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49 Books That Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime

So many books, so little time! If you’re looking for a master list of the books that everyone should read in their lifetime, this list is a great place to start. Featuring iconic classics, timeless bestsellers, and life-changing nonfiction, these are the books that stay with you. Take a look at our recommendations below, along with the publishers’ descriptions.

 

Fiction Books That Everyone Should Read

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Harper Lee’s Pulitzer prize-winning masterwork of honor and injustice in the deep south — and the heroism of one man in the face of blind and violent hatred, available now for the first time as an e-book. One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than thirty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father-a crusading local lawyer-risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

 

1984 by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell

In 1984, London is a grim city where Big Brother is always watching you and the Thought Police can practically read your mind. Winston is a man in grave danger for the simple reason that his memory still functions. Drawn into a forbidden love affair, Winston finds the courage to join a secret revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood, dedicated to the destruction of the Party. Together with his beloved Julia, he hazards his life in a deadly match against the powers that be.

 

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that is now a major motion picture, Markus Zusak’s unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul.

It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.

Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist — books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Aldous Huxley’s tour de force, Brave New World is a darkly satiric vision of a “utopian” future — where humans are genetically bred and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively serve a ruling order. A powerful work of speculative fiction that has enthralled and terrified readers for generations, it remains remarkably relevant to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as thought-provoking, satisfying entertainment.

 

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood — where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned — Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.

In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor — engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.

Like the protagonist of Gulliver’s Travels, Cora encounters different worlds at each stage of her journey — hers is an odyssey through time as well as space. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share.

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement.

 

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

All the Light We Cannot See

From the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning Anthony Doerr comes the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is 12, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, he illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

 

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

The first sentence of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is among the most quoted in literature, and sets up the humorous and ultimately timeless tale of proper English society, unspoken intentions, and true love acquired. Pride and Prejudice is a classic that adeptly traces the intricacies of social status, manners, and relationship rituals in nineteenth-century England, through which all the love between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy eventually blossoms.

 

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Fifty years after its original publicationCatch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest — and most celebrated — novels of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer. Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy — it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. Since its publication in 1961, no novel has matched Catch-22’s intensity and brilliance in depicting the brutal insanity of war. This fiftieth-anniversary edition commemorates Joseph Heller’s masterpiece with a new introduction by Christopher Buckley; personal essays on the genesis of the novel by the author; a wealth of critical responses and reviews by Norman Mailer, Alfred Kazin, Anthony Burgess, and others; rare papers and photos from Joseph Heller’s personal archive; and a selection of advertisements from the original publishing campaign that helped turn Catch-22 into a cultural phenomenon. Here, at last, is the definitive edition of a classic of world literature.

 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

An instant classic when it was first published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is at once a thrilling frontier adventure and a uniquely American ode to the power of nature. The story begins at the dawn of the Klondike Gold Rush, when capable sled dogs are in high demand. Half St. Bernard and half sheep dog, Buck is stolen from an estate in California’s idyllic Santa Clara Valley and shipped north. Beset by the harsh conditions of the Yukon, the recklessness of his owners, and the ruthlessness of the other dogs, Buck must learn to recover his primitive instincts in order to survive. But when he forms a special bond with a prospector named John Thornton, Buck is torn between two worlds: that of his human companion and that of the relentless, beckoning wilderness.

 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden.

Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television.

When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.

 

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs — yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

 

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Once in a generation a novel comes along that taps a vein of universal human experience, resonating with readers of all ages. The Lovely Bones is such a book — a phenomenal #1 bestseller celebrated at once for its narrative artistry, its luminous clarity of emotion, and its astonishing power to lay claim to the hearts of millions of readers around the world.

“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on eath continue without her — her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling.

Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, The Lovely Bones succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy.

 

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever. The Alchemist is such a book. With over a million and a half copies sold around the world, The Alchemist has already established itself as a modern classic, universally admired. Paulo Coelho’s charming fable, now available in English for the first time, will enchant and inspire an even wider audience of readers for generations to come.

The Alchemist is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist.

The story of the treasures Santiago finds along the way teaches us, as only a few stories have done, about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, above all, following our dreams.

 

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

Four mothers, four daughters, four families

whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s “saying” the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. “To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.” Forty years later, the stories and history continue.

With wit and sensitivity, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. As each woman reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. Mothers boast or despair over daughters, and daughters roll their eyes even as they feel the inextricable tightening of their matriarchal ties. Tan is an astute storyteller, enticing readers to immerse themselves into these lives of complexity and mystery.

