7 books that will make you a better human.

the books I can't wait to read in 2015

Have you ever read a book and thought the world would be a better place if EVERYONE read this? 

These 7 books made me think exactly that. I can’t wait to hear your additions to the list in comments.

7 books that will make you a better human
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

I'd completely forgotten that I resolved to read this book in 2015: thank goodness I stumbled upon my own old blog post to remind me, because I shouldn't have waited any longer to read this wonderful book (and neither should you). Palmer writes with warmth and wisdom about his own journey to finding his true vocation: the work he was uniquely made to do. His story is deeply personal, inspiring, and moving. This is a book you'll return to again and again. More info →
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

This story-driven business book teaches you how to make better decisions, drawing on diverse case studies covering all aspects of life, such as how to know it's time to fire an employee or if you should undergo a risky bone marrow transplant. The Heath brothers are whip-smart and really funny, making Decisive a million times better than your typical "business" book. I use the information I learned from this book nearly every day. More info →
Being Mortal: Medicine And What Matters In The End

Being Mortal: Medicine And What Matters In The End

I resisted reading this for a year because it sounded so heavy: it's a personal meditation on aging, death, and dying. But Gawande, a surgeon by trade, tackles weighty issues by sharing lots of stories to go with the research, making this book eminently readable. Ultimately, this book is about what it means—medically and philosophically—to live a good life. I'm so glad I didn't wait longer to read this: this book gave me a much better understanding of the wants and needs of my own aging family members. I found all the superlatives I'd heard tossed about to hold true: it's riveting, absorbing, paradigm-shifting, life-changing. More info →
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Brown's two-word summary of this book is be you. In it, she shares her ten guideposts for wholehearted living that must be cultivated and practiced in order to engage with the world from a place of worthiness. This is the kind of book you'll wish everyone would read: if you take her message to heart it will change your life. Add Audible narration for $3.99. More info →
Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

I was a little afraid to pick this one up because I feared it would be heavy and heartbreaking. It is those things, but it's also incredibly hopeful. Stevenson's story-driven account describes his work with the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit legal organization he founded, and closely follows the story of Walter, a man sentenced to Alabama's death row for a crime he didn't commit. Moving and beautifully written. More info →
Still Alice

Still Alice

Oliver Sacks wrote, "In examining disease, we gain wisdom about anatomy and physiology and biology. In examining the person with disease, we gain wisdom about life." That's what Genova offers in this uncannily realistic novel about Alice Howland, a 50-year-old Harvard professor who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease. The story resonates with the millions touched by the disease, and nurtures empathy in those who are fortunate to have no firsthand experience with it. More info →
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

For years, Cheryl Strayed wrote an advice column for TheRumpus.net called "Dear Sugar." Strayed wrote anonymously—to her readers she was only "Sugar"—and she answered likewise anonymous letters about love and romance, grief and loss, money and family troubles. To call these "columns" seems to sell them short: these are beautiful, heartfelt, brutally honest essays that go in directions you don't expect. Strayed is compassionate with her letter writers, giving them gentle advice while not pulling any punches, but says her real mission isn't to tell them what they "should" do. Instead, she tries to reveal a third way by either presenting a perspective that those who write can't see on their own, or to complexly hash out what's really going on in their life and situation. My favorite essays, hands-down, are The Ghost Ship That Didn't Carry Us and The Obliterated Place. Proceed with caution: this has a hefty f-bomb count and triggers galore, but it's too good to leave out. More info →

What would you add to the list? 

7 books that will make you a better human


Leave A Comment
    • Debbie says:

      I would suggest The Host. Not everyone wants sci-fi, or a love story, but it shows how awfully we humans are treating each other and our planet.

    • carin says:

      If both of you haven’t read ALL of Gawande’s books, put them on your list. You’ll think about each long after you’re finished. He’s a remarkable writer.

      • Sarah says:

        I have only read “Better, a surgeon’s notes on performance” and really enjoyed it. I look forward to his others.

    • Leiah says:

      The Gifts of Imperfection is a wonderful book. I would also suggest “Living with your heart wide open” by Steve Flowers and Bob Stahl. I look forward to reading the others.

  1. Marie says:

    Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture” changed my life for the better. I especially like that it’s a touchy-feely subject tackled by a tech nerd, so not typical of this type of work.

    “Still Alice” would make my list, too. Even if we don’t face Alzheimer’s, most likely, those of us who spend a lot of time in our heads will face mental decline at some point. This book made me appreciate the simplest of my abilities and pleasures.

    If you can get past the cheesy title of “Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment” by George Leonard, you will find a wonderfully written book that will make you truly believe practice makes perfect–in anything you set out to accomplish.

    And I’m one of many votes for “Being Mortal.” We’re bombarded with “you can stay young forever!” messages. This was kind of a serenity prayer for aging well.

    Great topic!

