Books can be incredibly powerful. They have the ability to suck us in, take us on adventures, and influence the way we think.
They can teach us, move us, give us new perspectives, and help shape us. And the most powerful ones change our lives forever.
I asked my Business Insider colleagues to share the one book that has significantly influenced them. Here’s what they said:
Amazon synopsis: A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is grey. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food -- and each other.
''The Road' is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, 'each the other's world entire,' are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.'
'I read this book in college, and it completely changed my perspective on the world. It's a fun primer on the Eastern philosophy of Taoism, and eye-opening for people (like me) who sometimes try too hard and would be better off just relaxing and going with the flow. I still remind myself that nothing's really good or bad; it's just another interesting thing on another day that we should all be grateful for.' -- Jenna Goudreau, deputy editor
'This book introduced me to the idea that simplicity isn't the enemy of satisfaction; it's the essence of it. The inclusion of such familiar and beloved characters also helped the ideas stick in my mind.' -- Christina Sterbenz, weekend editor
Amazon synopsis: The how of Pooh? The Tao of who? The Tao of Pooh!?! In which it is revealed that one of the world's great Taoist masters isn't Chinese -- or a venerable philosopher -- but is in fact none other than that effortlessly calm, still, reflective bear. A. A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh! While Eeyore frets, and Piglet hesitates, and Rabbit calculates, and Owl pontificates, Pooh just is.
'And that's a clue to the secret wisdom of the Taoists.'
'It was the rare work of fiction that actually changed how I saw the world. It made me want to be a more moral and better person.' -- Paul Schrodt, entertainment editor
Amazon synopsis:'Considered by some to be the greatest novel ever written, 'Anna Karenina' is Tolstoy's classic tale of love and adultery set against the backdrop of high society in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
'A rich and complex masterpiece, the novel charts the disastrous course of a love affair between Anna, a beautiful married woman, and Count Vronsky, a wealthy army officer. Tolstoy seamlessly weaves together the lives of dozens of characters, and in doing so captures a breathtaking tapestry of late-nineteenth-century Russian society. As Matthew Arnold wrote in his celebrated essay on Tolstoy, 'We are not to take 'Anna Karenina' as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life.''
'This is one of my all-time favourite books. I feel in love with it as a kid, but it's still just as fun to page through now that I'm an adult. Silverstein really had a way of engaging kids and getting them excited about reading (and reading poetry, no less!) -- that's no small feat.' -- Ellen Hoffman, commerce editor
Amazon synopsis: 'This classic poetry collection, which is both outrageously funny and profound, has been the most beloved of Shel Silverstein's poetry books for generations.
'Where the footpath ends, Shel Silverstein's world begins. There you'll meet a boy who turns into a TV set and a girl who eats a whale. The Unicorn and the Bloath live there, and so does Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout who will not take the garbage out. It is a place where you wash your shadow and plant diamond gardens, a place where shoes fly, sisters are auctioned off, and crocodiles go to the dentist.'
'As a cloistered adolescent music geek, 'Love is a Mixtape' let me know that it was perfectly OK to spend your time listening to records and knowing way more than the average person about music. It's also a story about falling in love and sharing both love and music with another person; I've bought it enough times (for friends), that I can find it in my local Barnes & Noble with my eyes closed.' -- Brandt Ranj, tech reporter
Amazon synopsis: 'Mix tapes: Stick one into a deck and you're transported to another time in your life. For Rob Sheffield, author of 'Turn Around Bright Eyes' that time was one of miraculous love and unbearable grief. A time that spanned seven years, it started when he met the girl of his dreams, and ended when he watched her die in his arms.
'Using the listings of fifteen of his favourite mix tapes, Rob shows that the power of music to build a bridge between people is stronger than death. You'll read these words, perhaps surprisingly, with joy in your heart and a song in your head -- the one that comes to mind when you think of the love of your life.'
'This is an amazing book on maths, art, physics, computers, and the nature of intelligence. It's kind of hard to summarize in a couple sentences, but reading this book in high school was a huge influence on my decision to study maths in college and beyond.' -- Andy Kiersz, quant reporter
Amazon synopsis: 'Everything is a symbol, and symbols can combine to form patterns. Patterns are beautiful and revelatory of larger truths. These are the central ideas in the thinking of Kurt Gödel, M.C. Escher, and Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the three greatest minds of the past quarter-millennium. In a stunning work of humanism, Hofstadter ties together the work of mathematician Gödel, graphic artist Escher, and composer Bach.
