I’m very fond of these little Bloomsbury Reading Guides. I say little because they are just a bit bigger than a hand. I own quite a few of them. I find them well-done, informative, and a good introduction to different kinds of books and genres.
Now “life-changing” might make a few people roll their eyes thinking this is about self-help books. But it’s not. It’s about books that have had a major impact on people’s lives for various reasons. Either because they were ground-breaking, or because the author wrote about something in a new way. Because they talk about social injustice, philosophy, or psychological ideas. Many are novels that were highly influential. Some of these books literally changed a lot of people’s lives. Because they made them see the world in a new way or understand things better. In his introduction, Nick Rennison writes that this isn’t meant to be a best of. Just a varied list.
The idea that there can be a definitive list of the books most likely to change lives, and change them for the better, is a ludicrous one. Books can change lives but they do so in a wide variety of often subtle ways. Very different books can, in different ways, be life-changing and the selection of titles in this book reflects that. 100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books finds space for, amongst others, a children’s novel about a young girl who discovers a key to a secret garden, a Chinese text on a war from the sixth century BC, a black comedy set in WWII, the autobiography of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable statesmen, a handbook on happiness by one of the world’s great religious leaders and a fable about a pilot who meets a story-telling child in the Sahara desert.
The authors and their book are presented in alphabetical order. Author and book are then presented in a short bio, summary and history of the influence of the book. These chapters are followed by Read on lists, which either contain other books by the author or books by other authors that are similar.
Throughout the book you can find themed boxes with lists of books.
Here are some of the authors you can find in this book – I’m picking two for every letter:
Isabel Allende, Marcus Aurelius, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Albert Camus, Jung Chang, Dalai Lama, Simone de Beauvoir, Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud, Ghandi, Jean Giono, Stephen Hawking, Hermann Hesse, C.G. Jung, Helen Keller, Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Primo Levi, Nelson Mandela, Alice Miller, Friedrich Nietzsche, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Sogyal Rinpoche, J.K Rowling, J. D. Salinger, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Henry David Thoreau, Sun Tzu, Kurt Vonnegut, Edmund White, Naomi Wolf, Paramahansa Yogananda
As for the books – you’ll find titles as varied as The Little Prince, Siddharta, The Origin of Species, Walden, The Beauty Myth, A Room of One’s Own, Life of Pi, The Outsiders, On the Road, The Art of War and many more.
Because I have already read many of the books that are mentioned here, I like to use it as a refresher or when I’m in the mood to read books on a theme or books that might be similar.
If this kind of book appeals to you – here is a link to an older post about the Bloomsbury Guide on Historical Novels. It’s excellent as well.