If you’re looking to be uplifted rather than weighed down during these tumultuous times, put down your phone, stop doomscrolling, and instead dive into an inspiring book. We’ve put together a list of some motivating page-turners, both new bestsellers and classic books, that will help you see the good in humanity. Reading any (or all) of these books will certainly help make your day better, and that’s a fine start.
No Death, No Fear by Thich Nhat Hanh
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to get a good deal of inspiration from renowned writer and Buddhist scholar Thich Nhat Hanh’s seminal work, No Death, No Fear. Rather, you just need to be a human being who has ever experienced moments of doubt, depression, isolation, anxiety, and so forth. In an approach to philosophy merging Stoicism, Transcendentalism, Buddhism (of course), and Existentialism all at once, the author shows how we can so deeply reframe our thinking about life such as it is that the very times we are living through can come to be seen as a blessing (used in a secular sense) rather than burden. Witness his allegory of two astronauts stranded on the moon and destined to die in two days time as their air runs out, no chance of rescue at all. All they would dream of is safely standing once more on planet Earth — no need for riches, fame, power, or any of it, just for land under their feet and air to breathe, things you have right now, no? (The book came out years before the Sandra Bullock movie Gravity, but the final scene of that film is a perfect take on just this scenario, by the way.)
Make Your Bed by Admiral William McRaven
It might seem almost flippant to say that major success starts with making your bed, and indeed that would probably be inaccurate, too. Retired Navy Admiral William McCraven’s point in writing the book can indeed be viewed with that simple of an act as a starting point. See, it’s not making a bed that leads you to success in business, politics, the arts, fitness, and so on, it’s the simple willpower of taking care of what needs taking care of, no matter how seemingly small, that gets you there. This former Navy SEAL wrote a bestselling book about the premise; what will you do once you have committed to doing what needs to be done?
The Endurance by Caroline Alexander
The Endurance was a sensational bestseller when it came out more than 20 years ago, and for good reason: it is a superb telling of one of the greatest survival stories of the 20th century, and it will be as moving a read in another hundred years as it remains today. This is the true story of an ordeal suffered by men trapped for nearly two years at the proverbial bottom of the Earth on Antarctica. It is harrowing, inspiring, terrifying, and ultimately extremely uplifting, both with all the many displays of indomitable human spirit and for the fact that, amazingly, no one died.
The Checklist Manifesto by Dr. Atul Gawande
This book may well bring comfort and inspiration to you for two reasons: First, it may help you better your own life, helping you achieve more than you thought possible by removing perceived barriers and clearing clutter, both physical and psychic. Second, it may just help you realize how well you can compete with the achievers out there, people who have stumbled for basic lack of organization and who have excelled in large part thanks to it.
My Life On the Road by Gloria Steinem
A bit of fair warning: Celebrated author, feminist activist, and general rockstar of the 20th century (and into our own times) Gloria Steinem’s memoir is all but sure to inspire wanderlust, and travel isn’t exactly a good idea until the pandemic has ended. But perhaps for now you can live vicariously through the eyes of this well-traveled and always outspoken icon who both lived through and left her mark on so much of the history of America. The world she inherited and that she bequeaths are different places, the latter one where, by in large, the “otherness” of many is no longer a thing. And that should inspire us all.
Tuesday’s With Morrie by Mitch Albom
Originally titled Letting Go, this is a book about death, if that’s how you choose to look at it. But that’s the wrong lens. Rather this is a book about life, simply told through the lens of a man who is gracefully winding his own life down. The book, an international bestseller, will make you weep more than once, but it will leave you feeling richer for having seen life through the eyes of the late Morrie Schwartz as shared with author Mitch Albom, and ideally it will help you appreciate all the time you have left here, be it years or decades.
A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died before he reached the age of 40. Let that sink in a bit: the man gave his entire adult life, brief though it was, so fully to a noble cause that now, more than a half century after his death, we are still looking to him for an example of how to be. And yes, in one sense, that’s horridly depressing, that some 50 years on we still, as a society, have so much work to do. On the other hand, it’s a testament to what a fine example this man set, one that still inspires today and surely always will.
The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale
In some ways, this book is a bit outdated, frankly. It leans on prayer a bit more than our increasingly secular world tends to see fit. It wasn’t written with the perspective gained through the Civil Rights Era, the Vietnam protests, Women’s Lib, and so on. But in other ways, it’s refreshing to see that a book written when most of our grandparents were in their heyday still has plenty of offer to lots of readers looking for help keeping their chins up. Agnostics, atheists, and frankly most non-Christians should be ready with their proverbial grains of salt, but for the Christian believer, it’s kind of a charming book, really.
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Yes, Becoming is a memoir, not a call to action, a history book, or a political manifesto. But through her competent writing and casual grace, the former First Lady of the United States manages to inspire the reader to play his or her own part in the American story, to get more involved in community and politics, and to experience much of recent American history vicariously. Easy to read yet elegant and insightful, this book manages to be inspiring without ever coming across as preachy.
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is an odd book, really. It’s part memoir, part philosophy, part fiction (based on an at times semi-delusional take on both of those), and it’s all quite interesting and strangely inspiring. The book is based around a road trip a father and son took in the mid years of the latter half of the 20th century, yet it spreads out to everything from metaphysics to motorcycle repair to music to madness. Almost every reader will see a least a piece of himself or herself in these strange, unparalleled pages.
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