10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World (part one)

This week, I’m sharing my list of 10 powerful books that will change how you see the world. I chose each of these books because they offered me something specific and valuable. I learned lessons from each book that have helped me to see myself or the people around me differently. They’ve inspired me and helped me to connect to the beauty of being alive. They’ve taught me about rejection, managing my time, collaborating with creativity, and loving little me. 

This list also includes two of my favorite cookbooks because they helped me to fall further in love with food, and helped me to learn to make it myself. I love to read cookbooks and own several, many of which would be worthy of including in a list of great books. However, I wanted to focus on books that changed how I see the world, and those two cookbooks fit the bill. 

You enjoy podcasts, here’s a list of podcast episodes that changed how I see the world. You can find part one here and part two here.

10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

I organized this list into four sections: 1) connecting to the beauty of being alive, 2) be kind to yourself, 3) for when you’re feeling stuck, and 4) for when you need to eat.

Connecting to the beauty of being alive

There are some books that, when you read them, help you connect to the beauty and expansiveness of the universe. The author helps you to see and appreciate the joy of being alive and leaves you believing in magic. Below are three such books, each of them beautiful and whole in their own right. 

Book cover for Wild, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Wild by Cheryl Strayed 

I’ve listened to the audiobook version of this book twice, and both times I absolutely loved it. Cheryl Strayed is one of my favorite authors, and I love her ability to tell the story of her pain and anguish while remaining self aware. Wild is an autobiographical story about a woman who has completely lost herself after the loss of her mother, so she set off to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. 

Although the entirety of this book takes place in the US, it’s definitely a travel story. There’s adventure, despair, times when she had to learn to do without, and times when the author relied on the absolute goodness of strangers. This book will remind you that we can all do hard things, and that sometimes we have to take a leap of faith in order to find ourselves. 

Book cover for The Alchemist, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Along with Wild, Coelho’s The Alchemist is a travel story, albeit a fictional one. The main character is an Andulsian shepherd who sets off on a journey to find treasure in the pyramids of Egypt. Finding this treasure is his destiny, or, rather, his personal legend, as it’s called in the book. The novel is full of magic and prophecy, encouraging the reader to be willing to dance with his or her own destiny, warning that should they ignore their personal legend, they will grow old, unfulfilled, and bitter. 

If you’ve felt like you’re not sure where your life is headed, but you have a sinking suspicion that there’s something you’re called to do, read this book. If you want to sit in wonder at the magic of the universe and the timelessness of adventure and callings, read this book. If you want to try to find some of the motivation that Atomic Habits will tell you that you don’t really need, read this book. 

Book cover for The Opposite of Loneliness, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

The Opposite of Loneliness is a collection of stories and essays from the late Marina Keegan, a young woman who graduated from Yale in 2012 and seemed to have everything going for her. She was tragically killed in a car accident five days after her graduation. Her book is powerful both for its stories, but also for its reminder that life can sometimes be hauntingly, tragically short.

The essay of the same name is my favorite piece in the book. Keegan describes the feeling of being in college amongst her peers preparing to graduate as a sense of almost surreal togetherness, calling it, “the opposite of loneliness.” Her writing is fresh and thoughtful, and it transported me back to my own days on a New England college campus experiencing the exquisite togetherness of my senior year. 

As we all know, we’re never promised tomorrow. Let The Opposite of Loneliness be a reminder to be courageous. Take risks today, because you might not get a tomorrow. Most of all, take the time to appreciate the moments of joy and love and togetherness and bliss when you get them.

Be kind to yourself

One lesson I’ve learned in the past two years is that it’s imperative that you learn to be on your own team. It can be so tempting to criticize yourself and focus on how and why you’re not good enough. I’ve done it. My friends have done it. My family members have done it. There is no shortage of people in the world who will tell you–or, more often, imply–that you’re not enough. 

Don’t team up with them. You have nothing to gain in your own persecution. Work to better yourself, sure, but give yourself the sort of grace and kindness and love that you’re expecting in return for acquiescing to the criticism of others. They may never be happy with you, and, frankly, it’s none of your business what they think of you.