 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A moving coming-of-age story set in the 1900’s, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the lives of 11-year-old Francie Nolan, her younger brother Neely, and their parents, Irish immigrants who have settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Johnny Nolan is as loving and fanciful as they come, but he is also often drunk and out of work, unable to find his place in the land of opportunity. His wife Katie scrubs floors to put food on the table and clothes on her childrens’ backs, instilling in them the values of being practical and planning ahead.

When Johnny dies, leaving Katie pregnant, Francie, smart, pensive and hoping for something better, cannot believe that life can carry on as before. But with her own determination, and that of her mother behind her, Francie is able to move toward the future of her dreams, completing her education and heading oft to college, always carrying the beloved Brooklyn of her childhood in her heart.

 

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life — the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.

 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

The exemplary novel of the Jazz Age, F. Scott Fitzgeralds’ third book, The Great Gatsby (1925), stands as the supreme achievement of his career. T. S. Eliot read it three times and saw it as the “first step” American fiction had taken since Henry James; H. L. Mencken praised “the charm and beauty of the writing,” as well as Fitzgerald’s sharp social sense; and Thomas Wolfe hailed it as Fitzgerald’s “best work” thus far. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when, The New York Times remarked, “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s that resonates with the power of myth. A novel of lyrical beauty yet brutal realism, of magic, romance, and mysticism, The Great Gatsby is one of the great classics of twentieth-century literature.

 

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, caught in the tragic sweep of history, The Kite Runner transports readers to Afghanistan at a tense and crucial moment of change and destruction. A powerful story of friendship, it is also about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

Since its publication in 2003 Kite Runner has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic of contemporary literature, touching millions of readers, and launching the career of one of America’s most treasured writers.

 

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale is not only a radical and brilliant departure for Margaret Atwood, it is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population.

The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.

 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, this novel about a resilient and courageous woman has become a Broadway show and a cultural phenomenon.

Celie has grown up poor in rural Georgia, despised by the society around her and abused by her own family. She strives to protect her sister, Nettie, from a similar fate, and while Nettie escapes to a new life as a missionary in Africa, Celie is left behind without her best friend and confidante, married off to an older suitor, and sentenced to a life alone with a harsh and brutal husband.

In an attempt to transcend a life that often seems too much to bear, Celie begins writing letters directly to God. The letters, spanning twenty years, record a journey of self-discovery and empowerment guided by the light of a few strong women. She meets Shug Avery, her husband’s mistress and a jazz singer with a zest for life, and her stepson’s wife, Sophia, who challenges her to fight for independence. And though the many letters from Celie’s sister are hidden by her husband, Nettie’s unwavering support will prove to be the most breathtaking of all.

The Color Purple has sold more than five million copies, inspired an Academy Award–nominated film starring Oprah Winfrey and directed by Steven Spielberg, and been adapted into a Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Lauded as a literary masterpiece, this is the groundbreaking novel that placed Walker “in the company of Faulkner” (The Nation), and remains a wrenching—yet intensely uplifting—experience for new generations of readers.

This ebook features a new introduction written by the author on the twenty-fifth anniversary of publication, and an illustrated biography of Alice Walker including rare photos from the author’s personal collection.

 

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Expurey

Few stories are as widely read and as universally cherished by children and adults alike as The Little Prince. Richard Howard’s translation of the beloved classic beautifully reflects Saint-Exupéry’s unique and gifted style. Howard, an acclaimed poet and one of the preeminent translators of our time, has excelled in bringing the English text as close as possible to the French, in language, style, and most important, spirit. The artwork in this edition has been restored to match in detail and in color Saint-Exupéry’s original artwork. Combining Richard Howard’s translation with restored original art, this definitive English-language edition of The Little Prince will capture the hearts of readers of all ages.

 

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

One of the most important and enduring books of the 20th century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost 30 years — due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist — Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath’s shocking, realistic, and intensely emotional novel about a woman falling into the grip of insanity

Esther Greenwood is brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time. In her acclaimed and enduring masterwork, Sylvia Plath brilliantly draws the reader into Esther’s breakdown with such intensity that her insanity becomes palpably real, even rational — as accessible an experience as going to the movies. A deep penetration into the darkest and most harrowing corners of the human psyche, The Bell Jar is an extraordinary accomplishment and a haunting American classic.

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

“Turning the envelope over, his hand trembling, Harry saw a purple wax seal bearing a coat of arms; a lion, an eagle, a badger and a snake surrounding a large letter ‘H’.”

