An illustration of a woman sitting with a mug and a book

Image: Ryan McEachern / Penguin

There's something incredibly powerful about the way a non-fiction book can change the way you view the world. A meditation on mindfulness can help you through a tough time. A cookbook can shake up the way you consume vegetables. A memoir written by someone who lived in a different era, or on a different side of the world, can make you feel seen and understood. 

We asked our readers on social media to share the one non-fiction book they find themselves returning to again and again, or excitedly pushing into the hands of everyone they know. The true tales that inspire, inform, and provide comfort. Here, we’ve rounded up the most popular picks.

Peace is Possible by Prem Rawat (2019)

We said: An inspiring collection of allegories from world-renowned peace ambassador, Prem Rawat. Beautifully illustrated, this book will transform the way you see and approach conflict.

You said: I love it because I can dig into it at any time and pull out a story that sounds like it is about parrots or ants, but is actually about me! We also use this book in our work.


Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (2008)

We said: Looking at everyone from rock stars to professional athletes, software billionaires to scientific geniuses, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell explores what it is that makes an ordinary person an extreme overachiever in his third book, Outliers. The results will surprise you.

You said: This book has some absolute charms.


A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003)

We said: Having sold over two million copies, Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything is the biggest-selling popular science book of the 21st century. From the Big Bang to the rise of civilisation, it is a funny and very readable travelogue through time and space.

You said: An accessible, witty guide through the complicated, and at times miraculous, science stuff that made life on Earth possible.

Ajarn A on Facebook

Walden by Henry Thoreau (1854)

We said: In the early 19th century, 28-year-old Henry Thoreau lived by himself in the woods of Massachusetts for over two years. Walden is his lyrical account of the experience. Documenting both the beauty of the wilderness and his motivations for rejecting the materialism of ‘regular’ life, it resonates in a way that feels surprisingly modern.

You said: Always find myself gravitating towards it as autumn and quieter times beckon.


The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle (350 BC)

We said: A profound examination of the nature of happiness by one of the giants of ancient Greek philosophy. Aristotle's work has had a lasting influence on all subsequent Western thought about ethical matters.

You said: It is a very helpful read whenever you are feeling overwhelmed with how to handle life and your relationships with other people. I recommend this to people who are looking for guidance on how to become a better person.

Mary Anne R on Facebook

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold (2019)

We said: Historian Hallie Rubenhold calls time on the misogyny surrounding the Jack the Ripper myth in this meticulously-researched and game-changing history, exploring the lives of his five victims; Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane. So good it scooped the 2019 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction!

You said: Such a refreshing look at the case, which gives the women their voices back. It’s also a great resource on Victorian life for a gothic lit researcher like myself!


Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig (2015)

We said: Matt Haig chronicles his experience with anxiety and depression in his 2015-published memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive. Split into short, easy to digest essays and lists, it’s a touching, wryly funny look at one man’s journey towards triumph in a time of crisis. 

You said: It grounds me in reality when my thoughts are racing in a bad way. It's a reminder that what I might be experiencing is not new, I am not the first, and I find that comforting.


Romantic Outlaws by Charlotte Gordon (2015)

We said: A gripping insight into the loves, lives, and legacies of two of history's most formidable women, English feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Shelley, whom she died giving birth to.

You said: It’s probably 3 inches thick. I have read it again and again because it’s sooo good. The lives of these amazing women are incredible, although it has put me right off Percy Shelley….

Alex B on Facebook

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (2000)

We said: Blending memoir and contemporary food writing, this modern classic dives behind-the-scenes of the late professional chef’s life. Travelling from Tokyo to Paris to New York, it's as gripping and passionate as the latest blockbuster thriller.

You said: Kitchen Confidential by the late Anthony Bourdain has helped me through some tough times. Always find something new and enlightening.


Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers (1987) 

We said: Whether you're paralysed by the thought of driving, public speaking, being rejected or growing old, Susan Jeffers' timeless advice can help you overcome any fear. The international bestseller has sold over two million copies worldwide since publication in 1987.

You said: I've gone through three copies myself and handed out at least five to others! Simply indispensable!

Kingsley CW on Facebook

The Road Less Travelled by Scott Peck (2008)

We said: M. Scott Peck's landmark self-development work combines scientific and spiritual views to help guide us through the difficult times in life. Even Boy George was a big fan!

You said: A book about discipline, love, grace and spiritual development. Interesting content about the relationship between science and religion. An all-time classic.

Manuela S on Facebook

Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

We said: From her childhood in Chicago to her time spent at the world's most famous address, the remarkably candid memoir of the United States’  former First Lady is an inspiring and powerful read.

You said: A story of struggles, love, formation that will make you empathise and even identify with the weaknesses of a girl, student, woman, professional and mother who then became the US most influential person. Her life gives hope to everyone who is facing difficulties and feels like their goals are too far away to be achieved in this moment.

Sara P on Facebook

What non-fiction do you re-read? Email and let us know.

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