These two books will help you to be kind to yourself, love yourself, and appreciate the journey you’re on. The authors are compassionate towards themselves, giving grace for the mistakes they made and loving the journeys they took even when it was hard. 

Book cover for Stay Sexy and Don't Get Murdered, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered by Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff

Georgia Hardstark and Karen Kilgariff are hosts of the hit true crime comedy podcast My Favorite Murder. They released Stay Sexy and Don’t Get Murdered in 2019. While there are some true crime elements to this book, I loved the essays for their brilliant and deep compassion for their younger selves. If you’ve been working to comfort your inner child, read this book. 

Both authors talk in depth about challenges they’ve faced in their lives, from addiction to family dysfunction to making dangerous decisions. The beauty in the book, however, is the seemingly endless amount of love they have for their younger selves. This book will help you to gain a new respect for your journey and the mistakes you may have made when you were acting under duress. 

My Favorite Murder has often been praised by listeners for the hosts’ willingness to talk openly about mental health issues, and this book is no different. 

This book has an audiobook version read by the authors. I’d highly recommend listening to the book, especially if you enjoy their podcast (or, really, podcasts in general).  

Book cover for Tiny Beautiful Things, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed wrote Tiny Beautiful Things from all of the wisdom she shared while running the advice column for The Rumpus, “Dear Sugar.” The topics from readers include things like affairs, boundaries with parents, finding love, and navigating the nuances of relationships. Strayed beautifully weaves together her own stories and experiences to form deeply empathetic and wise responses to her readers. 

This book will change the way you see the world because Strayed’s clear, compelling, and profoundly thoughtful responses to the woes of her readers will challenge everything you thought you knew about life. You’ll listen to the question the reader asks and be stunned by the depth to which Strayed understands the human condition, then leverages it to provide guidance. Tiny Beautiful Things will have you crying, laughing, and commiserating with people you’ll never know in anonymous places. Strayed’s love for herself, her own journey, and the other people in the world is utterly infectious. I’ve read this book twice, and each time it has changed me.

For when you’re feeling stuck in life

I recently made a video on TikTok where I talked about three books that can help you when you’re feeling stuck. There are times in life when you feel like there’s no path forward and all you know is that you’re unhappy and something needs to change… you’re just not sure what. Or, you know what needs to change, but you don’t know how to make it happen. In either case, these books are for you. 

Book cover for Atomic Habits, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Atomic Habits by James Clear

This book is widely recommended on the internet, on lists ranging from “top books to read in your twenties” to book lists for entrepreneurs. This book will change how you see the world because it talks about habits as the way to achieve your goals. Your life isn’t going to start in a year when you magically get the motivation to start checking items off of your to do list, you’re already living it! The little things that you do today and every day are actually making up your life, so be sure that you’re taking actions that align with your goals. 

The reason this book is so helpful when you’re feeling stuck is that it creates agency where we can be all too willing to give it up. It can be easy to feel like we are waiting at the mercy of motivation–when it kisses our foreheads, we will suddenly have the ability to accomplish all of our goals. When it’s hiding from us, however, we can have a tendency to just give up. The thing is, you don’t actually need motivation, you just need to start taking the little steps today and keep taking those little steps every day. 

As Cleary points out in his book, if you get 1% better every week, you’ll be 52% better by the end of the year. Life is the sum of all the little things we do all day every day. 

Book cover for Big Magic, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

You probably know Elizabeth Gilbert from her wildly popular book, Eat Pray Love. Her book, Big Magic, is all about understanding creativity and working with it whenever you can. It’s inspiring, but also deeply empathetic, empowering, and full of moments where I literally said out loud, “Yes! That.” 

One of the most interesting concepts she discusses is the idea of having a genius, instead of being a genius. Essentially, there was a time in history where people couldn’t explain how it was possible that humans were making art, so they developed the idea of the genius. Your genius was like a god that was assigned to you, and it would help you to create artwork. In Gilbert’s view, this protected the artist’s ego from both success and failure, since they can never be fully responsible for their own productions. 