'Gödel, Escher, Bach, a Pulitzer Prize-winning treatise on genius, explores the workings of brilliant people's brains with the help of historical examples and brainteaser puzzles. Not for the dim or the lazy, this book shows you, more clearly than most any other, what it means to see symbols and patterns where others see only the universe. Touching on maths, computers, literature, music, and artificial intelligence, Gödel, Escher, Bach is a challenging and potentially life-changing piece of writing.'
'Hardy is better known for novels like 'Tess of the d'Ubervilles' and 'Far from the Madding Crowd,' but 'The Woodlanders' was the first book I ever truly fell in love with. As a literature student, the technical brilliance of Hardy completely astounded me, but it was the power of the final few pages that has stuck with me years later. It's the most beautiful of the Victorian novels and without question one of the most under-appreciated. Like all great reads, you'll be thinking about 'The Woodlanders' long after you're done reading it. It will haunt you.' -- Adam Payne, digital fellow at Business Insider UK
Amazon synopsis: 'When country-girl Grace Melbury returns home from her middle-class school she feels she has risen above her suitor, the simple woodsman Giles Winterborne. Though marriage had been discussed between her and Giles, Grace finds herself captivated by Dr. Edred Fitzpiers, a sophisticated newcomer to the area -- a relationship that is encouraged by her socially ambitious father. Hardy's novel of betrayal, disillusionment and moral compromise depicts a secluded community coming to terms with the disastrous impact of outside influences. And in his portrayal of Giles Winterborne, Hardy shows a man who responds deeply to the forces of the natural world, thought they ultimately betray him.'
'I read this book my senior year of high school and my senior year of college. I think it is the perfect book to read when you are about to start a new chapter of your life. The book gives you perspective and is written with so much heart, which is very refreshing. It helped prepare me to embrace new challenges and beginnings.' -- Lauren Browning, associate editor of special projects
Amazon synopsis: 'Maybe it was a grandparent, or a teacher, or a colleague. Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it. For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.
'Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colder. Wouldn't you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger?
'Mitch Albom had that second chance. He rediscovered Morrie in the last months of the older man's life. Knowing he was dying, Morrie visited with Mitch in his study every Tuesday, just as they used to back in college. Their rekindled relationship turned into one final 'class': lessons in how to live.
''Tuesdays with Morrie' is a magical chronicle of their time together, through which Mitch shares Morrie's lasting gift with the world.'
'This is the ultimate life-changing book because the reader can put themselves in Harry's position and feel as if they, too, are entering the wizarding world and forever altering the course of history. The writing in the series also matures as Harry does, so young (and old) readers really get the feeling of growing up.' -- Caitlin Harper, operations manager
Amazon synopsis: 'Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That's because he's being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he's really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a loveable giant, to the unique curriculum and colourful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.'
'The is a book about understanding collective consciousness and breaking through that to think alone and seek truth. Orwell was one of the great questioners of our time. This book confronts you with the idea that no one is too small to think rigorously about huge concepts. They're just too lazy, or too comfortable.' -- Linette Lopez, senior finance editor
Amazon synopsis: 'An illusion can become a half-truth, a mask can alter the expression of a face. The familiar arguments to the effect that democracy is 'just the same as' or 'just as bad as' totalitarianism never take account of this fact. All such arguments boil down to saying that half a loaf is the same as no bread.
'Whether puncturing the lies of politicians, wittily dissecting the English character or telling unpalatable truths about war, Orwell's timeless, uncompromising essays are more relevant, entertaining and essential than ever in today's era of spin.'
'Peter Coyote is a successful Hollywood actor now, but in the '60s he was a full-on counterculturist living a thousand miles of the grid and trying to inhabit the social extremes of that time.
