1. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Instead of celebrating prodigies, this book shows that there really is no such thing as a “prodigy.” It’s not that successful people just fell into it, but more that it’s a combination of hard work, opportunity, and seizing the moment. It will inspire you to work harder, if anything.
2. The Complete Calvin & Hobbes series by Bill Watterson
So many life lessons and so much truth comes from this series. You’ll get an education on parenthood, friendship, nostalgia, and philosophy, all wrapped in a beautiful sarcastic ball!
3. Candide by Voltaire
You might need to read this book twice just to get the full effect of it. It’s packed with political satire circa 1759, but it reads as if it’s talking about the culture of today. In a lot of ways, it proves that all people are pretty much the same, regardless of the century.
4. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
A lot of people say that this book changed the way they view food, and for good reason. It looks not only at what we’re eating and how the food is being treated before it makes its way to our table, but also things we rarely take the time to acknowledge: like food policies and how it affects the bigger world.
5. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
Warning: This might make you cry. It’s a nonfiction book about Pausch, who is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a few months to live. Before he passed, he wrote this book about what being positive really means. It will help you realize that even when you’re dealt something terrible, it doesn’t mean you can’t make a positive difference.
7. The Sandman series by Neil Gaiman
The series itself is long, with 10 collections, and touches on everything from forgiveness, to the fact that dreams never really die. Each series intertwines with the next, and subsequently each lesson you learn grows with each reading.
9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Eugenides will make you question gender, sexuality, and the cons of staying with tradition. The novel is a heartbreaking coming-of-age story about Callie, a hermaphrodite, and the struggle he faces to find himself in the face of his family.
10. The Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
This fantasy book is about the Hogfather, who is similar to Santa. If you need to know the kinds of things you’ll learn from it, just read this excerpt:
Death: Yes. As practice, you have to start out learning to believe the little lies.
Susan: So we can believe the big ones?
Death: Yes. Justice, mercy, duty. That sort of thing.
Susan: They’re not the same at all.
Death: You think so? Then take the universe and grind it down to the finest powder, and sieve it through the finest sieve, and then show me one atom of justice, one molecule of mercy. And yet, you try to act as if there is some ideal order in the world. As if there is some, some rightness in the universe, by which it may be judged.
11. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
As an American, reading this book will help you realize that there are secret agendas all over government. And, without being too lengthy, it shows that there’s a more sinister story behind the platitudes of history.
12. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
You know how sometimes you make a decision and then immediately think, “Why the hell did I do that?” Well, this book helps to explain how your mind works and, more importantly, how it doesn’t work. Kahneman also shows that while we tend to place a lot of confidence in our own judgment, we really shouldn’t.
13. Hallucinations by Oliver Sacks
Dr. Oliver Sacks is known for a lot of books, Awakenings and The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat being two big ones. But the great thing about Hallucinations, is that Sacks will help you realize that hallucinations are not something to fear, and are much more prevalent than you’d ever assume. In many cases, they occur as your body’s response to the loss of a sense, for example.
14. Discipline and Punish by Michael Foucault
While it’s by no means a perfect picture of our current prison systems, Discipline and Punish examines our different means of punishment, and how western culture embraced our current penal standards. The book will make you examine things you took for granted.
17. The Stranger by Albert Camus
We all need a little existentialism in our lives. Enter The Stranger, which will make you question what really matters, in that nothing actually does. In this way, it can free you to stop feeling confined by traditional paths, and start living the way you actually want to.
18. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris
If you’ve read any of Sedaris’ books, then you already know that they’re a guaranteed laugh. But the great thing about Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls is that it details a lot of Sedaris’ experiences abroad with other cultures in a frank and funny way. In that way, it makes culture shock something to celebrate and not be afraid of.
20. Sex At Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá
The idea behind this book is a little taboo, but it examines the idea that human’s are not naturally monogamous. Keep in mind that I said “naturally monogamous,” and that we have obviously evolved quite a bit. But originally, mating was a shared resource, much like food, and paternity was a communal thing.
21. Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
Maybe this book should be required high school reading, because it’s a fascinating and accessible read on the history of the natural sciences. It covers everything from chemistry to cosmology, and all of the subjects in between.
22. Beloved by Toni Morrison
Morrison’s novel about an African-American slave in the 1800s will change the way you think about that period in history, in that it really overrides any illusions about it. It will remind you that slave owners were monsters, plain and simple.
24. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
In Random Family, the reader comes to truly get a sense for what people living in deep poverty go through on a daily basis. Thanks to the work of LeBlanc, who spent over 10 years following two Latina women in the Bronx.
25. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton
Wharton’s novel is insanely tragic — it will make you have all the feels. But it’s also an important book, because it doesn’t pretend that money has no influence on your happiness. In fact, it encourages you to make your own money and not rely on falling into it. And even though it shows just how difficult being a woman is, it also makes you admire the grit and wit of the protagonist, Lily.