15 Women On The Books That Changed Their Lives

by Sadie Trombetta

From official reviewer publications to book blogs to social media and more, there are so many different ways to get book recommendations, but how do you find the ones that are truly meaningful? A great place to start is by listening to other women on the books that changed their lives. Chances are, there's something on this list that might change yours, too.

It's no secret that books can be transformative. Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin helped bring attention to the abolitionist cause before the start of the Civil War, and later, W.E.B. Du Bois' essays in The Souls of Black Folks shined a light on the effects of slavery in relationship to the modern hardships African American community. Upton Sinclair's eye-opening novel The Jungle changed the food industry, and it was Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique that lit the spark to ignite the second-wave feminist movement.

Throughout history and across cultures, books have served as great sources of inspiration, education, encouragement, and enlightenment for people around the world. And while they have helped start movements, shape cultures, and even change history, they have also changed so many individual lives. In times of need, books have helped people work through their trauma, find the answers to their impossible questions, and figure out who they want to be. They've been sources of inspiration, advice, comfort, empowerment, wisdom, and so much more. If it weren't for books, so many people, including myself, wouldn't be the people they are today.

Want to find out which books have those kinds of transformative powers? Then here are 15 women on the books that changed their lives.


'Caucasia' by Danzy Senna

"Caucasia was powerful for me as a young lady. I appreciate the insight into the life of the protagonist and her single mothers' life, insight into the civil rights movement, insight into the development of a young girl becoming a woman who is grappling with the reality how her external identity, something completely out of her control, has led her down a path separate her father and sister. And the conclusion that her soul has more to do with how she gets along in the world, despite the fact that her skin color is affecting her reality in more worldly ways."

— Alexandria, 27

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'Gaudy Night' by Dorothy L. Sayer

"Mine would be British writer Dorothy L. Sayer's Gaudy Night, part of a mystery series featuring aristocrat/detective Lord Peter Wimsey and mystery writer Harriet Vane and that centers around escalating women-in-academics-bashing pranks at a fictional women's college at Oxford in the 1930s. I first read it as a grad student nearly ten years ago and as a young woman who was entering an academic career and how that might be negotiated with having life goals that are still gendered female (like marriage and children), it was eye-opening to read a seventy-year-old book that still felt fresh and relevant. Not only is Harriet Vane a feminist role model but so too is Peter Wimsey, and it is only by mutually agreeing to an equal partnership that Harriet finally responds positively after five years of rejected marriage proposals. I still read it at least once a year, as it reaffirms those things that struck me on first reading it and discovering new subtexts, and there is a very good chance my first daughter will be named Harriet."

— Christina, 35

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'The Brothers Karamazov' by Fyodor Dostoevsky

"The Brothers Karamazov changed my life [...] I realized I was an Ivan, and I wanted to be Alyosha. Ditched grad school and went to China for a year to teach and become a part of the Real World."

— Ramsey, 35

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'The Giver' by Lois Lowry

"The book that most deeply affected me early on: The Giver. It is the first book I read that offered a dystopian view of adolescence."

— Anna

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'Fire in the Ashes' by Jonathan Kozol

"Fire in the Ashes is a devastating look at child poverty in NYC that left me heartbroken and determined to do more as a citizen and as a counselor. The author writes so empathically and truly brings to life the stories of these amazing children. He follows many of them for 20 plus years so you truly see the toll poverty takes. It's one of those books once you read it, stays with you long after you turn the final page."

— Sarah, 27

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

"It sound cliche, but the Harry Potter books completely changed my life. I was a nerdy kid, and finding a heroine like Hermione made me feel so much better about being myself. I finally had someone to look up to who wasn't popular and blonde, but someone who spent as much time in the library as me."

— Cynthia, 27

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'The Awakening' by Kate Chopin

"Kate Chopin's The Awakening was my awakening in high school. I had to read it for a summer class, but it ended up meaning so much more to me. At a time of my life when everyone around me was trying to tell me what to do and where to go and who to be, it helped inspire me to seek out my own identity. Whenever I am confused, I flip through it to remind me of who I used to me."

— Jo, 23

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'When Women Were Warriors' by Catherine M. Wilson

"The trilogy When Women Were Warriors was very impactful for me. Absolutely gorgeous writing, a three-book-long slow burn... absolutely amazing."

— Keena

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'Esperanza Rising' by Pam Muñoz Ryan

"I loved TV growing up, but I could never find anyone who looked like me on it. When I found Esperanza Rising, I finally saw myself in a story. The book was beautiful and lyrical, the heroine was smart and brave, and I have been obsessed with Esperanza ever since."

— Sarah, 19

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'Prozac Nation' by Elizabeth Wurtzel

"No one talked about depression in my family, so I felt like I never had anyone to turn to about my own feelings. My high school librarian gave me Prozac Nation my freshman year, and it was like the clouds started to part. I wasn't alone. Other people, famous people even, went through this. It was the first time I didn't feel completely hopeless."

— Bianca, 31

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'Where It Stops, Nobody Knows' by Amy Ehrlich

"One of the first books that influenced me was perhaps the first one I read on my own, without being required to read it for a book report. Where It Stops, Nobody Knows by Amy Ehrlich was a book that made me wonder more about the gray area that most lies live in, at an age where childhood seemed far behind me but adulthood seemed like a lifetime away."

— Monica, 29

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'Women Who Run with Wolves' by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

"Women Who Run With the Wolves was incredibly influential to me, both as a woman and a writer. As a woman, it gave me permission to be my brand of female. I'm not very from frou, don't like wearing bows, no chintz in the house. I was in my 20s and struggling to find my identity as a woman. The book gave me permission to be fierce and adventurous. The fact that her storytelling was integral to the book made it all the more perfect for me. I could be fierce and tell fierce stories."

— Jill

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'When Breath Becomes Air' by Paul Kalanithi

"Absolutely frightening and eye opening book about how shocking a cancer diagnosis is, especially terminal. He lives his life with fear of the future but refuses to let it stop him from leading a normal life. Makes you really appreciate just waking up in the morning."

— Jenna, 28

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'Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness' by Richard Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

"It has really stayed with me in my work and personal life. For work I'm always thinking how I can make small nudges to get needed responses or info from students. In my personal life I'm thinking of simple choices I can make or others around me can make that produce a more positive outcome [...] It really makes you think about the choices you make and why you make them. It has also led me to think about the default options in my life and how I should check to make sure they are the most beneficial options for me."

— Susie, 27

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'She's Come Undone' by Wally Lamb

"She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb. It really stayed with me because no matter the shitty point is in your life, you control your reaction and the outcome of what happens next. And that there is always someone going through something worse."

— Frida, 28

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