  2. Kim says:

    I’m adding to my list with this list 🙂

    My husband and I read “The Gifts of Imperfection” together, and then read “Rising Strong”. Both are excellent!

    Right now we’re reading “Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good” by Steven Garber and we cannot recommend it highly enough!

  3. Jaime says:

    Ditto to the Last Lecture. Pausch was a strong example for how to face a worst case scenario with grace and passion for life. I used to show my students a clip from his speech while they were reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I know The Alchemist isn’t to everyone’s taste, but in being a short and easy read, it’s one I often return to.

  4. Christy Twait says:

    I immediately thought of Brene Brown, so I was so pleased to see her on the list! I have been changed forever by two of Mitch Albom’s books, Tuesdays with Morrie and The Five People You Meet in Heaven. I would also add The Purpose-driven Life and Glennon Doyle’s Carry On, Warrior. Her blog Momastery is life-changing as well.

  5. Candace says:

    One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, Seven by Jen Hatmaker, Love Does by Bob Goff, and Simply Tuesday by Emily Freeman.
    Agree with Still Alice (fav this year) and have several others on my TBR list.

  6. Elaine says:

    I am an American Episcopal Deacon and a spiritual director. I couldn’t agree more with your list; I use these books all the time–especially Parker Palmer’s wonderful book on discernment and Brene’s “Gifts of Imperfection”. I might also add to the list “Learning to Walk in the Dark” by Barbara Brown Taylor and Brene’s latest book, “Rising Strong”.

  7. Ana says:

    Was I the only one that couldn’t read Still Alice? I started it, and 2 chapters in I was feeling so anxious I had to put it away for good. Every single book person tells me the book was amazing, and I’m wondering if its worth trying to get through the uncomfortable feelings to read it. I’ve never had to put a book away because of uncomfortable feelings before, even with pretty traumatic subject matter, but this one just hit some deep-set fear, I guess. I’ve heard the movie is good, too, maybe I’ll try that!

    • Jean Lewis says:

      I haven’t read Still Alice, but I did have a book that made me so uncomfortable that I couldn’t read it, and that was a book called “My Mother, Myself” It just hit too close to home. That was probably in the 1970’s.

  8. Jeannie says:

    Great list (though I thought Still Alice was a good novel, nothing special or earth-shaking IMHO). I totally agree about Being Mortal, Let Your Life Speak, and The Gifts of Imperfection; I’ve also just finished Brene Brown’s Rising Strong and I think it is her best yet (her concept of BIG — Boundaries, Integrity, and Generosity — really spoke to me).

    The book I’d add to the list is Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion by Father Greg Boyle. This book about Boyle’s work with L.A. gang members is absolutely a must-read for anyone who … well, anyone currently breathing! 🙂

  9. Leslie says:

    Okay, so I’ve only read “Wild” but I just.don’t.get the appeal of Cheryl Strayed. But so many bloggers/writers I really like just rave about her. I feel like I’m missing something…
    Always love reading your recommendations though, I get so many ideas of new books to try, and yours is one of the few blogs I consistently read these days! Thank you!

    • Anne says:

      I gave up on Wild 30 pages in so I was skeptical about Tiny Beautiful Things. And yet I loved the latter even though I couldn’t stomach the former. (That being said, neither book is for everyone.)

  10. Jennifer says:

    Far From the Tree- completely changed my perspective on life. It’s very long so hard to convince people to read it, but so worth it!

  11. Amy says:

    As a human and a nurse, I loved Being Mortal. Discussions about the end of our lives need to happen long before we reach the end. A wonderful and informative book about an extremely important topic.

  12. Kelly says:

    I loved “The Gifts of Imperfection” and am eager to read “Rising Strong” soon! I’d add for myself, “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson It’s non-fiction — changed my world — arguably began the environmental movement in the United States and began to ask all these questions like, “Where is our food really coming from?”

    I love your blog! Thank you for all your inspiration!

  13. Becky C says:

    I would add Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago. First chapter is a bit difficult to get into because of the lack of punctuation but if you keep going you’ll find it an excellent read. Brought up wonderful discussions for both of my book groups.

  14. Jeanne says:

    One of my favorites is “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”… So many great truths in this book! Also “A Short Guide to a Happy Life”.

  15. M Holloway says:

    I just finished “A Man called Ove”. It’s a wonderful book about how precious even the people you’d least expect in your life can turn out to be.

  16. Gemstar says:

    I would suggest “A Fine Balance” by Rohinton Mistry. It speaks on the fine balance between hope and depair. A great book and fun to discuss the different perspectives people get from reading the same book!

  17. Ashton says:

    If you read any other book on subjects like these, I beg you to read “a place of healing ” by Joni earekson tada. That book made me laugh, and cry. It made me feel for the first time like I could survive the disease that I had. It gave me hope where there was none. I loved it so much I sent it to a bunch of random people who I knew were going through hard times, as it teaches you how to suffer well. How to be strong and hopeful and positive even during the worst parts of your life. It change my life. Thinking of it now, I think I need to reread it.

