11 Must-Read Books to Change the Way You think in Your 20s

It’s World Book Day!

We know we don’t need to tell you how important it is to read. You hear it from just about everyone as you grow up and by the time you’re in your 20s, you should understand why.

There are books you know which everyone reads (some of them important, some not so much…), and then there are the books you’ve heard of, and you know you should read, yet perhaps they managed to slip under your radar going through university. But they will change the way you see the world around you and yourself.

So fortunately we made a nice easy list out of them – here are the books to change you, and make you better after you leave behind your teens and early 20s and start taking tentative steps out into the world. Make sure they find there way onto your reading list. 


1. The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson

“Our brains work hard to make us think we are doing the right thing, even in the face of sometimes overwhelming evidence to the contrary.” 

This is essentially the textbook on social psychology, but it reads like an exciting tale of humans and our story. Humans are undeniably social beings, and Aronson looks at patterns and motives of human behavior. The topics covered are pertinent to anyone contemplating the modern world; he delves into terrorism, conformity, obedience, politics, race relations, advertising, war, interpersonal attraction, and the power of religious cults.

2. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

“The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience.”

If you didn’t to this book in high school or university, it really is now time to read it. SO important, this book is an exercise in understanding the process and blind destructiveness of colonisation. Intelligent and powerful, the result is an insight into African experience through the eyes of its own people.

3. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

“Biology gives you a brain. Life turns it into a mind.”

A modern Greek epic, essential to our times, this novel follows the story of Calliope Stephanides by tracing the history of her family through three generations. Incredibly humanising, it presents a wonderful narrative with the most engaging of narrators and illuminates all shades of the human condition. Read this – right now!

4. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

“There’s this sentiment I sometimes sense, creeping in our collective conscious… that it is somehow too late. That others are somehow ahead. More accomplished, more specialized. More on the path to somehow saving the world, somehow creating or inventing or improving. That it’s too late now to BEGIN a beginning and we must settle for continuance, for commencement.”

This posthumous collection of essays by the late Marina Keegan is an honest portrayal of the hope and uncertainty of our generation. Not as grandiose and canonized as some of the other texts on this list, The Opposite of Loneliness is more like a close friend talking to you cross-legged on the floor then a lecture in how to live a life. Yet the themes touched on and the conclusions drawn emerge from a mind that was well beyond her years.

5. The Art of War by Sun Tzu

“The greatest victory is that which requires no battle.”

Skip back a few hundred years to Sun Tzu’s ancient Chinese military guide (this doesn’t sound so relevant yet, but bear with me). Conflict is an unavoidable part of life, and the battles you will face in your 20s will be some of the toughest. Tzu’s text gives wisdom on how to handle battles of all kinds with wisdom and honour, and how to manoeuvre them with a greater understanding of yourself and the opposition. It can be taken as a book on strategy, a book on psychology, or simply a book on human strength.

6. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

This book has garnered a cult-like following, and its easy to understand why once you read it. This seemingly simple tale of a shepherd’s journey for hidden treasure sheds pearls of wisdom through its uncomplicated prose. The further our protagonist ventures from home, the more his journey turns inward, and becomes a journey for the treasures within.

7. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts

“To remain stable is to refrain from trying to separate yourself from a pain because you know that you cannot. Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought.” 

Maybe generation Y is no different from its predecessors, but the one defining factor that continually garners the media’s eye is the unmanageable issues we seem to have with our sense of self and our identity. At no point is this more felt in your twenties, when you leave the confines of schools and homes and are left to fend for yourself. This book is a response to that, attempting to locate meaning in the wide-spread nervosa millennials feel. Insightful and pertinent, it rationalises the irrational and makes fear enlightening and liberating.

8. Lao Tsu: Tao Te Ching – Laozi

“All difficult things have their origin in that which is easy, and great things in that which is small.”

This is a kind and deep meditation on enlightenment and ways of living. The 6th century writer Lao Tzu peels back the layers of what makes us human to reveal the rewards in a life led by simplicity, patience and compassion. This book is a starting point and an essential text for the basics of Taoism, and assists with those curious to master mindfulness.

9. The Complete Essays of Montaigne by de Montaigne

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”

One of the renaissance’s most notable figures, his set of essays don’t speak to us from hundreds of years ago, but from a place very close to us. This renaissance man is ever modern, and he engages with all aspects of the world in these texts.

10. A Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

“Words can be like X-rays if you use them properly — they’ll go through anything. You read and you’re pierced.”

Written in 1931 and published a year later, Huxley’s parody of H. G. Wells’ utopian future in his novel. Through huxley’s depiction of the future, he sheds a striking light on the present. This is a book to make you consider the way that we passively live in society, and how that affects our sense of identity.

11. White Teeth by Zadie Smith

“In the end, your past is not my past and your truth is not my truth and your solution – is not my solution.”

This novel set in London focuses on the relationship between the later lives of two wartime friends—the Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and the Englishman Archie Jones. We follow the two men and their families through a braid of stories, voices and perspectives in what is a rich tale of diversity in a melting pot city. This is a refreshing portrayal of life a modern metropolitan city, which does not shy from the gritty or obscure results of a clash of cultures.

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