the result. Read them in order or pick it up and absorb one at random whenever you need a lift.

21 1984 by George Orwell

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A chilling look at an imaginary future in which the government is always watching, this sci-fi masterpiece will remind us of the dangers that can arise when we stop paying attention.

22 The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Frank documents her life in hiding during World War II in this enduring classic. When you read it, you’ll get an intimate look into all that she went through and find inspiration in her outlook despite impossible circumstances.

23 A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Now 55% off

Two Afghan women born in very different times are connected by circumstances beyond their control in this unforgettable novel about love, fate, friendship and the resilience of the human spirit.

24 In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

Now 36% off

This genre-bending memoir tackles domestic abuse through a lens that will break open your understanding of not only the topic, but the form a story can take. It’s a feat, and one every reader needs on their bookshelf.

25 Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport

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If you find yourself clicking over to social media or mindlessly staring off into space in the middle of a task without even realizing you’re doing it, this book will help change the way you look at work.

26 The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Now 51% off

With “life-changing” right there in the title, this book clearly belongs on the list. But if you haven’t yet tried asking whether items in your home spark joy, discover the philosophy here.

27 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

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While technically for children, this gorgeous and philosophical little book has plenty of lessons for adults too. Read it on your own or gift it to a young reader to grow up alongside it, like so many have before.

28 Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

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In this dystopia, firemen don’t put out fires – they set them. Houses that contain highly illegal printed books are set alight in this thought-provoking book about the power of the written word.

29 Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward

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The National Book Award-winning author contends with losing five men in her life in as many years in this heart-wrenching account of living through so much death.

30 Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

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Whether you consider yourself a creative person or just want to start thinking (and living) outside the box, the advice here can help inject a little magic into your life.

31 The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

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Perhaps one of the most widely read coming-of-age stories, the adventures of Holden Caulfield will feel familiar to many of us. If you haven’t read it since high school, give it another go to see how it lands now that you’ve got adult perspective.

32 Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

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Even therapists need therapy, as Gottlieb shares in this book that explores her perspective as both a clinician and a patient. If you’re not already a therapy convert, you might be by the end.

33 Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay

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A sharp, incisive look at what it means to live in a body with needs, this memoir takes on food, consumption, body image, size and the social baggage that comes with all of the above.

34 Just Us: An American Conversation by Claudia Rankine

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In a collection of essays, poems and images, Rankine takes a hard look at how we stay in the room together as citizens of a culture rife with racial tension. It’s a searing, challenging book that asks us all how we live alongside it.

35 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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A powerful, heartbreaking book about prejudice, abuse, loneliness and the strength Angelou finds in herself and literature to survive it all, this memoir is a must-read.

36 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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When my fourth-grade teacher handed me this book, my reading life changed forever. The story of four sisters helping each other through in their father’s absence is as timeless as they come.

37 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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A story about justice, prejudice and growing up, this classic story is beloved for good reason. Seen through the lens of current events, it’s a more important read than it ever has been.

38 Life of Pi by Yann Martel

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A fantastical tale of a shipwreck, a boy, a tiger and the will to survive, this book takes readers on a journey in more ways than one. It’s not just a wonderful adventure, but a look at how powerful storytelling can be.

39 How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

Now 39% off

Using personal accounts of his own journey to antiracism as well as dispatches from history, ethics, law and science, Kendi leads readers on their own path to realizing the role racism plays in society and our lives and how we can all work to oppose it.

40 Thick: And Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Now 33% off

These insightful, often transgressive essays dive into topics from beauty to pop culture, money to media using both personal accounts and political analysis. It’s a broadening of perspectives so ingrained, many of us don’t even realize we hold them.

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