Harry Potter has never even heard of Hogwarts when the letters start dropping on the doormat at number four, Privet Drive. Addressed in green ink on yellowish parchment with a purple seal, they are swiftly confiscated by his grisly aunt and uncle. Then, on Harry’s eleventh birthday, a great beetle-eyed giant of a man called Rubeus Hagrid bursts in with some astonishing news: Harry Potter is a wizard, and he has a place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. An incredible adventure is about to begin!

 

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Slaughterhouse-Five, an American classic, is one of the world’s great antiwar books. Centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we fear most.

 

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

A lone human ambassador is sent to Winter, an alien world without sexual prejudice, where the inhabitants can change their gender whenever they choose. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the strange, intriguing culture he encounters…

Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

 

Nonfiction Books That Everyone Should Read

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love touched the world and changed countless lives, inspiring and empowering millions of readers to search for their own best selves. Now, this beloved and iconic book returns in a beautiful 10th anniversary edition, complete with an updated introduction from the author, to launch a whole new generation of fans.

In her early 30s, Elizabeth Gilbert had everything a modern American woman was supposed to want — husband, country home, successful career — but instead of feeling happy and fulfilled, she was consumed by panic and confusion. This wise and rapturous book is the story of how she left behind all these outward marks of success, and set out to explore three different aspects of her nature, against the backdrop of three different cultures: pleasure in Italy, devotion in India, and on the Indonesian island of Bali, a balance between worldly enjoyment and divine transcendence.

 

Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown

“True belonging doesn’t require us to change who we are. It requires us to be who we are.” Social scientist Brené Brown, PhD, LMSW, has sparked a global conversation about the experiences that bring meaning to our lives—experiences of courage, vulnerability, love, belonging, shame, and empathy. In Braving the Wilderness, Brown redefines what it means to truly belong in an age of increased polarization. With her trademark mix of research, storytelling, and honesty, Brown will again change the cultural conversation while mapping a clear path to true belonging.

Brown argues that we’re experiencing a spiritual crisis of disconnection, and introduces four practices of true belonging that challenge everything we believe about ourselves and each other. She writes, “True belonging requires us to believe in and belong to ourselves so fully that we can find sacredness both in being a part of something and in standing alone when necessary. But in a culture that’s rife with perfectionism and pleasing, and with the erosion of civility, it’s easy to stay quiet, hide in our ideological bunkers, or fit in rather than show up as our true selves and brave the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism. But true belonging is not something we negotiate or accomplish with others; it’s a daily practice that demands integrity and authenticity. It’s a personal commitment that we carry in our hearts.” Brown offers us the clarity and courage we need to find our way back to ourselves and to each other. And that path cuts right through the wilderness. Brown writes, “The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”

 

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it.

For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly 20 years ago.

Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colder. Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger?

Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man’s life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final “class”: lessons in how to live.

Tuesdays with Morrie is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie’s lasting gift with the world.

 

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a remarkable memoir of resilience and redemption, and a revelatory look into a family at once deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. When sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family.

The Walls children learned to take care of themselves. They fed, clothed, and protected one another, and eventually found their way to New York. Their parents followed them, choosing to be homeless even as their children prospered.

The Glass Castle is truly astonishing — a memoir permeated by the intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

 

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

In 1845, Henry David Thoreau retreated from society in favor of a life among nature. What resulted was Walden, a memoir that brings to life the woods around Walden Pond and chronicles Thoreau’s two years of self-sufficiency and introspection. Covering topics as diverse as economic independence and spiritual enlightenment, these essays have become a hallmark of American transcendentalism.

 

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Here is a book as joyous and painful, as mysterious and memorable, as childhood itself. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.

Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age — and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

 

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter. How McCandless came to die is the unforgettable story of Into the Wild.

 

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The diary as Anne Frank wrote it.

At last, in a new translation, this definitive edition contains entries about Anne’s burgeoning sexuality and confrontations with her mother that were cut from previous editions. Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl is among the most enduring documents of the twentieth century. Since its publication in 1947, it has been a beloved and deeply admired monument to the indestructible nature of the human spirit, read by millions of people and translated into more than fifty-five languages. Doubleday, which published the first English translation of the diary in 1952, now offers a new translation that captures Anne’s youthful spirit and restores the original material omitted by Anne’s father, Otto—approximately thirty percent of the diary. The elder Frank excised details about Anne’s emerging sexuality, and about the often-stormy relations between Anne and her mother.

