The best books about life lessons live in every genre and literary category. Whether you’re a parent or teacher looking to gain and impart wisdom to others, or you’re looking for ways you can grow personally and professionally, books allow readers to try on new lives and experience different perspectives. Stories, essays, and poetry offer an ideal medium to learn or expand on life lessons that can change the way we think, what we do, and maybe even alter our lives for the better.
Self-help and psychology books are straightforward “how-to” guides for valuable life lessons and skills. However, this isn’t the only genre where important learning can happen. Fiction, nonfiction, young adult, and even children’s books can impart critical insight and offer compelling points of view. Inspiration is limitless. We may identify with an intriguing character or learn a new piece of information that deepens our understanding of the world around us.
These 18 enlightening books skillfully impart new wisdom or reinforce ideals we hold dear.
This classic teaches us how to move through the world motivated by love instead of fear. It explores how traditional notions of love and society’s preoccupation with romantic love over all other relationships lead to feelings of isolation and failure.
Compassion is important in all aspects of our lives, from family and our communities to our relationships with ourselves.
This insightful read uses research to investigate vulnerability, shame, and finding the courage to live life with your whole heart. It’s arranged in 10 sections meant to help readers move away from the pressures of perfectionism to learning to live fully as themselves. Each chapter feels like a revelation that is specifically designed to change your life.
With millions of copies sold and a film adaptation starring Brie Larson, reporter Walls’ memoir is a moving exploration of resilience, complicated family bonds, and forging a life of one’s own. The author’s witty storytelling turns her less-than-blissful childhood into an engaging read and demonstrates that, dysfunctional as her nomadic upbringing was, her experiences molded her into the strong force she is today.
Klune’s gentle fantasy highlights the importance of connection and finding family and friends who support your true self. It follows Linus Baker, a case worker for the Department in Charge of Magical Youth. He’s known as an ardent rule-follower, never stepping outside the regulatory boundaries of his job when determining the best homes for children with magical abilities.
In his biggest job yet, he’s sent to report on an orphanage housing six of the most dangerous magical children. But for the first time, it’s hard for him to maintain the professional distance he’s known for, which happens to be the reason he’s been chosen for this unusual assignment.
Though it’s not for the faint of heart, McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic tale about a nameless father and son wandering through an endless winter is a masterpiece. Despite its bleakness, it’s deeply affecting, a beautiful story about the unbreakable bond between a parent and his child. The Road gives a new appreciation for embracing the value of living and navigating life’s challenges, no matter the potholes and pitfalls thrown in your way.
One of the best fiction books with life lessons, The Alchemist teaches us that life is meaningless without possibility. Originally published in 1988, it’s been praised year after year as a life-changing book by almost everyone who’s read it, from Oprah to LeBron.
Epic and uplifting, it chronicles the life of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd who yearns for adventure in pursuit of a worldly treasure. Along the way, his journey transforms into one of self-discovery and fulfillment. Anyone in need of inspiration to follow their dreams will find a kindred spirit in Santiago and his story.
This moving memoir offers lessons in learning how to accept the complicated truth about your parents and make peace with your childhood. Ford commits to telling the truth about her family and life growing up, which means attempting to understand the complexity and nuance of the people she loved, the people who hurt her, and those who fall into both categories. Through the incarceration of her father, a fraught relationship with her mother, and a childhood full of longing for love that leads to harmful relationships, Ford discovers who she is and what she wants out of life.
This book about resisting the forces of capitalism, technology, and modern society that insist we must always be busy makes the case for the importance of rest. Odell touches on what we shouldn’t be doing, such as endless doom-scrolling and too much time on social media, while offering a manifesto on what we gain by refocusing our attention: stronger relationships, self-reflection, and connection to our environment.
In arguably one of the best novels ever written, Nick Carraway moves to West Egg, New York and lives next to wealthy and mysterious Jay Gatsby. Gatsby throws wild parties, building his reputation as he pines for his lost love. This is a story of intrigue, obsession, and deceit, set against the extravagance of America’s Jazz Age. Sean Astin (best known as Samwise from The Lord of the Rings film series) narrates.
Young Pi Patel is the only (human) survivor after the ship carrying his family’s zoo sinks. He lives at sea for nearly nine months alongside a tiger, but when he finally washes ashore and tells his fantastical story, the reader must decide what’s true and what’s allegory.
This inspiring tale of survival against impossible odds celebrates hope, strength of will, and the power of storytelling.
The Old Man and the Sea is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and transforms them into a magnificent modern classic. Hemingway won the Pulitzer Prize for literature for this novella.
Don't let the title fool you: This wildly popular self-help guide by Manson isn't about giving up on what’s important in life. In fact, it's the opposite: Manson wants readers to let go of the idea that there's one “right” way to live, and, instead, encourages you to focus on what you’re passionate about, even if it's not following the traditional pathways to success.
If you tend to shy away from self-help because it's too touchy-feely, this is the book for you. But, as the title suggests, expect a lot of straight-talk — and cursing.
Also available as an audiobook
For more, check out our article 5 lessons learned from The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck.
A swashbuckling adventure packed with disguises, riches, and revenge. Wrongfully imprisoned, an innocent man escapes, seeking hidden treasure and payback against the men who set him up. An epic in both length and spirit of adventure, The Count of Monte Cristo explores injustice and the cost of vengeance. This classic is both a page-turner and immensely re-readable.
This debut from the author of They Both Die at the End is one of the most unforgettable books about life lessons for young adults. With compelling characters and a deft depiction of class politics without relying on stereotypes and slang, More Happy Than Not is a stirring reminder that hardship can help us find happiness.
Sáenz’s stunning YA novel is a delicate and beautifully written portrayal of first love. Despite being complete opposites, teens Aristotle and Dante strike up an instant friendship. As the story unfolds, they confront the challenges of family, culture, and sexuality, eventually refusing to let society tell them who — and who not — to love.
Narrated by Hamilton star Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose irresistible voice perfectly enhances this book’s joyful ending.
Everyone — and we mean quite literally every single human on Earth, and almost certainly all people from other planets, too — loves The Little Prince. It’s quirky and funny, relatable and imaginative, and all-around endearing in its depiction of youthful curiosity and creativity.
Endlessly rereadable, each time you revisit this deceptively simple story told from the perspective of a child, it reveals a new life lesson on everything from compassion and trust to listening to your heart.
Mackesy’s quiet and profound book shares uplifting messages and proves that there really is beauty in simplicity. Whimsical line illustrations accompany a simple tale of a boy’s adventure and the life-changing advice he receives from the unlikely friends he makes along the way. This lovely, 64-page illustrated book is a soul-affirming reminder of the power of kindness, self-care, and living in the moment.
About the Author: Alison Doherty
Alison is a writing teacher and part time assistant professor living in Brooklyn, New York. She has an MFA from The New School in writing for children and teenagers. She loves writing about books on the Internet, listening to audiobooks on her way to work, and reading anything with a twisty plot or a happily ever after.