I want to just preface this by saying that the book that has had the biggest impact on my life is the Bible. It didn’t feel right to include it in this list because it is so much better, so much more life transforming. It is the #1 Book in my life. It transformed my past. It transforms my present. It will transform my future. And it isn’t just for someone with similar interests. It will transform anyone’s life if you will let it.
I have always been an avid reader. I used to devour books. Basically read any book I could get my hands on. My favorite summertime activity was sitting in my backyard and reading (it still kinda is). So out of the thousands of books that I have read in my lifetime, there are a few that have been truly life changing. Books I have read that have changed how I see the world.
I am going to start in my childhood, so bear with me.
1. Meet Kirsten by Valerie Tripp
I told you I was starting a long time ago. I think I first read this book when I was 7. It was the first American Girl book I read. Totally opened my eyes to history and basically how far we came in the last 100+ years. But why would I include this on my life changing book list? Because Kirsten’s best friend got sick with cholera and died within a few days. What?! Totally rocked my world! A 7 year old gets a fever and dies?! How many times have I been sick, took medicine, and gotten better? No one was ever concerned that I or my friends or sisters would die from a fever! And what in the world was cholera? So many questions that I needed to answer. It made me realize that people could and did die from illness. Made me realize how awesome medicine really was. So to my little 7 year old self, yes, totally life changing.
2. Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Another historical book for you that chronicles the life of a young Jewish girl during the Holocaust. I read this one when I was about 9, maybe 10. So why is this life changing? Umm, a 9 year old girl reading about the mass genocide of a people group? Ya, that tends to stick with you. And to also realize that people were still alive who lived through these horrors was even more shocking. The physical and psychological abuse inflicted on the Jews definitely got me pondering how could anyone be so evil that they could do this. Are we really that evil? What would I do if I was a Jew during that time? What if I wasn’t a Jew during that time? Would I help? Am I brave enough to stand up to evil? These are questions that still plague me.
3. The Great Influenza by John M. Barry
So, I guess, I didn’t read a lot of life transforming books in high school. Not sure if I was just too preoccupied with reading all class assignments and not reading enough for leisure or if I read for leisure, but nothing really transformed my life. I do remember reading a lot of classics during high school, like it was a personal competition to see how much I could read. Classics are awesome, but didn’t transform my life. Not really sure why. But I read this book right in between my freshman and sophomore year of college (I think). I heard about the influenza that killed a lot of people during World War I, but never really looked into it that much. First, this book super stretched me because it discussed how the influenza virus works, on a cellular level. I found it fascinating. It discussed how it spread literally around the world. And the big thing here, it pointed out that it targeted young adults. What? Sure, I heard of people dying from the flu, but usually the elderly. Then I learned how the influenza virus mutates every year, can be transferred from animals to humans, and is basically due again to turn deadly like the 1918 flu. Scary stuff. Made me realize how fragile our lives really are. And it could be anything. We have no control.
4. Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie
Now, if you can’t already tell, I am a bit morbid. I like to ponder life and death. Weird, I know. I have to be careful who I recommend books to, because I am not quite sure what they will think of me. But at this point in my life, I don’t really care. My family and friends already know I am morbid so when I tell them I like such and such a book, they take it in stride. This is another slightly morbid tale. I read it sometime during a summer in college. Honestly, I found this book to be a really awesome look at a couple in love that was basically forced to live on the grandest stage at the time. For those who might not know, this book deals with the last czar of Russia and his wife. It chronicled their childhoods, love story, and family all with the Russian Empire in the background. I began to see this volatile time in history through their eyes. Was he the best ruler? Nope. Was she the best queen? Nope. The beginning of the end for this royal family seemed to be the birth and illness of their only, long- awaited son. The family was desperate. The country was desperate. Totally made me realize that these larger than life figures, are real people with real struggles. And these struggles are universal. Who wants to see their child struggle with death? It is every parent’s worst nightmare, regardless of your status. Why life transforming, though? I don’t really know. Maybe it is just the empathy I gained from it or the more intimate look at hemophilia and its genetic component. But whatever it might be, their story has truly stuck with me. I still recommend this book to others.
5. New York by Edward Rutherford
Surprisingly, this book is not at all morbid. Kind of out of character for me, but I super loved this one. I read this book 3 years ago, during the summer. I tend to find my favorite books in the summers... I wonder why? But anyways, when I do recommend this book to others, I still preface it by saying that it is really long (like 800 pages). But I found it a real page turner. This is a novel that follows one family through the history of New York City, starting when it was just a small Dutch settlement. Now, I am not a huge fan of NYC. I mean, it’s okay, but this isn’t why I picked up this book. Why would a fiction book change my life? It made me relate to people so far removed from me and to others so close to me. I felt like I lived in NYC. So much rich history there. So many people have called it home. And you know what it made me want to do? Learn about my home. Learn about my local history. Truly have roots. And I did go and find out about my own town’s history. I began to appreciate places around me. This book also made me realize that I have a long family history too. Real people who have done regular mundane things. And my kids will carry on this life, even after I am gone. What I do, and especially who I am, affects them. It will shape our family’s path.
6. Nurture Shock by Po Bronson
I think I also read this 3 years ago. Not morbid either. Wow, pretty impressive for me. This is by far my favorite parenting book. I recommend it to everyone. The gist of it is discussing areas of concern for today’s kids and analyzing the research behind these areas. It also closely aligns with my beliefs about raising kids- they need to learn how to be independent. But it also looks at why kids lie and other common problems. We, as parents, need to create an environment for our kids where they want to learn and try to do right. This is a life changing book because it changed how I parent. I watch what I say more closely. I am hesitant to say “You are so smart.” I encourage them to “stretch their brains.” I am more intentional about encouraging independence. So, ya, big fan.
7. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
This is my most recent read, just this past summer. And, again, I am back to being morbid. Can’t expect much else from me. But how could I say that this book is life changing for me already? I have already recommended it a lot and bring it up in conversation all the time. It has changed how I think. It is a book about aging and dying and how healthcare and society today handle them. Basically, we try to fix aging. We consider dying a failure. But should we? We know humans are mortal. Dying isn’t a failure but an expected end. Totally changed how I view the elderly and death. I mean I always knew that people want to die with dignity, but it humanized it for me. I began to think about what I wanted when the end was near. I thought about other people and how I can make a difference. How could I maintain the dignity people so desperately want?
Wow, this ended up being a lot longer than I initially planned, but I have so much to say about these books. I also wanted to add that I have left out some really awesome books, but when I thought about it, the books listed here began many other literary journeys. After reading Meet Kirsten, I read all the American Girl books plus many other historical fictions. After reading Number the Stars, I read the Diary of Anne Frank and books about WW2. After reading The Great Influenza, I read The Emperor of All Maladies, The Great Mortality, and Polio. After reading Nicholas and Alexandra, I read We Two, Upstairs at the White House, and The Residence. After reading New York, I read a book about my hometown. Nurture Shock was just the tip of the iceberg of parenting books I have read. And after Being Mortal, I have checked out another book at the library by the same author. Plus so many more I would highly recommend. But these I listed are the pivot points for me. Love, love, love them.
Til Next Time,
Disclaimer: I just wanted to add that I do not necessarily agree with everything in these books. As a voracious reader, I need to exercise discretion when I read. But the positive far outweighs the negative in these books.