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32 books that will make you a more well-rounded person

The definitive list of books, from classical literature to science and philosophy, that will improve your awareness of everything for a more holistic knowledge

Catherine Rice
Thursday 11 May 2017 11:58 BST

Do you aspire to be one of those people who knows at least a little bit about everything?

There's any easy way to do it: Read everything!

You can't just stick to the mystery novels, anthologies, or biographies you've grown partial to. If you really want to become a more well-rounded person, you'll need to force yourself out of your comfort zone at the bookshop.

If you're not sure where to start, you've come to the right place. We've selected 32 timeless books on all different topics — politics, science, history, culture, and more — that may help you become the well-rounded person you strive to be.

Classic: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

First published in 1960 and winner of the 1961 Pulitzer Prize, To Kill a Mockingbird was an overnight success. In its first week, it sold 1.1 million copies, and in its lifetime it's sold more than 40 million copies and has been translated into more than 40 languages.

In this American classic, lawyer Atticus Finch agrees to defend a black man who was accused of raping a white woman. The fictional story takes place in the town of Maycomb, Alabama, and is told through the innocent perspective of Finch's tomboy daughter, Scout.

This classic novel hits on a few important topics, such as parenting and racism in America.

Buy now

Classic: 1984 by George Orwell

George Orwell wrote this anti-communist novel in 1948 to predict what 1984 would look like in London. His prediction? A totalitarian state where 'Big Brother,' the government, was always watching you and telling you what to think and believe.

Some of his predictions came true, like cameras being everywhere and our bodies being scanned for weapons.

This book is a must-read because it's a cautionary tale of what happens when the government is given too much control over the people and their lives.

Buy now

Facebook has come under heavy fire recently, for failing to adequately combat the spread of fake news

Classic: Walden by Henry David Thoreau

In Walden, first published as Walden; or, Life in the Woods in 1854, transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau details his experiences of living in a cabin he built near Walden Pond, close to Concord, Massachusetts, for about two years.

By retreating into the woods, Thoreau tried to reach a state of complete self-sufficiency and simple living. His experiment was not only a commentary about civilisation and society, but also an experiment in enlightenment through personal introspection.

The classic remains a relevant read for anyone interested discovery through minimalism.

Buy now

Children's classic: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

If you haven't read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, or the following six books in the series, you should run to the bookstore immediately.

This beloved tale follows a young boy who finds out that he's a wizard on his 11th birthday and is whisked off to a wizarding school called Hogwarts to begin his training.

These books were so universally loved and praised that they spawned a multibillion-dollar film franchise, a theme park in Orlando, Florida, and a spin-off series based on a Rowling book, Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them, which will be released later this year.

Buy now

Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Fellowship of the Ring — the first book in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings series — is another must-read.

This epic adventure novel takes place in Tolkien's made-up world of Middle-earth and follows Frodo Baggins as he sets out to destroy the One Ring before the Dark Lord Sauron gets it and uses it for evil.

Buy now

(istock / Ken Brown

History: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn

American historian and political scientist Howard Zinn wrote this book to present his theory that American history can be summed up as the oppression of the majority by the minority.

It was a runner-up for the National Book Award when it was released in 1980, and has since made appearances in various films and TV shows, such as The Sopranos, The Simpsons and Good Will Hunting.

While some readers complain that it doesn't have enough references, this book may open your mind to new interpretations of our past while also filling in the gaps in your knowledge of American history.

Buy now

History: Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This diary of a 13-year-old Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in the 1940s is important for so many reasons, one being that her story humanises World War II.

Buy now

History: Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond

In Guns, Germs and Steel, Pulitzer Prize-winner Jared Diamond argues that a combination of geographic and environmental factors — rather than intellectual, moral, or genetic superiority of a race— shaped modern civilisation.

Diamond, a professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles, argues that societies in which people had access to resources were able to start in food production faster than other societies, allowing them to advance beyond the hunter-gatherer stage. Religion, weapons of war, and conquering other cultures soon followed.

Buy now

Politics: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Even if you don't agree with all of Abraham Lincoln's views, this book is worth reading.

Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote it to trace Lincoln's rise from a lawyer out on the prairie to beat two more experienced politicians and become one of the most well-known presidents in US history.

According to the book's summary, it focuses on “Lincoln's mastery of men and how it shaped the most significant presidency in the nation's history”.

Buy now

Politics: Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

If you've always wanted to be a fly on the wall during a US presidential campaign, you may want to consider reading this book.

Written by two political reporters about the 2008 elections, Game Change wasn't released until 2010.

Clive Crook of The Financial Times called it “one of the best books on politics of any kind I've read”.

Buy now

Science: On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

This book on Darwin's theory of evolution is worth reading because it revolutionised the science world — it's the cornerstone of modern biology.

Even if you don't accept his theory, you should still add this to your list to educate yourself.

And if you do accept evolution, you should read it to better understand the origins of the theory.

Buy now

(istock / duncan1890

Science: A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

Written by the famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist, this book was published in 1988.

In it, Hawking offers a clear explanation of the scientific theories of today — from time travel to general relativity to the creation of the universe.

Buy now

Science: A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Bryson uses an upbeat and entertaining style of writing to take you from when there was nothing to where we are now.

Interestingly, the author isn't a scientist. He's just a curious individual who decided that he wanted to really understand science — so he did his research and wrote this book to help others like himself.

Buy now

Writing: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White

Strunk and White's classic grammar book, The Elements of Style, will help anyone drastically improve their mastery of the written word.

You probably recognise this book from school, but if you didn't pay attention to it back then, it's well worth your time now.

From commonly misspelled words to grammar and punctuation, you'll find all the answers in this concise and entertaining read.

