10 Books to Read Before You’re 30

Image by Leah Kelley on Pexels

I’ve got a couple of years before I turn 30. So far, if there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure, it’s this: your twenties are the years when you learn how to be an adult. You have your first serious relationship, take baby steps in your first career, and lay the foundation for what’s one day going to be your present.

However, not everything is song and dance. In a recent study, when researchers asked those approaching 30 how they’re faring, more than 86 percent reported to be suffering from some form of a quarter-life crisis. Other studies have shown that the pressures on young adults have been steadily increasing over the years.

If you feel you’re facing something similar, or you’d like to make sure the rest of your life is better than it is at present, the best way to go about it is to do what you’d normally do with nearly any other personal crisis — start by reading.

Aside from teaching valuable life lessons, studies have established that reading even for a few minutes in the morning produces the hormones that boost your immunity, improve your communication skills, and enhance your memory.

While it’s true that books can’t solve all your problems, but reading can prove to be the best foundation for a smart, successful life. In this post, I’ve compiled 10 books that have helped me in various spheres of personal and professional life. Some of these are fiction, some non-fiction, and some biographies. All these books will help you make the most of your 20s and lay a solid rock upon which you can build the rest of your future.

(Note: The links mentioned in this article are affiliate links. If you choose to purchase these books through these links, it will help me earn a small amount of money — at no extra cost to you. Thanks!)

1. Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
Understand the importance of knowing the purpose of your life and actively seek ways to find it.

Image: Goodreads

Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor takes the reader on a harrowing journey through the concentration camps of Vienna and Poland, giving a heart-wrenching, yet very practical look at the happenings in such extreme situations through the practised eyes of a psychologist.

In the second half of the book, Frankl gives a detailed introduction to logotherapy — the branch of psychology designed to let a patient find the meaning/purpose of their life, and hence eliminate all thoughts of suicide. I felt this was a very practical, no-nonsense approach and I would definitely love to meet and interact with a practising logotherapist someday.

How the book will help you

This book will possibly make you self-critical of any future endeavours and consider if they are indeed worth your time. It will influence you to consciously live a meaningful life and to place value on the journey and not just the destination. It will also help you understand that “meaningful” doesn’t always mean “enjoyable”, rather, it can equate to “fulfilling”.

2. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
Be more empathetic to the planet and all plants and animals that inhabit it.

Image: Goodreads

Over the last half-billion years, there have been five mass extinctions, when the diversity of life on earth suddenly and dramatically contracted. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth extinction, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. This time around, the cataclysm is us.

This is truly a sobering book — possibly the best I’ve read in recent times that doesn’t sugar-coat facts. Yes, the world might be heading towards an extinction, but this time, whether we can prevent it depends on us.

How the book will help you

Kolbert doesn’t blame the human race or make her readers feel guilty about living the way they do. She only explains the effect our actions have on the planet and how this could lead the entire species to total annihilation. The book lays out everything we need to know — the cold, hard facts. What we do with them depends upon us.

3. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Genre: Autobiography
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
How to build an empire starting from scratch. This book will help you develop business skills and claw your way to the top.

Image: Goodreads

Sandberg’s autobiography has often been criticized that it is only relevant to rich elite women who can afford to ignore their families on their quest to become succesful.

Trust me, I’m nothing like that, and yet, there was a lot in this book that spoke to me. Sheryl Sandberg made me feel that even though I’m a woman, it’s okay to be ambitious. That I can take credit for my accomplishments and that doesn’t make me conceited in any way.

The tone of the book is not preachy or militant. Sandberg sounds friendly and approachable, as she talks about her own struggles on how she made it to the COO of Facebook and one of the most powerful businesswomen on the planet.

How the book will help you

This book is is a guide to help both women and men to recognize that being aware of subtle gender biases can go a long way towards eliminating the gender inequality that still exists. Aside from that, read this book if you want to get a surge of confidence. It will fill you with the asseriveness to tell the whole world that you’re worthy and can accomplish tremendous goals.

It can be your perk-me-up on bad days, the only pep talk you need before embarking on a new project.

