21 Great Personal Development Books That Will Change Your Life
Personal development books and the self-help genre have a mixed reputation.
For some, self-improvement books transform their lives, accelerating their personal growth and careers. For others, they think these books are written by charlatans looking to make a quick buck.
As someone who has read 200+ books in the last five years, including dozens of self-help and personal growth books, I fall in the camp of people that believes in the immense power of books to help take your life and career to the next level.
Below, I’ve listed 21 of the best personal development, self-help, and personal growth books that you will find. If you get started with these books, you will inch closer to where you want to go.
“We blame our bosses, the economy, our politicians, other people, or we write ourselves off as failures or our goals as impossible. When really only one thing is at fault: our attitude and approach.”
Why it’s Great: A practical and actionable philosophy on how to perceive, act, and thrive in an uncertain and changing world. Leveraging the wisdom of the Stoics, Holiday explains how we can deliberately improve the way we perceive the world and find the opportunities in the obstacles we face.
“Life is all about growth and change. It’s not static. It’s not about some destination. It’s not about answering the question once and for all and then it’s all done. Nobody really knows what he or she wants to be.”
Why it’s Great: In this book, Stanford professors Bill Burnett and Dave Evans show you how to use design thinking to create a meaningful, joyful, and fulfilling life. If you fully engage with the frameworks and self-reflection exercises, you will have a clearer path to creating a life worth living.
“Goals direct us from the inside, but shoulds are paralyzing judgments from the outside. Goals feel like authentic dreams while shoulds feel like oppressive obligations. Shoulds set up a false dichotomy between either meeting an ideal or being a failure, between perfection or settling. The tyranny of the should even pits us against our own best interests.”
Why it’s Great: This book directly challenges the thirty-is-the-new-twenty culture. Through research and anecdotes from her time as a clinical psychologist, Meg Jay advocates for being intentional about how you spend your twenties.
4. A Random Walk Down Wall Street: Including A Life-Cycle Guide To Personal Investing By Burton Malkiel
“The core of every portfolio should consist of low-cost, tax-efficient, broad-based index funds.”
Why it’s Great: A Random Walk Down Wall Street is a classic guide that blends history, economics, market theory, and behavioral finance to offer practical and actionable advice for investing and achieving financial freedom. Malkiel’s central message is abundantly clear – begin a consistent savings plan as early as possible and invest the core of your portfolio in low-cost, broad-based index funds.
“You have no responsibility to live up to what other people think you ought to accomplish. I have no responsibility to be like they expect me to be. It’s their mistake, not my failing.”
Why it’s Great: A collection of interesting stories from the life of the fascinating, infinitely curious, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman. Feynman reminds you of the importance of questioning the status quo, the joy of learning and acquiring new skills, and how to approach life with an open mind and a bias for adventure.
“You can’t control the events that happen to you, but you can control your interpretation of them. So why not choose the story that serves your life the best?”
Why it’s Great: Kevin Hart is hilarious and wildly successful. This is his inspiring story that reaffirms the importance of perseverance and learning how to find the meaning and motivation in adversity. This book inspired me to write How to Make Hard Decisions – Advice From Comedian Kevin Hart.
“Nowhere you can go is more peaceful—more free of interruptions—than your own soul. Especially if you have other things to rely on. An instant’s recollection and there it is: complete tranquillity. And by tranquillity I mean a kind of harmony.”
Why it’s Great: This is a life-changing collection of philosophical and spiritual thoughts from the former Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius. The work is grounded in Stoicism, a practical philosophy that encourages us to keep our mortality in mind at all times, view things as they are, reflect thoughtfully, focus on what’s within our control, and practice virtues like generosity, honesty, and self-control.
“You are never dedicated to something you have complete confidence in. No one is fanatically shouting that the sun is going to rise tomorrow. They know it’s going to rise tomorrow. When people are fanatically dedicated to political or religious faiths or any other kinds of dogmas or goals, it’s always because these dogmas or goals are in doubt.”
Why it’s Great: Pirsig takes us on a philosophical journey through the engaging narrative of a middle-aged man who takes his son on a motorcycle trip across America. You’ll walk away with a newfound appreciation for philosophy and the great interconnectedness of the world.
“Highly successful people have three things in common: motivation, ability, and opportunity. If we want to succeed, we need a combination of hard work, talent, and luck.”
Why it’s Great: This book reshaped my understanding of what drives success. With an engaging body of research, Wharton professor Adam Grant demonstrates how, combined with motivation, ability, and opportunity, being a giver in our attitudes and actions towards others can fuel our long-term personal and career success.
