The Most Influential and Life-Changing Books of All Time: 1 to 20

I'm constantly exchanging book recommendations among my friends, teachers, and clients, and I wanted to put a list together of the books that seem to get mentioned more than others as particularly insightful and impactful. 

With this in mind, I recently conducted an informal survey on Facebook to crowdsource a list of the most influential and life-changing books of all time among my network of online friends and friends of friends. A total of 181 books were recommended by about 150 people from a diverse range of backgrounds and interests, with 43 books garnering multiple votes.

I organized the recommended books into categories, and ranked them according to how many votes each book received, and will be posting the results over the next three blog posts, starting with this one.

First is a list of the most influential books from 1 to 20, ranked in order of number of votes received, along with brief descriptions pulled from Amazon. Click on the book cover or title to see it on Amazon. 

Next post will be a list of the most influential books from 21 to 40. 

Finally, I'll list all 181 books by category - fiction or non-fiction - then sub-category, like Philosophy, Personal Development, Fantasy/Sci-Fi, etc. for easy reference.

This is a living list so if you have any further recommendations or comments on books that have changed your life in some profound way, please leave them in the comment section. I'd also love to hear about how these books have impacted you, so feel free to share personal stories as well. 

Enjoy!

The Most Influential Books of All Time: 1 to 20

 

1. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment - Eckhart Tolle

It's no wonder that The Power of Now has sold over 2 million copies worldwide and has been translated into over 30 foreign languages. Much more than simple principles and platitudes, the book takes readers on an inspiring spiritual journey to find their true and deepest self and reach the ultimate in personal growth and spirituality: the discovery of truth and light. The journey is thrilling, and along the way, the author shows how to connect to the indestructible essence of our Being, "the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that are subject to birth and death." 

 

2. Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life - Marshall Rosenberg

Nonviolent Communication is the integration of 4 things: 1-Consciousness - a set of principles that support living a life of empathy care courage and authenticity Language understanding how words contribute to connection or distance. 2-Language - understanding how words contribute to connection or distance. 3-Communication - knowing how to ask for what we want how to hear others even in disagreement and how to move toward solutions that work for all. 4-Means of influence - sharing power with others rather than using power over others.

 

3. The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

Combining magic, mysticism, wisdom and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery, The Alchemist has become a modern classic, selling millions of copies around the world and transforming the lives of countless readers across generations. Paulo Coelho's masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago's journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life's path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.

 

4. Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah - Richard Bach

For disillusioned writer and itinerant barnstormer Richard Bach, belief is as real as a full tank of gas and sparks firing in the cylinders ... until he meets Donald Shimoda - former mechanic and self-described messiah who can make wrenches fly and Richard's imagination soar... In Illusions, the unforgettable follow-up to his phenomenal bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach takes to the air to discover the ageless truths that give our souls wings: that people don't need airplanes to soar, that even the darkest clouds have meaning once we lift ourselves above them, and that messiahs can be found in the unlikeliest places - like hay fields, one-traffic-light midwestern towns, and most of all, deep within ourselves.

 

5. A Brief History of Everything - Ken Wilber

Join one of the greatest contemporary philosophers on a breathtaking tour of time and the Kosmos—from the Big Bang right up to the eve of the twenty-first century. This accessible and entertaining summary of Ken Wilber’s great ideas has been expanding minds now for two decades, providing a kind of unified field theory of the universe and, along the way, treating a host of issues related to that universe, from gender roles, to multiculturalism, to environmentalism, and even the meaning of the Internet. This special anniversary edition contains as an afterword a dialogue between the author and Lana Wachowski, the award-winning writer-director of the Matrix film trilogy, in which we’re offered an intimate glimpse into the evolution of Ken’s thinking and where he stands today. A Brief History of Everything may well be the best introduction to the thought of this man who has been called the “Einstein of Consciousness”.

 

6. The Fifth Sacred Thing - Starhawk

An epic tale of freedom and slavery, love and war, and the potential futures of humankind tells of a twenty-first century California clan caught between two clashing worlds, one based on tolerance, the other on repression. Starhawk is one of the most respected voices in modern Goddess religion and earth-based spirituality. She is the author or coauthor of twelve books, including the classics The Spiral Dance and The Fifth Sacred Thing.

 

 

7. Siddhartha - Herman Hesse

In the novel, Siddhartha, a young man, leaves his family for a contemplative life, then, restless, discards it for one of the flesh. He conceives a son, but bored and sickened by lust and greed, moves on again. Near despair, Siddhartha comes to a river where he hears a unique sound. This sound signals the true beginning of his life -- the beginning of suffering, rejection, peace, and, finally, wisdom.

 

 

 

8. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself - Michael Singer

What would it be like to free yourself from limitations and soar beyond your boundaries? What can you do each day to discover inner peace and serenity? The Untethered Soul offers simple yet profound answers to these questions. Whether this is your first exploration of inner space, or you’ve devoted your life to the inward journey, this book will transform your relationship with yourself and the world around you. You’ll discover what you can do to put an end to the habitual thoughts and emotions that limit your consciousness. By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, author and spiritual teacher Michael Singer shows how the development of consciousness can enable us all to dwell in the present moment and let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.