  18. J Steed says:

    Great list! I would add Hannah’ Gift by Maria Housden. This one gave me a new perspective on how to live life fully. I read it in one sitting, and it broke my heart and put it together again.

  19. Emilie says:

    I’d add the geography of bliss. The first couple of chapters didn’t blow me away but then I was sucked in and the book resonated with me on such a deep level I will never forget it.

  20. I feel like I’ve read a lot of life changing books, but the ones I wish to share here are the Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls and Motherless Daughters, by Hope Edelman. Can’t wait to dig into these.

  21. Yvonne says:

    Great list! Looking forward to reading these books. I would add David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. The rich, complex characters and the problems that David Copperfield faces and overcomes can be applied to anyone’s life. Makes you think!

  22. kelli says:

    I am forever changed by the book, 5 Love Languages. It was very eye-opening to discover that I should give what the receiver needs instead of what I want to give, and to be cognizant of what the giver gives instead of what I want. Life changing way to learn gratitude.

    • Missy says:

      I agree with the 5 Love Languages. It’s a fabulous book for couples, but really anyone that gives and receives love. I do premarital counseling with my husband and always give the couples a copy of this book.

  23. Eileen says:

    I would add ‘When Breath Becomes Air’, by Paul Kalanithi, the true story of a 36 y.o. doctor who is diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. The doctor is forced to become a patient and come to terms with death. Not a maudlin book at all, but life affirming, in fact.

  24. Meaghan Gallagher says:

    Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell is a book that completely changed the way I think about things in my daily life. It talks about success and opportunity and uses examples of why certain people were successful and why others weren’t. This isn’t just a business book – Gladwell brings up NHL players, the Beatles, pilots, and scientists. Truly an amazing read.

    • Johanna says:

      YES! This one is incredibly uncomfortable to read (because it really makes you question your view of yourself, your bias, etc) but so completely essential.

  25. Lisa says:

    Sounds like I have some reading to do! 🙂 There are two that I love and have given as gifts to many: The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning and With an Everlasting Love by Kay Arthur. Both amazing books!

  26. Johanna says:

    I’d add Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. This one inspires (mostly Christian) readers to live their faith the way it was intended, to turn to the poor, to be intentional about being Christ-like.

  27. Shelly says:

    I would add “The Noticer” by Andy Andrews. Because sometimes all we need is a little perspective! I love this book – especially the audio version – and I give it to graduating seniors every year.

  28. Emma says:

    I would add “100 Things” by Seb Terry. His infectious zest for living life has changed my life as well as many others. Warning: don’t read it if you want to stay stuck in your current every day pattern of life!

  29. Risa Hayes says:

    Thanks for the great list and thanks to everyone for the additional suggestions! I would add, How to be an Adult in Relationships by David Richo. It’s non-fiction, but totally a must read for everyone who has relationships – so all of us, really.

  30. Saja Montague says:

    Dear Anne,
    I LOVE your book lists. We seem to have many similar tastes. There are at least two books that I would add. The first is The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo. It is technically a children’s book, but it is soooo much more. I am also reading Parker Palmer’s book, and I include it in my daily devotional. My main devotional book is My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. It is ageless, written in the beginning of the 20th century.
    Thank you,

  31. Kelli says:

    Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson made me a better human because it made me consider what lengths I could go to to make the world a better place, even for one person. I was humbled, inspired and a little ashamed that my focus was on things that wouldn’t change anything and were not really important. Life changing.

  32. B says:

    All of these are so great.. Im surprised it doesn’t include…The Power of Now, Conversations with God and A Course in Miracles

  33. Michele Cook says:

    Just Mercy is on my list of 10 worldview changing books. I love that book. It is scary how the criminal justice system works in this country (or doesn’t work I suppose). I look forward to reading some of the others on your list.

  34. Bob Byrne says:

    “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig is a life-changing classic novel. I’ve read it over 20 times and I still learn from it.

  35. diana says:

    The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede
    Gander Newfoundland and 9/11
    It is a tribute to the generosity of humanity on a day and the days following a great human tragedy. The people of Gander are examples of what the world should be. I have bought at least 10 copies of this book and given away with the understanding that each recipient “pass it on”.

  36. Molly says:

    I have to add The Righteous Mind to this list. As soon as I finished it I wanted to tell everyone about it.

  37. Jude says:

    A Thousand Splendid Suns was a wonderful read as it took me into the minds and hearts of people I knew nothing about and taught me how similar we were and heightened my compassion and to have more faith in people. It showed the amazing resilience and power of women. One of my favourites. But my absolute best are the Words of Jesus. Nothing has influenced me more to be a better human than His Words of love, forgiveness, compassion snd mercy.

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