9 Soul-Cleansing Books to Help You Become a Better Person


I recognize that you might not be like me; you might not spend a day in late summer or early autumn (you know, Yom Kippur) sitting around fasting and thinking about bad things you did in the last year, and how you can work on being a better person. Maybe you choose to be reflective in a different way, opting for a less-intense approach that doesn’t include altering your diet or (for the Catholics among us) confessing your sins to a priest. Maybe quiet time and a book are all you need to reflect and evolve. With that in mind, here are a few of our favorite titles on growing, overcoming, and striving to be a better person that might help you along the way.

Wild, Cheryl Strayed

If you’re one of the last people left who hasn’t picked up this book, which some have claimed is one of those rare life-changing memoirs, reading Strayed’s story of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone in an attempt to get over her grief and addiction is every bit as meaningful an experience as you’ve heard.

Buck, MK Asante

A powerful memoir of survival after things fall apart. The Zimbabwe-born poet’s story of coming of age in North Philadelphia with his father gone, his mother committed to a mental hospital, and his brother in jail, will help you realize that — even against the toughest of odds — you can make it.

And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini

Khaled Hosseini is one of the world’s great storytellers, and his latest work is full of love, war, birth, death, and reflections on the impact certain decisions can have on the future.

Borges: Selected Non-Fictions, Jorge Luis Borges

Obviously read his fiction, but there is so much wisdom to be taken from Borges’ nonfiction that as soon as you start reading it, you realize how much more you still have to learn about the world.

The Tenants of Moonbloom, Edward Lewis Wallant

In this overlooked classic from the middle of the 20th century, we watch as Moonbloom grows from an awkward and isolated middleman collecting rent from his brother’s crummy apartments into a fuller, better person. Uplifting and page-for-page perfect; you should really seek out The Tenants of Moonbloom.

Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman

Who hasn’t felt inspired by Whitman’s — and possibly America’s — greatest poetry collection? A meditation on what is, but more importantly, what could be. Spend your day with this if you’re looking to recharge.

Essays, Henry David Thoreau

This collection of Thoreau’s most famous essays on solitary soul searching and self-discovery in the Massachusetts woods is the perfect type of thing to read if you are looking to step outside your own comfort zone.

The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass

Very few life stories showcase the overcoming of adversity and oppression to quite the same extent as this autobiography of one of America’s most inspirational figures.

The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein

For those in search of something a little lighter, we’d suggest reading (or re-reading) this one, and remembering that Shel Silverstein really just wanted to make all of us — including kids — better people.