Anne Frank and her family, fleeing the horrors of Nazi occupation forces, hid in the back of an Amsterdam office building for two years. This is Anne’s record of that time. She was thirteen when the family went into the “Secret Annex,” and in these pages, she grows to be a young woman and proves to be an insightful observer of human nature as well. A timeless story discovered by each new generation, The Diary of a Young Girl stands without peer. For young readers and adults, it continues to bring to life this young woman, who for a time survived the worst horrors the modern world had seen—and who remained triumphantly and heartbreakingly human throughout her ordeal.

 

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

Back in America after 20 years in Britain, Bill Bryson decided to reacquaint himself with his native country by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. The AT offers an astonishing landscape of silent forests and sparkling lakes — and to a writer with the comic genius of Bill Bryson, it also provides endless opportunities to witness the majestic silliness of his fellow human beings.

For a start there’s the gloriously out-of-shape Stephen Katz, a buddy from Iowa along for the walk. Despite Katz’s overwhelming desire to find cozy restaurants, he and Bryson eventually settle into their stride, and while on the trail they meet a bizarre assortment of hilarious characters. But A Walk in the Woods is more than just a laugh-out-loud hike. Bryson’s acute eye is a wise witness to this beautiful but fragile trail, and as he tells its fascinating history, he makes a moving plea for the conservation of America’s last great wilderness. An adventure, a comedy, and a celebration, A Walk in the Woods has become a modern classic of travel literature.

 

A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson

Back by popular demand — and newly updated by the author — the mega-bestselling spiritual guide in which Marianne Williamson shares her reflections on A Course in Miracles and her insights on the application of love in the search for inner peace.

Williamson reveals how we each can become a miracle worker by accepting God and by the expression of love in our daily lives. Whether psychic pain is in the area of relationships, career, or health, she shows us how love is a potent force, the key to inner peace, and how by practicing love we can make our own lives more fulfilling while creating a more peaceful and loving world for our children.

 

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

The mega-talented creator of Grey’s  Anatomy and Scandal and executive producer of How to Get Away With Murder chronicles how saying YES for one year changed her life ― and how it can change yours, too.

With three hit shows on television and three children at home, the uber-talented Shonda Rhimes had lots of good reasons to say NO when an unexpected invitation arrived. Hollywood party? No. Speaking engagement? No. Media appearances? No.

And there was the side-benefit of saying No for an introvert like Shonda: nothing new to fear.

Then Shonda’s sister laid down a challenge: just for one year, try to say YES to the unexpected invitations that come your way. Shonda reluctantly agreed — and the result was nothing short of transformative. In Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes chronicles the powerful impact saying yes had on every aspect of her life ― and how we can all change our lives with one little word. Yes.

 

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

On the Road chronicles Jack Kerouac’s years traveling the North American continent with his friend Neal Cassady, “a sideburned hero of the snowy West.” As “Sal Paradise” and “Dean Moriarty,” the two roam the country in a quest for self-knowledge and experience. Kerouac’s love of America, his compassion for humanity, and his sense of language as jazz combine to make On the Road an inspirational work of lasting importance. Kerouac’s classic novel of freedom and longing defined what it meant to be “Beat” and has inspired every generation since its initial publication more than fifty years ago.

 

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air_Paul Kalanithi v3

At the age of 36, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.

What makes life worth living in the face of death? What do you do when the future, no longer a ladder toward your goals in life, flattens out into a perpetual present? What does it mean to have a child, to nurture a new life as another fades away? These are some of the questions Kalanithi wrestles with in this profoundly moving, exquisitely observed memoir.

Paul Kalanithi died in March 2015, while working on this book, yet his words live on as a guide and a gift to us all. “I began to realize that coming face to face with my own mortality, in a sense, had changed nothing and everything,” he wrote. “Seven words from Samuel Beckett began to repeat in my head: ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’” When Breath Becomes Air is an unforgettable, life-affirming reflection on the challenge of facing death and on the relationship between doctor and patient, from a brilliant writer who became both.

 

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

A lot of professors give talks titled “The Last Lecture.” Professors are asked to consider their demise and to ruminate on what matters most to them. And while they speak, audiences can’t help but mull the same question: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

When Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, was asked to give such a lecture, he didn’t have to imagine it as his last, since he had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. But the lecture he gave — “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams”–wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living.

In this book, Randy Pausch has combined the humor, inspiration and intelligence that made his lecture such a phenomenon and given it an indelible form. It is a book that will be shared for generations to come.