 

9. Way of the Peaceful Warrior - Dan Millman

Way of the Peaceful Warrior is based on the story of Dan Millman, a world champion athlete, who journeys into realms of romance and magic, light and darkness, body, mind, and spirit. Guided by a powerful old warrior named Socrates and tempted by an elusive, playful woman named Joy, Dan is led toward a final confrontation that will deliver or destroy him. Readers join Dan as he learns to live as a peaceful warrior. This international bestseller conveys piercing truths and humorous wisdom, speaking directly to the universal quest for happiness.

 

10. Conversations with God - Neale Donald Walsch

Neale Donald Walsch was experiencing a low period in his life when he decided to write a letter to God, venting his frustrations. What he did not expect was a response. As he finished his letter, he was moved to continue writing - and out came extraordinary answers to his questions. This work presents the answers that Walsch received, helping him to change himself, his life and the way he viewed other beings.

 

 

11. Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche - Bill Plotkin

Since 1980, depth psychologist Bill Plotkin has been guiding women and men into the wilderness—the redrock canyons and snow-crested mountains of the American West—but also into the wilds of the soul. He calls this work soulcraft. A modern handbook for the journey, Soulcraft is not an imitation of indigenous ways, but a contemporary nature-based approach born from wilderness experience, the traditions of Western culture, and the cross-cultural heritage of all humanity. Filled with stories, poems, and guidelines, Soulcraft introduces over 40 practices that facilitate the descent to soul, including dreamwork, wilderness vision fasts, talking across the species boundaries, council, self-designed ceremony, nature-based shadow work, and the arts of romance, being lost, and storytelling.

 

12. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization - Peter Senge

Peter Senge’s bestselling classic is based on fifteen years of experience in putting the book’s ideas into practice. As Senge makes clear, in the long run the only sustainable competitive advantage is your organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition. The leadership stories in the book demonstrate the many ways that the core ideas in The Fifth Discipline, many of which seemed radical when first published in 1990, have become deeply integrated into people’s ways of seeing the world and their managerial practices. Senge describes how companies can rid themselves of the learning “disabilities” that threaten their productivity and success by adopting the strategies of learning organizations—ones in which new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, collective aspiration is set free, and people are continually learning how to create results they truly desire. 

 

13. Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu

The Tao Teh King (Tao Te Ching) forms the fundamental core of modern Taoist philosophy and has informed the beliefs and mode of life of the people of China for 2500 years. For all those who seek peace, contentment, harmony and balance in life, the Tao Teh King is an indispensable resource. Lao Tse’s words speak directly to the heart with simple, direct and profound wisdom addressing the core principles of the art of living well.

 

 

14. Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype - Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Within every woman there is a wild and natural creature, a powerful force, filled with good instincts, passionate creativity, and ageless knowing. Her name is Wild Woman, but she is an endangered species. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., Jungian analyst and cantadora storyteller shows how women's vitality can be restored through what she calls "psychic archeological digs" into the ruins of the female unconsious. Using multicultural myths, fairy tales, folk tales, and stories, Dr. Estes helps women reconnect with the healthy, instinctual, visionary attributes of the Wild Woman archetype. Dr. Estes has created a new lexicon for describing the female psyche. Fertile and life-giving, it is a psychology of women in the truest sense, a knowing of the soul.

 

15. Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein's Hugo Award-winning all-time masterpiece, the brilliant novel that grew from a cult favorite to a bestseller to a science fiction classic. Raised by Martians on Mars, Valentine Michael Smith is a human who has never seen another member of his species. Sent to Earth, he is a stranger who must learn what it is to be a man. But his own beliefs and his powers far exceed the limits of humankind, and as he teaches them about grokking and water-sharing, he also inspires a transformation that will alter Earth’s inhabitants forever.

 

 

16. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose - Eckhart Tolle

With his bestselling spiritual guide The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle inspired millions of readers to discover the freedom and joy of a life lived “in the now.” In A New Earth, Tolle expands on these powerful ideas to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world. Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence. Illuminating, enlightening, and uplifting, A New Earth is a profoundly spiritual manifesto for a better way of life—and for building a better world.

 

17. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

 

18. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying - Sogyal Rinpoche

A newly revised and updated edition of the internationally bestselling spiritual classic, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche, is the ultimate introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. An enlightening, inspiring, and comforting manual for life and death that the New York Times calls, “The Tibetan equivalent of [Dante’s] The Divine Comedy,” this is the essential work that moved Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, to proclaim, “I have encountered no book on the interplay of life and death that is more comprehensive, practical, and wise.” 

 

 

19. The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship - Don Miguel Ruiz

In The Mastery of Love, don Miguel Ruiz illuminates the fear-based beliefs and assumptions that undermine love and lead to suffering and drama in our relationships. Using insightful stories to bring his message to life, Ruiz shows us how to heal our emotional wounds, recover the freedom and joy that are our birthright, and restore the spirit of playfulness that is vital to loving relationships. "Happiness can only come from inside of you and is the result of your love. When you are aware that no one else can make you happy, and that happiness is the result of your love, this becomes the greatest mastery of the Toltec: the Mastery of Love." - don Miguel Ruiz

 

20. The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge - Carlos Castaneda

The teachings of don Juan is the story of a remarkable journey: the first awesome steps on the road to becoming a "man of knowledge" -- the road that continues with A Separate Reality and Journey to Ixtlan. "For me there is only the traveling on paths that have heart, on any path that may have heart. There I travel, and the only worthwhile challenge is to traverse its full length. And there I travel, looking, looking, breathlessly." -- Don Juan