I’d highly encourage you to read this book, but if you want to hear a little more about the genius you can watch this TED Talk

Book cover for Rejection Proof, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang

I decided to read this book after watching this video on TikTok. The brilliance of this book is how compassionately the author talks about the pain of rejection, and the way that it can change our choices. As people, we can often be so afraid of rejection that we opt out of experiences or decide not to ask for more because we fear being told, “no.” 

When I started Amber Everywhere, I often feared that people would reject my ideas. I let that keep me from sharing my thoughts until I made a conscious decision to let people tell me “no” instead of opting out of trying things. The same concept applies to travel and other dreams we hold. There probably isn’t going to be someone waiting to give you permission to follow your interests and curiosities and passions, you’ll have to make it for yourself. That’s ok! 

And, sometimes, you’ll fail. Someone will tell you no. When that happens, instead of feeling dejected, try to see it as a learning opportunity and pivot. There are so many opportunities in this world, it’s ok if one wasn’t meant for you, just don’t ever let that keep you from trying the next time. Rejection Proof will help you to summon the courage to try, even when you might fail. And, if you do fail, it’ll help you to learn as much as you can to increase your odds next time. 

For when you need to eat

I’m including some cookbooks in this list because they, like the other books in this list, changed how I see the world. These cookbooks taught me that I could make delicious food at home, and that transformed how I live and travel. I learned to cook in college, but I really started taking my cooking seriously when I started reading cookbooks.

There are two types of cooks: those who use recipes, and those who don’t. I’m in the former camp, I love recipes and cookbooks. I’m a very picky eater, and I’ve often hesitated to try foods at restaurants because I don’t know exactly what goes into them. Cookbooks solve this issue because I can control the ingredient quality, ensure freshness, and omit ingredients I don’t like (you won’t find any mushrooms in my stir frys!). Most everything I know about cooking, I learned while following recipes. If you’d like to see some of my favorite recipes, check out this post

Both of these cookbooks are entirely vegetarian, and most of the recipes offer substitutes or omissions to make them gluten free, dairy free, vegan, or nut free. Also, I love both of these books dearly. 

Book cover for Love Real Food, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Love Real Food by Kathryn Taylor

A fun fact about me is that I once cooked every recipe in this cookbook over the course of about 6 months. I didn’t set out to cook all of the recipes, I just started cooking from the book after I bought it and, after a while, I had completed a respectable section of the book. I decided to keep going, and I finished the last of the recipes sometime around May of 2018. 

Thus, I can guarantee that almost every recipe in this book is good and worthy of cooking. While some of the dishes are more complicated than others, they are almost all tasty and healthy. Although I don’t particularly care for them, I’ve sold a couple of copies of this book when friends tried the breakfast cookies. If you want to get a sense of the author’s recipes, try making this broccoli salad recipe. 

Book cover for Love and Lemons, one of the 10 Powerful Books that Will Change How You See the World

Love and Lemons by Jeanine Donofrio

If Love Real Food is approachable, Love and Lemons is elevated. The recipes are, for the most part, delicious and unique. The author has a way of spinning interesting flavor combinations and textures, and I’m often surprised by the end result. She is not, however, a particularly simple cook, nor is this cookbook particularly approachable for beginners. The ingredients can be expensive or hard to find, and the recipes require more advanced kitchen equipment like mandoline slicers and food processors. 

If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend that you start with Love Real Food. However, if you’re looking to be a little more inventive, ready to substitute ingredients when you can’t find them, and have some time to spend in the kitchen, this book is a wonderful adventure in vegetarian cooking. If you want to get a sense of Jeanine’s recipes, try this tofu banh mi recipe. 

Final Thoughts

I chose to focus this week’s reading list on Personal Growth topics, ranging from perspective to habits to skills. I have another post planned where I’ll share my favorite books about power, society, and history, so stay tuned!

Do you have a favorite personal growth book that you’d add to this list? Have you read any of these books? 

Let me know in the comments!