 

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

So begins the luminous memoir of Frank McCourt, born in Depression-era Brooklyn to recent Irish immigrants and raised in the slums of Limerick, Ireland. Frank’s mother, Angela, has no money to feed the children since Frank’s father, Malachy, rarely works, and when he does he drinks his wages. Yet Malachy — exasperating, irresponsible and beguiling — does nurture in Frank an appetite for the one thing he can provide: a story. Frank lives for his father’s tales of Cuchulain, who saved Ireland, and of the Angel on the Seventh Step, who brings his mother babies. Perhaps it is story that accounts for Frank’s survival. Wearing rags for diapers, begging a pig’s head for Christmas dinner and gathering coal from the roadside to light a fire, Frank endures poverty, near-starvation, and the casual cruelty of relatives and neighbors — yet lives to tell his tale with eloquence, exuberance, and remarkable forgiveness. Angela’s Ashes, imbued on every page with Frank McCourt’s astounding humor and compassion, is a glorious book that bears all the marks of a classic.

 

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Life can be hard: your lover cheats on you; you lose a family member; you can’t pay the bills — and it can be great: you’ve had the hottest sex of your life; you get that plum job; you muster the courage to write your novel. Sugar — the once-anonymous online columnist at The Rumpus, now revealed as Cheryl Strayed, author of the bestselling memoir Wild — is the person thousands turn to for advice.

Tiny Beautiful Things brings the best of Dear Sugar in one place and includes never-before-published columns and a new introduction by Steve Almond.  Rich with humor, insight, compassion — and absolute honesty — this book is a balm for everything life throws our way.

 

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates

“This is your country, this is your world, this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.”

In a profound work that pivots from the biggest questions about American history and ideals to the most intimate concerns of a father for his son, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers a powerful new framework for understanding our nation’s history and current crisis. Americans have built an empire on the idea of “race,” a falsehood that damages us all but falls most heavily on the bodies of black women and men — bodies exploited through slavery and segregation, and, today, threatened, locked up, and murdered out of all proportion. What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it? And how can we all honestly reckon with this fraught history and free ourselves from its burden?

Between the World and Me is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s attempt to answer these questions in a letter to his adolescent son. Coates shares with his son — and readers — the story of his awakening to the truth about his place in the world through a series of revelatory experiences, from Howard University to Civil War battlefields, from the South Side of Chicago to Paris, from his childhood home to the living rooms of mothers whose children’s lives were taken as American plunder. Beautifully woven from personal narrative, reimagined history, and fresh, emotionally charged reportage, Between the World and Me clearly illuminates the past, bracingly confronts our present, and offers a transcendent vision for a way forward.

 

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin — and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending — or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?

Told in language we all can understand, A Brief History of Time plunges into the exotic realms of black holes and quarks, of antimatter and “arrows of time,” of the big bang and a bigger God — where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected. With exciting images and profound imagination, Stephen Hawking brings us closer to the ultimate secrets at the very heart of creation.

 

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as human computers used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space. Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the Souths segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. Even as Virginias Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black West Computing group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens. Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

 

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey

When it was first published in 1989, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was an almost instant bestseller — and quickly became a permanent part of the cultural lexicon. With over 25 million copies sold worldwide in over 40 languages since its first publication, this book continues to help millions of readers become more effective in both their personal and professional lives.

This is one of the rare books that has influenced presidents, CEOs, educators, and individuals all over the world not only to improve their businesses and careers but to live with integrity, service, dignity, and success in all areas of life. It has had an undeniable impact for the past 25 years–and will no doubt continue to be influential for many more.

 

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany one rainy afternoon in the unlikeliest of places: a city bus. “The days are long, but the years are short,” she realized. “Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.” In that moment, she decided to dedicate a year to her happiness project.

In this lively and compelling account — now updated with new material by the author — Rubin chronicles her adventures during the twelve months she spent test-driving the wisdom of the ages, current scientific research, and lessons from popular culture about how to be happier. Among other things, she found that novelty and challenge are powerful sources of happiness; that money can help buy happiness, when spent wisely; that outer order contributes to inner calm; and that the very smallest of changes can make the biggest difference.

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor black tobacco farmer whose cells — taken without her knowledge in 1951 — became one of the most important tools in medicine, vital for developing the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and more. Henrietta’s cells have been bought and sold by the billions, yet she remains virtually unknown, and her family can’t afford health insurance. This phenomenal New York Times bestseller tells a riveting story of the collision between ethics, race, and medicine; of scientific discovery and faith healing; and of a daughter consumed with questions about the mother she never knew.

 

What books do you think everyone should read in their lifetime? Share in the comments!

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About Mary Ellen Bellusci

Mary Ellen Bellusci is a longtime resident of Baltimore, Maryland... A foodie, traveler, writer, and pursuer of happiness.

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