Books with the power to change your perspective

45 books that have changed people's perspective on something important — novels and non-fiction, classics and little known gems.

Welcome to a special edition of the Weekly Filet, curated by some of the smartest, most interesting people around: the readers of this newsletter. Once a year, I ask them for their book recommendations, this time on the theme: What book changed your perspective on something important?

If you're the kind of person who likes to have their views challenged and see the world from new perspectives, this is for you.

45 ideas for your next read. 45 opportunities to let that pile of books you're going to read soon grow a little higher (no shade — I'm a believer in the power of unread books).

Two quick notes before we jump in:

  • I’m not using any affiliate links below. When you buy some of the books, support your local bookstore.
  • If you'd like to support my work, treat yourself to a membership, for great recommendations on what to read, watch and listen to all year round. Or, with no strings attached, leave a tip.

And with that...enjoy the collection of books that have changed my newsletter readers' perspectives.

📚 Books with the power to change your perspective

1. A Field Guide to Getting Lost, by Rebecca Solnit

Recommended by Vero Heler, a curious woman exploring universes

This book connected with my deepest part, from a very beautiful place, for its prose, for the stories it shares with us, for its kind, provocative, critical intelligence. It helped me to see myself better, to put into words and be able to name what I needed. As well as making friends with uncertainty. In short, it brought me closer to being able to accept what little by little, I am (are we?) understanding: perhaps, getting lost, in any of its senses, is the only way to find what we are looking for.

2. Yes to the Mess, by Frank Barrett

Recommended by David Bowers, an avid reader

This book opened my eyes to the correlation between leadership and what jazz members do on the bandstand. It has sparked interest in how music and leadership are connected.

3. How to Blow Up a Pipeline, by Andreas Malm

Recommended by Florian, citizen of the world

This essay on civic resistance for climate change action circles the question what peaceful activism can achieve and when it might become a moral duty to resort to more drastic actions. Past protests (American and Indian civil rights and independence movement) can only partly serve as examples. Climate protest will escalate quickly. (As a fictional extrapolation of Malm‘s book, read „Ministry of the Future“ by Kim Stanley Robinson)

4. The Impossible Country, by Brian Hall

Recommended by Carlo Coppola, currently a fully dedicated father

In 2022, I spent a lot of time in Prishtina (Kosovo) for work. Of course, the terrible war of the 90ies is still very present. This book was an historical extension to the many stories I heard from people I met in Prishtina. It catapulted me back to when I was a teenager and seeing the atrocities on TV or hearing them from the many refugees that arrived in Switzerland. Brian Hall's travel and documentation gives a profound insight into what was happening then to people all over former Yugoslavia.

5. The Overstory, by Richard Powers

Recommended by Adam Thomas, nonprofit journalism coach and consultant

This book reconfigured my appreciation for, understanding of, and relationship with one of life's most important co-inhabiters: trees.

6. The Art of Frugal Hedonism, by Annie Raser-Rowland, Adam Grubb

Recommended by Kai, editor of Dense Discovery

I really enjoyed this light-hearted, easy read about how cutting back on mindless consumption and spending can make you a more social, more creative, and generally more fulfilled person. Importantly, it doesn't read like a typical self-help book because it doesn't take itself too seriously. (It’s written by Australian authors, after all.)

7. Think again, by Adam Grant

Recommended by Anne-Kathrin Gerstlauer, media consultant and newsletter author

It taught me how to question my own opinions and beliefs. A good reminder: always ask yourself, which fact could change my opinion. And if you say: none, then it’s not an opinion but an ideology. This works with political opinions but also with decisions on your own life. It also gives advice on how to change other people's minds and why we are all doing it wrong.

8. Trust, by Hernan Diaz

Recommended by Katka H, lawyer working at the European Commission

The book shows how women’s stories are taken away from them to be changed beyond recognition, or even erased entirely, by others. We all heard many times that this has been happening throughout history, but it is only after reading this novel that I realized what it actually means.

9. Quiet, by Susan Cain

Recommended by JMC

Highlights that introvert vs extrovert can really be more of a spectrum and we should consider how education plays into this.