4. Hold Me Tight by Sue Johnson

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 

Image: Goodreads

This is a treatise by an expert on the emotional patterns that emerge when you’re in pain and experiencing relationship problems. The books discusses the conversations you can have with yourself and your partner to help heal those patterns.

Dr. Sue Johnson is the developer of Emotionally-Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) which has the the highest success rate among all forms of couple-focussed therapy. Hold Me Tight is based on the principle that most romantic relationships are driven by unconscious emotions and desires. And hence, the key to solving any problem between partners is to seek emotional solutions. The approach described in this book is practical and will definitely help you take a look at your own flaws before starting to point fingers at other people. It will make you a better partner, and by extension, a better person.

How the book will help you

This book will teach you how to not make your relationship problems worse, when to stop talking and listen to your partner, and how to be more considerate. It will help you unload your emotional baggage and find peace in your romantic relationships.

5. Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
It will teach you to apply logical reasoning in whatever issue you face and give you a better understanding of where we as a species came from.

Image: Goodreads

This is a brilliant, well-researched book tracing the history of humankind from our foraging ancestors to the current generation of humans who build supercomputers and smart cities. The author does a brilliant job of dissecting our origins and analysing why we behave the way we do. There are clear ties and links to show how seemingly “millennial” problems like craving for sugary food or being unable to be faithful to your partner aren’t, in truth, new at all. Ancient homo sapiens have been facing the same problems and our reaction to them is imprinted in our DNA.

This book taught me that every human behaviour we are familiar with today has its roots in the fight-or-flight response of our ancestors. Even the concept of happiness can be tackled with cold logic. If you break it down to merely the interplay of chemicals in your brain, you will stop holding so much value to it.

“Happiness does not really depend on objective conditions of either wealth, health or even community. Rather, it depends on the correlation between objective conditions and subjective expectations.”

How the book will help you

Nearly every behavioural trait of every person around you can be traced back to their origins. All you need is a little bit of logic and you can read into the behaviour of a person like an expert.

The next time you’re arguing with someone and feel an insatiable need to prove yourself right, understand that this comes from the innate need to fight and prove yourself the “Alpha” of the pack. The moment you realise that the other person probably wants the same and that’s why they are arguing so hard, you may no longer feel compelled to continue. Thus, you will save precious time you can now use to pursue your goals.

When you feel anxious or stressed, understand that this is just a response of your body and it’s telling you you’ve probably bitten off more than you can chew.

Once you let go of emotions and look at every scenario with cold logic, you will be surprised at how simple it becomes to deal with problematic situations.

The key is to detach emotion and examine the problem objectively.

6. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
It will help you embrace your creativity and live a life driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.

Image: Goodreads

Along with plants and animals, the author puts forward the notion that the planet is also inhabited by a disembodied, energetic life-form, ideas. Ideas are sentient. They roam around the world in search of the perfect candidate. The moment an idea chooses you and enters you, you have that “Eureka” moment.

But ideas are also whimsical and impatient. If you don’t start working on them right away, they will leave you and go away in search of the next deserving candidate. Maybe you have experienced a sensation that when you finally sit down to work on an amazing idea you had a few months ago, you are no longer motivated, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot summon the energy to get it to work? That’s the moment the idea left you. It won’t come back again.

“Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest.”

How the book will help you

The moment a brilliant idea comes to you, start working on it right away. If you don’t have the time or space to start immediately, you can at least write out the action steps or outline it in your journal. If you don’t treat ideas with the respect they deserve, they will leave you forever.

But since ideas are so whimsical, how do you make them come to you? Simple: you work on yourself. You do what you know your heart longs for, and you do it without expectation. The more you work on yourself and hone your skills, the more worthy the ideas will think you are, and the more easily they will come to you.

Don’t wait for inspiration to start creating. Start today!

7. Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
Get better at achieving goals and maintaining your personal finance.

Image: Goodreads

Published in 1937, during the Great Depression, the ideas presented in this book are still relevant for people who want to make their lives better. At its core is the concept that you can really convince yourself to become wealthy. The author outlines the steps you need to take and everything you’ve to avoid.

I truly believe this is the best self help book any entrepreneur could read, perhaps, the only one they ever need to.