'The memoir taught me that if you're attracted to extremes in your life, you should explore that urge -- up to a point. Coyote eventually realised that the extreme is rarely long term and returned to a (sort of) normal life. Everyone needs to learn their limits firsthand.' -- Matthew DeBord, transportation editor
Amazon synopsis: 'In his energetic, funny, and intelligent memoir, Peter Coyote relives his fifteen-year ride through the heart of the counterculture -- a journey that took him from the quiet rooms of privilege as the son of an East Coast stockbroker to the riotous life of political street theatre and the self-imposed poverty of the West Coast communal movement known as The Diggers. With this innovative collective of artist-anarchists who had assumed as their task nothing less than the re-creation of the nation's political and social soul, Coyote and his companions soon became power players.
'In prose both graphic and unsentimental, Coyote reveals the corrosive side of love that was once called 'free'; the anxieties and occasional terrors of late-night, drug-fuelled visits of biker gangs looking to party; and his own quest for the next high. His road through revolution brought him to adulthood and to his major role as a political strategist: from radical communard to the chairman of the California Arts Council, from a street theatre apprentice to a motion-picture star.'
'I read 'Drown' during my freshman year of college and it changed my conception of literature, or what constitutes literature. Before 'Drown,' I didn't know a book could be at once entertaining and relatable, and also a piece of art.' -- Zach Wasser, video intern at Tech Insider
Amazon synopsis:'This stunning collection of stories offers an unsentimental glimpse of life among the immigrants from the Dominican Republic -- and other front-line reports on the ambivalent promise of the American dream -- by an eloquent and original writer who describes more than physical dislocation in conveying the price that is paid for leaving culture and homeland behind.' -- San Francisco Chronicle
'This coming-of-age novel affected me deeply, and I reread it several times in my late teens. The protagonist comes to understand critical truths about himself, his family, his country, and his world. It's also just a beautifully written book, and one of the finest novels ever written in English.' -- Daniel McMahon, copy chief
Amazon synopsis: 'Like much of James Joyce's work, 'A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man' is a fictional re-creation of the Irish writer's own life and early environment. The experiences of the novel's young hero, Stephen Dedalus, unfold in astonishingly vivid scenes that seem freshly recalled from life and provide a powerful portrait of the coming of age of a young man of unusual intelligence, sensitivity, and character.
'The interest of the novel is deepened by Joyce's telling portrayals of an Irish upbringing and schooling, the Catholic Church and its priesthood, Parnell and Irish politics, encounters with the conflicting roles of art and morality (problems that would follow Joyce throughout his life), sexual experimentation and its aftermath, and the decision to leave Ireland.
'Rich in details that offer vital insights into Joyce's art, this masterpiece of semi autobiographical fiction remains essential reading in any program of study in modern literature.'
'White recounts a time she was hiring to fill a position on her team. After she filled it, she heard through the grapevine that one of the existing editors was upset she hadn't been considered for the job. Kate wondered: 'How was I supposed to know she wanted it? She never told me.'
'Hearing that genuine, confused perspective had a huge effect on me, someone who has never, ever liked to ask for anything. Just keeping your head down and working hard isn't enough -- if you want something at work, you have to ask for it. Otherwise, how will your boss, who might be well-meaning but definitely isn't psychic, ever know?' -- Libby Kane, strategy and Your Money editor
Amazon synopsis: 'In 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This,' (White) shares her secrets to success. A witty, wise, straight-talking career guide for women, 'I Shouldn't Be Telling You This' is the perfect book for the current economic climate, whether you're just starting out, re-entering the workforce after maternity leave, or simply looking for a career change; essential tips and bold strategies from a gutsy innovator who helped increase Cosmo's circulation by half a million copies per month.'
'This book taught me that most of our problems are really a fiction created in the mind. Problems are either stressing about something that already happened, or worrying about something in the future that hasn't happened. If you stop that and simply focus on what's going on right now, at this very moment, you instantly become a more peaceful, happier version of yourself.' -- Julie Bort, enterprise editor
Amazon synopsis: 'To make the journey into the Now we will need to leave our analytical mind and its false created self, the ego, behind. From the very first page of Eckhart Tolle's extraordinary book, we move rapidly into a significantly higher altitude where we breathe a lighter air. We become connected to the indestructible essence of our Being, 'The eternal, ever present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death.' Although the journey is challenging, Eckhart Tolle uses simple language and an easy question and answer format to guide us.
'A word of mouth phenomenon since its first publication, 'The Power of Now' is one of those rare books with the power to create an experience in readers, one that can radically change their lives for the better.'