10. Small Things Like These, by Claire Keegan

Recommended by Aleks

It's rare that you can describe a book in terms of sound and if I were to, I would say this one is a quiet one. It swept me off my feet with its prose, which is as beautifully crafted as it is economical. No word is spare. It paints an equally wondrous picture of the outside world as it does of the inside of a human mind. And it brings hope that kindness - when experienced - carries forward, and saves another soul.

11. City of Thorns, by Ben Rawlence

Recommended by Maren

It opened my eyes and my brain towards the fact that simply because people live in a refugee camp, their life and aspiration all but stop. It's an impressive account of life in Dadaab, a huge refugee camp in Kenya, which evolved into a city - tragically. One can learn A LOT about the dynamics of flight, refuge, humankind.

12. The Lost Pianos of Siberia, by Sophy Roberts

Recommended by Peter Bauer-Musfeld, retired English teacher and teacher trainer

You hear "Siberia" and you think of endless wilderness, biting cold, exiles. The authoress invites the reader to gain new insights by exploring Siberia in her search for lost pianos. A fascinating journey through music, history and literature; an encounter with people living in these remote places. You need not be a pianist to love this debut book by Sophy Roberts.

13. The Black Cloud, by Fred Hoyle

Recommended by RI, student

A science fiction book written by a physicist/astronomer decades ago; suggests how society and government would react to imminent (possibly sentient) danger. For those who like plot and science

14. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott

Recommended by Julian, A soon-to-be-published writer

For a long time I thought you‘re either a writer or you‘re not. That to writers it must somehow come naturally. (And to musicians, and to painters, and …) Then I read Bird by Bird, a beautiful and personal instruction how not to give up writing, a fierce call for curiosity and imperfection, for fearlessly embracing the process and self-growth. It’s a guide not only for writing, but for how to proceed, when you need to paint a whole species and don‘t know where to start. Bird by bird, the books whispers, bird by bird.

15. Fen, Bog and Swamp, by Annie Proulx

Recommended by C. S., healthcare worker, pet mom, music lover

Wetlands make a huge difference to wildlife, humans quality of life, and to our ability to prevent localized flooding and drought events. They are of much greater value than has been historically considered or acknowledged.

16. Data Action: Using Data for Public Good, by Sarah Williams

Recommended by Sara Mesquita, Ph.D. student in Global Public Health with an addiction for books and data visualization

It was a pleasure to read Data Action, full of food for thought and engaging data visualizations. This book has definitely prepared me for better discussions and projects involving data collection and exploration. Divided into four main ideas (Build it, Hack it, Share it and Data as a public good), this book equips the reader with a civic awareness but also elucidates the power that we as individuals have to change the collective mind. Through several projects developed by the author over the years, Sarah Williams shows how it is possible to generate societal change by using openly available data, collaborating with experts and communicating the results to the public. My favorite project: Digital Matatus System.

17. How the Word is Passed, by Clint Smith

Recommended by Doc S., a privileged white male

This book gave me a fresh perspective on the ongoing systemic racism in America.

18. The Living Mountain, by Nan shepard

Recommended by Franziska, designer who loves to walk and watch

It describes in a very unique way, without any exaggeration or too many personal feelings, how much rewarding it is to spend time in wild nature.

19. Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker

Recommended by Christine Mouton, an avid reader and consumer of all things creative

I had not realised how sleep affects every aspect of our lives, a life-changing book on the subject

20. The Mind is Flat, by Nick Chater

Recommended by Eleanor Berger, curious technologist from Zürich, Switzerland

Thorough but also accessible and entertaining argument against mental depth and for an understanding of the human mind as a generative marvel. An invitation to fall in love with the mind as a masterful serial device that generates interpretation and behaviour moment-to-moment. Completely changed my mind on how to think about the mind.

21. The Dawn of Everything, by David Graeber and David Wengrow

Recommended by Lana G., a curious reader open to ideas

The authors blew apart many widely held assumptions about the origins of humankind, about the settling of America, about the culture and capabilities of Indigenous taught me we need to question every assumption we are taught.

22. The Red Zone, by Chloe Caldwell

Recommended by Michael Webb, FINE: "F*&ked Up, Insecure, Neurotic, and Emotional."

A terrifying look at Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder and how it feels to know that you are injuring someone while you are doing it and being unable to stop yourself.

23. The Psychology of Money, by Morgan Housel

Recommended by Matt Powell, lifelong learner and lover of books

This was an easy-to-read book which challenged the way I have always looked at money & finances. It really helped me to understand how different people view money.