Buy now

Philosophy: Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre, edited by Walter Kaufmann

This primer on existentialism excerpts on the topic from renowned existentialist writers including Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Rilke, Kafka, and Sartre.

The next time you question the meaning of life, you'll want to have this book on hand.

Buy now

(istock / CHBD

Philosophy: The Art of War by Sun Tzu

The Art of War may come from the fifth century BC, but it remains relevant today.

The book was originally written by military strategist Sun Tzu to help explain how to win in warfare. But over the years, people have found that the tactics described in the book, such as “know yourself” and “know your enemy” can help people succeed in the day-to-day struggles of life.

The book contains 13 chapters — one for each aspect of war — and has been used by sports coaches, legal teams, and businesses for its valuable advice.

Buy now

Philosophy: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

This book, which makes philosophy relatable and easy to understand, follows a father and his young son as they take an adventure-filled motorcycle trip across northwestern America.

It's filled with timeless advice on how to live a better and more fulfilling life.

Buy now

Philosophy: The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch and Jeffrey Zaslow

When Pausch, a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, found out that he had pancreatic cancer and had just three to six months of good health left, he gave the now famous speech 'The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.'

After this went viral, he decided to expand it into a book, The Last Lecture, in which he gives advice on how to live your life to the fullest.

It's a humorous and smart read that deals with the question: If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

Buy now

Literature: Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare

The masterfully written play by Shakespeare around two young lovers whose families are in a violent and passionate feud. It is the ultimate story of forbidden love — and is often referenced in popular culture.

Buy now

Tech: Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

This gripping biography is based on years of in-depth, personal interviews with Steve Jobs — and over a hundred family members, friends, and colleagues.

The book, written by Isaacson at the request of Jobs, explains why the Apple co-founder was so intimidating and alluring, and how he helped build Apple and Pixar into the enormous brands that they are today.

Reading it will give you an inside view of the tech world, inspiration to make a difference with your life, and an interesting tale of a fascinating man's life.

Buy now

(istock / urbanbuzz

Tech: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy

If you want to understand how we went from using the post office and library to email and Wikipedia, read this book.

Buy now

Psychology: You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

The title may sound harsh, but McRaney is making a point: every “rational” decision you make in your life is based on an underlying bias.

This book shows how the tenets of psychology affect you every day, even though you don't consciously realise it. And no matter what you do, you can't resist.

Buy now

Humour: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Allie Brosh started out by posting illustrated, humorous stories about everyday events in her past and present life on a blog.

It became so popular that she wrote and illustrated this book, with 18 episodes on everything from depression to how she stole cake as a child.

Billionaire Bill Gates called it “funny and smart as hell,” and many people say that her depiction of depression is the most accurate one they've ever read.

Buy now

Business: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

There are a number of lessons you can learn from Carnegie's classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People, and they will help you in your personal and professional lives.

From it, you'll learn how to make people like you, win people over to your side, and lead them.

Buy now

Business: Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap...and Others Don't by Jim Collins

This classic business book uses research from 28 US companies over five years to explain why some make the leap from good to great, while others fail.

If you want to know what you can do to have the greatest impact on your company's success, this is the book for you.

Buy now

Money: The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko

The Millionaire Next Door is based on a 20-year study on how people worth $1 million to $10 million reached financial security — and how they maintain it.

The book focuses on seven common traits among these individuals, such as living below their means and having parents that didn't help them out.

Getting an inside look on their views and beliefs, as well as their daily spending habits, may be able to help you get your finances on track.

Buy now


Money: The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman is one of many Wall Street power players who cite The Intelligent Investor as essential reading for investors at all level.

It was first published by Warren Buffett's mentor, Graham, in 1949 as a thorough introduction to investing for amateurs.

His “value investing” philosophy teaches people to make wise decisions with their money that can give them substantial returns in the long run.

Buy now

Food: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

Perhaps the most famous cookbook of all time, Mastering the Art of French Cooking includes 524 recipes, along with instructions and techniques.

This 684-page classic, which was first published 45 years ago, is for both seasoned chefs and beginners.

Buy now

Food: The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan

The food writer Michael Pollan has brought a revived awareness of the importance of eating healthy and implementing environmentally and morally sound agriculture and farming policies in the US.

In The Omnivore's Dilemma, Pollan outlines the heritage and history of different cuisines, discusses the prevalence of corn in many processed foods, and in doing so stresses the importance of sustainable, locally-sourced food.

If nothing else, this book will open your eyes to the reality of industrialised food production in the US and why awareness and knowledge of where food comes from is an important part of our interaction with it.

Buy now

Social sciences: Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity by Judith Butler

Gender Trouble is among the top influential books in the field of gender studies, arguably one of the most popular, read both in colleges and universities as well as recreationally.

In Gender Trouble, Butler explains her theory on the performative nature of gender, her criticism of traditional French feminist theory, and how culture and society affect sex and sexuality.

Its interdisciplinary nature makes it essential reading for many areas of study, including media studies, gender studies, and women's studies.

Buy now

Poetry: A Village Life by Louise Glück

A Village Life is Louise Glück's eleventh collection of poems. In it, she describes a village of no specific place or time. Glück is known as a “lyrical and dramatic poet,” and her prose has been compared to that found in novels rather than poetry by other authors.

She touches on themes including mother-daughter relationships, gossip, the innocence of children, and adultery.

Buy now

Sociology: Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This book, the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction for 2017, is a work of investigative journalism into the poorest neighbourhoods of Milwaukee, where Desmond tells the stories of eight families living on the edge.

Even though evictions used to be very rare, they are becoming more frequent as many poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, as the book describes.

As families become forced into shelters, squalid apartments or more dangerous neighbourhoods, this book sheds light on the vast inequality among the classes in America.

Buy now

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Read the original article on Business Insider UK. © 2016. Follow Business Insider UK on Twitter.

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