'I almost never reread books, but I've returned to this one over the years. It's about high schoolers, but it's relatable no matter where you are in life. It shows how dark and harsh the world can be, but also that there are good things and good people if you stop to appreciate them. Something about that dichotomy leaves me stuck on this book no matter how many times I've read it.' -- Emmie Martin, lists and features reporter
Amazon synopsis: 'A heroic story of friendship and belonging.
'No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he's got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends -- true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. And when it comes to the Socs -- a vicious gang of rich kids who enjoy beating up on 'greasers' like him and his friends -- he knows that he can count on them for trouble. But one night someone takes things too far, and Ponyboy's world is turned upside down ...
'Written over forty-five years ago, 'The Outsiders' is a dramatic and enduring work of fiction. SE Hinton's classic story of a boy who finds himself on the outskirts of regular society remains as powerful today as it was the day it was first published.'
'This book made me think deeply about whether it's better to help many people in small ways, or one person in a significant way.' -- Dan Bobkoff, editor of special projects
Amazon synopsis:'At the center of 'Mountains Beyond Mountains' stands Paul Farmer. Doctor, Harvard professor, renowned infectious-disease specialist, anthropologist, the recipient of a MacArthur 'genius' grant, world-class Robin Hood, Farmer was brought up in a bus and on a boat, and in medical school found his life's calling: to diagnose and cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. This magnificent book shows how radical change can be fostered in situations that seem insurmountable, and it also shows how a meaningful life can be created, as Farmer -- brilliant, charismatic, charming, both a leader in international health and a doctor who finds time to make house calls in Boston and the mountains of Haiti -- blasts through convention to get results.
''Mountains Beyond Mountains' takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that 'the only real nation is humanity' -- a philosophy that is embodied in the small public charity he founded, Partners In Health. He enlists the help of the Gates Foundation, George Soros, the U.N.'s World Health Organisation, and others in his quest to cure the world. At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope, and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb 'Beyond mountains there are mountains': as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.'
'I read this book in a college literature class, and it truly made me think differently about what it means to be human. It's this constant struggle against feeling alone and different. Even when writing about tragedy and hopelessness, Sinha narrates the protagonist's inner experience with incredible grace.' -- Shana Lebowitz, strategy reporter
Amazon synopsis: 'Ever since he can remember, Animal has gone on all fours, his back twisted beyond repair by the catastrophic events of 'that night' when a burning fog of poison smoke from the local factory blazed out over the town of Khaufpur, and the Apocalypse visited his slums. Now just turned seventeen and well schooled in street work, he lives by his wits, spending his days jamisponding (spying) on town officials and looking after the elderly nun who raised him, Ma Franci. His nights are spent fantasizing about Nisha, the girlfriend of the local resistance leader, and wondering what it must be like to get laid.
'When Elli Barber, a young American doctor, arrives in Khaufpur to open a free clinic for the still suffering townsfolk -- only to find herself struggling to convince them that she isn't there to do the dirty work of the Kampani -- Animal gets caught up in a web of intrigues, scams, and plots with the unabashed aim of turning events to his own advantage.
'Profane, piercingly honest, and scathingly funny, 'Animal's People' illuminates a dark world shot through with flashes of joy and lunacy. A stunning tale of an unforgettable character, it is an unflinching look at what it means to be human: the wounds that never heal and a spirit that will not be quenched.'
'It introduced me to a new way of thinking about the world -- that people are required to create meaning for themselves in a world that lacks it. My understanding of the book's message has grown as I have.' -- Rich Feloni, senior strategy reporter
Amazon synopsis: 'The 'The Stranger' is a novel by Albert Camus published in 1942. Its theme and outlook are often cited as exemplars of Camus's philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label. The titular character is Meursault, an indifferent French Algerian ('a citizen of France domiciled in North Africa, a man of the Mediterranean, an homme du midi yet one who hardly partakes of the traditional Mediterranean culture'), who, after attending his mother's funeral, apathetically kills an Arab man whom he recognises in French Algiers.
'The story is divided into two parts, presenting Meursault's first-person narrative view before and after the murder, respectively.'