“So the first biological lesson of history is that life is competition. Competition is not only the life of trade, it is the trade of life—peaceful when food abounds, violent when the mouths outrun the food.”
Why it’s Great: A concise, thematic account of history that covers the core biological, social, economic, and philosophical lessons of history. The Durants introduce you to everything from the 3 fundamental biological lessons of life to the origins of racial antipathies.
“The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
Why it’s Great: If you write or create, read this book. Pressfield names the killer of creative dreams: Resistance. He describes the many forms it takes and outlines a plan to overcome it. If you have creative dreams, Pressfield will prepare and inspire you for the war ahead.
“Achievers rarely, if ever, see a problem as permanent, while those who fail see even the smallest problems as permanent.”
Why it’s Great: A book for anyone who wants to master their mind, body, emotions, and finances. You’ll learn about the motivating forces of pain and pleasure, the importance of the questions you ask, and the necessity of clarifying and living by your values. Read it slowly and do the exercises.
“Sometimes coincidences tell you something useful. But 90 percent of the time they mislead you. Never be too confident about an opinion that depends solely on interpreting a coincidence.”
Why it’s Great: Loserthink is about unproductive ways of thinking. In it, writer Scott Adams will show you how to avoid Loserthink and to become a better and more rational thinker.
“Putting yourself in the place of others…is what thinking ethically is all about.”
Why it’s Great: Princeton professor Peter Singer’s book will transform the way you think about giving. Through a compelling moral argument, Singer shows us why and how we can all do more to help alleviate unnecessary suffering and death in this world.
“The rare people who do become truly exceptional at something do so not because they believe they’re exceptional. On the contrary, they become amazing because they’re obsessed with improvement. And that obsession with improvement stems from an unerring belief that they are, in fact, not that great at all.”
Why it’s Great: Mark Manson provides philosophical and candid thoughts on how we can live a better life. He explores embracing the negative, taking responsibility for how we respond to everything that happens to us, and prioritizing good values.
“Persuasion is not about how bright or smooth or forceful you are. It’s about the other party convincing themselves that the solution you want is their own idea. So don’t beat them with logic or brute force. Ask them questions that open paths to your goals. It’s not about you.”
Why it’s Great: International hostage negotiator Chris Voss provides a practical guide and set of principles to improve your effectiveness in getting what you want. You’ll learn that being a good negotiator is about being an effective communicator, understanding what drives people’s decisions, and using counterintuitive techniques, such as asking calibrated questions, beginning with “no”, and listening actively and empathetically.
“Essentialists spend as much time as possible exploring, listening, debating, questioning, and thinking. But their exploration is not an end in itself. The purpose of the exploration is to discern the vital few from the trivial many.”
Why it’s Great: A compelling philosophy about living consciously, focusing on the essential few things that fulfill you, and designing your life to achieve your highest point of contribution. McKeown highlights the danger in failing to recognize tradeoffs, the necessity of learning to say no, and the importance of play and sleep.
19. The Art Of Possibility: Transforming Professional And Personal Life By Rosamund And Benjamin Zander
“Gracing yourself with responsibility for everything that happens in your life leaves your spirit whole, and leaves you free to choose again.”
Why it’s Great: In this engaging read, a music conductor and an experienced psychotherapist introduce 12 unique personal development practices that will reshape how you see the world and accelerate your personal and professional growth.
“‘Does it make sense?’ will often cut a statistic down to size when the whole rigmarole is based on an unproved assumption.”
Why it’s Great: We all learn statistics in school, but rarely do we apply the important and basic principles of the discipline in adulthood. This book is a great primer on statistics that shows you all of the ways in which we are manipulated by data at work, in the news, and more.
“To live one day well is the same as to live ten thousand days well. To master twenty-four hours is to master your life.”
Why it’s Great: A no-nonsense book with tactical, science-backed insights on how to live a healthier, energy-filled, and fulfilling life. Many practices in this book have helped me boost my daily energy and productivity.
Final Thoughts About How to Accelerate Your Personal Development and Growth with Books
- For more good book recommendations and lessons, check out Foundations, a growing digital notebook with lessons from 100+ timeless books across categories.
- If you want to get more out of everything you read, check out How to Read a Nonfiction Book. This article will help you get the most out of the time you spend reading, and it starts with the topic of book selection.
- You can also check out the 49 Best Philosophy Books of All Time and 28 Books that Will Open Your Mind for more recommendations.
- If you struggle to read, try listening to audiobooks with Amazon Audible.
Finally, I send out a weekly Sunday newsletter, Life Reimagined, with helpful ideas and quotes from good books. If you want to receive small nuggets of wisdom and recommendations for future reading every week, you can sign up below.