How the book will help you

More than simply getting rich, this book is about getting what you want. While some points might sound too simplistic, Hill’s recipe essentially boils down to this: to get what you want you must:

  1. Desire it strongly enough,
  2. Believe it will come true,
  3. Act on it and do everything in your power, and
  4. Persist even in the face of initial failures.

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Genre: Semi-autobiographical fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: 
Get inside the mind of a person suffering from depression and understand that mental health issues are just as harmful as the injuries or diseases of the body.

Image: Goodreads

The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under — maybe for the last time.

Plath’s writing is raw and honest. Her heroine, the talented, ambitious Esther leaves her mark in the reader’s mind. She is young and full of dreams, but never seems to fit in at any place, with any person.

Esther feels she is trapped inside a bell jar — a place that distorts her world-view and traps her inside, isolating her from everyone around her. Plath’s words are an accurate depiction of clinical depression — how a person who is depressed never really feels “sad”, but more of “empty”, like a shell.

“To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream. Because wherever I sat — on the deck of a ship or at a street café in Paris or Bangkok — I would be sitting under the same glass bell jar, stewing in my own sour air.”

How the book will help you

I found myself in the words of Sylvia Plath. This novel is relatable. It is heartbreaking. It is beautiful. It is truly a masterpiece.

More than anything, it is a story of how, contrary to popular beliefs, having depression does not mean a person is weak-willed. Depression is a mental illness, and like all other illnesses of the human body, proper medication and treatment can cure it.

Read this book if you have ever felt like you are alone and no one understands you. Read this if you have ever felt empty in spite of your successes. Read this if you have struggled with insomnia and felt too afraid to share it with a friend.

But most importantly, read this because it has one of the best, most unabashed display of raw honesty in fiction. No lover of literature should miss out on the treat that is Sylvia Plath’s writing.

9. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Genre: Political satire/Dystopian
What aspect of life this book will improve: A deeper understanding of power and the handful of people who rule the world.

Image: Goodreads

The book can be read and enjoyed as a traditional farm fable, where a group of animals is tired of being dominated by humans. So, they stage an epic insurrection, overthrow the ‘evil’ humans, and set up their own ‘independent’ way of life — plowing fields, building windmills, and harvesting the food. Sadly, for these animals, things do not remain as rosy for long. The events in the story lead to an amusing ending that will leave the reader chuckling with glee.

Otherwise, the book can be taken as satire — a take on the imperfections of our own world. It takes a dig on the extremes the government (or those in power) are willing to go to brainwash its citizens and, in return, how willing the citizens are to give up control over their own lives as long as they can exist within a protective bubble of denial where nothing ever goes wrong.

How the book will help you

This novella is a brilliant treatise on present-day society. It will give you an understanding of how power corrupts those in possession of it. It takes a deep dive into the inherent selfishness of all humans and how the social construct is designed to fool us into thinking we have the best lives possible.

If anything, this book will make you more aware of everything going on in your country and maybe get you interested in taking a step towards a more inclusive world.

10. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Genre: Non-fiction
What aspect of life this book will improve: If you’re a woman, this book will help you revel in your femininity. If you’re a man, it will sensitize you towards the problems a woman faces in today’s world, and how you can do your bit to make things easier without playing the blame game.

Image: Goodreads

What does “feminism” mean today? That is the question at the heart of We Should All Be Feminists. The author shines a light not only on blatant discrimination but also the more insidious, institutional behaviors that marginalize women around the world.

As a working woman in a developing country, I’ve faced similar or worse situations as depicted in the book. I only wish more men would read this book. I’m sharing one of the hardest-hitting quotes here:

And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to cater to the fragile egos of males. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls: You can have ambition, but not too much. You should aim to be successful but not too successful, otherwise you will threaten the man. If you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.

How the book will help you

For people who constantly keep arguing “Not all men”, this book provides the answer of what exactly feminism is and why it shouldn’t be replaced with humanism. The book doesn’t blame men for the values and mindset they were born into. Instead, it offers reasoned logical arguments for building a better world. The narrative is convincing without coming across as a rant, making the book truly life-changing.

From 10 Books to Read Before You’re 30
By Anangsha Alammyan

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