'The perfect coming-of-age story: sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, and love, all in the dorkiest of ways. My copy is highlighted and scribbled in like a diary. Beautiful prose paired with dark humour is sure to appeal to the angsty teen in everyone.' -- Caitlin Harper, operations manager
Amazon synopsis: 'This cult-favourite coming of age story takes a sometimes heartbreaking, often hysterical, and always honest look at high school in all its glory. Now a major motion picture starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' is a funny, touching, and haunting modern classic.
'The book follows observant 'wallflower' Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show.' Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.'
'To say this book made an impact on my life is an understatement -- it helped shape it. It opened my understanding of just how incredible and beautiful our organised chaos of an existence is and what there is to discover in our lifetime. It also really hit home just how small and insignificant we are individually in the universe and we should always live and learn as much as possible every day until it's all over.' -- Lianna Brinded, finance editor
Amazon synopsis: 'A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking's book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin -- and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending -- or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space? What will happen when it all ends?
'Told in language we all can understand, 'A Brief History of Time' plunges into the exotic realms of black holes and quarks, of antimatter and 'arrows of time,' of the big bang and a bigger God -- where the possibilities are wondrous and unexpected. With exciting images and profound imagination, Stephen Hawking brings us closer to the ultimate secrets at the very heart of creation.'
'When I read 'Catch-22' in high school, I think the book's story of this smart-arse Army Air Force captain, John Yossarian, who would try just about anything to get out of a war he didn't want to fight, really appealed to my own frenetic desire to rebel. But even into adulthood, some important lessons stuck with me: Don't blindly put your faith in the system. Question everything. And, while sometimes it can feel like the world around you is crazy or against you, doing whatever it takes to stand up for what you love can help you keep you sane.' -- Rachel Gillett, careers reporter
Amazon synopsis: 'Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy -- it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service.
'Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he's assigned, he'll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.'
'Jon Krakauer's firsthand account of climbing Mount Everest during the deadly 1996 season is by turns thrilling and horrifying. Years later, he said that summiting the world's tallest mountain was the biggest mistake of his life, and that he was still dealing with the emotional aftermath. He produced a thrilling and deeply moving piece of journalism, but at what cost? It gave me a lot of food for thought about my chosen profession.' -- Jacqui Kenyon, strategy syndication editor
Amazon synopsis: 'A bank of clouds was assembling on the not-so-distant horizon, but journalist-mountaineer Jon Krakauer, standing on the summit of Mt. Everest, saw nothing that 'suggested that a murderous storm was bearing down.' He was wrong. The storm, which claimed five lives and left countless more -- including Krakauer's -- in guilt-ridden disarray, would also provide the impetus for Into Thin Air, Krakauer's epic account of the May 1996 disaster.
'By writing 'Into Thin Air,' Krakauer may have hoped to exorcise some of his own demons and lay to rest some of the painful questions that still surround the event. He takes great pains to provide a balanced picture of the people and events he witnessed and gives due credit to the tireless and dedicated Sherpas. He also avoids blasting easy targets such as Sandy Pittman, the wealthy socialite who brought an espresso maker along on the expedition. Krakauer's highly personal inquiry into the catastrophe provides a great deal of insight into what went wrong. But for Krakauer himself, further interviews and investigations only lead him to the conclusion that his perceived failures were directly responsible for a fellow climber's death. Clearly, Krakauer remains haunted by the disaster, and although he relates a number of incidents in which he acted selflessly and even heroically, he seems unable to view those instances objectively. In the end, despite his evenhanded and even generous assessment of others' actions, he reserves a full measure of vitriol for himself.'
'My parents first read 'Love You Forever' to me when I was 3 or 4 years old, and I've probably reread it a thousand times since. The sentimental children's book taught me a few important lessons about life and death, the unbreakable bond shared between a parent and their child, and, perhaps most important, a lesson about the existence of unconditional love ... all of which changed my life in important ways. My younger self found much comfort in knowing that the love my parents had for me as a child, and I for them, was not something anyone could ever outgrow.' -- Jacquelyn Smith, careers editor
Amazon synopsis: 'A young woman holds her newborn son and looks at him lovingly. Softly she sings to him: 'I'll love you forever; I'll like you for always; As long as I'm living, my baby you'll be.'
'So begins the story that has touched the hearts of millions worldwide.'
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