24. King Leopold's Ghost, by Barbara Kingsolver

Recommended by SD, a blue eyed African

This book gave me a visceral sense of the effects of colonial interference in indigenous politics. It spurred me to read widely about the Congo and the fate of Patrice Lumumba. It shored up my understanding of how western meddling on foreign shores has done so much more harm than good.

25. The three body Problem trilogy, by Liu Cixin

Recommended by Karin Aue, designer and creative from Vienna based in Singapore

It’s an extremely wide spanning book that covers an immense amount of topics and critical ideas across Millenia. I had several moments when I had to put the books down and gaps, or say out loud “wtf?” . From the fascinating start in China during the cultural revolution the three books follow humanities ongoing struggle to respond to and prepare for unprecedented challenges and adversaries. Some amazing ideas are introduced from the dark forest theory to the concept of wall facers - Liu Cixin has build an immense universe of a book.

26. Humanly Possible, by Sarah Bakewell

Recommended by Doc, compassionate, ethical, responsible humanist

I found out that I have been a humanist my whole life and never knew it.

27. Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn

Recommended by Luciana, curious and politically minded netizen

One of the best explanations of what is wrong with the world and our culture, and which gives an alternative.

28. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey

Recommended by Ed Van Hooydonk, a life potential seeker

Covey speaks to unchanging, foundational principles for an effective, successful & fulfilling life. No quick fixes … just work we can do every day on ourselves and for ourselves to make a difference.

29. Factfulness, by Hans Rosling

Recommended by Payal, traveler, artist, educator, writer

This book brought a brilliant perspective to the depressing narrative the news seems to thrive on. It showed us facts in which it proves to us that we do indeed have our biases and concrete ways that our mind fools us. For instance we have an negativity bias which the news thrives on but if we don't put things into perspective we naturally blow them out of perspective. Rosling's legacy that the world isn't as bad as we make it out to be lives on.

30. Non-violent communication, by Marshal Rosenberg

Recommended by Nadja, a collaboration facilitator

It changed how I looked at myself, others and all relationships

31. Our Final Invention, by James Barrat

Recommended by Veith S., tech tinkerer & history buff

Although pretty old (2013), it explains profoundly the dangers of AI. Suited for laymen, although some of the stuff is a bit nerdy.

32. Memnoch the Devil, by Anne Rice

Recommended by DMA

As a former Catholic, questioning my faith & beliefs, reading the Bible stories through the "Devil's" POV, gave me enough to think about that I finally severed the bond I had with religion. Not my belief in gods, just the words written by men wanting control.

33. Life Is In The Transitions, by Bruce Feiler

Recommended by Joshua H., an educator, designer, and student

This book helped me realize that in a moment where I felt my life had crashed, there was still a way forward. The pictures we paint of our futures grow and change over time, and in that, there is beauty.

34. Maybe you should talk to someone, by Lori Gottlieb

Recommended by TM, booklover, therapist, curious mind

A great peak into a therapist work while being highly relevant to oneself.

35. Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Recommended by Vanessa H.

It’s beautifully written and I gained a better understanding of important indigenous cultural values.

36. Atomic Habits, by James Clear

Recommended by Irene

Made me realise I've been doing it wrong all my life. I finally understood why I never got into a good habit. Always starts too strong, burn too fast.

37. Why Does He Do That? Inside The Minds Of Angry and Controlling Men, by Lundy Bancroft

Recommended by Bob Beverley, a failed obsessive making his way

An eye opening look at the real flaw and dynamic going on in abusive males. I am an experienced psychotherapist and this book altered my thinking and gave me insights I did not expect.

38. Allein, by Daniel Schreiber

Recommended by Caspar

Excellent reflexion on living without a partner in a societal context where everyone is expected to live in a loving relationship. The text mixes philosophical and sociological ideas with his own personal experiences of living alone during the pandemic.

39. Syllabus, by Lynda Barry

Recommended by Semi, currently striking television writer and mom

I have read so many books on creativity but this one was entrancing. I started doing everything she assigned — drawing, even though I am a writer. It unleashed something very primal and productive in me. She is my hero.

40. Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making, by By Tony Fadell

Recommended by Isaac Patrick, DevOpsSec engineer / founder

I think it defines the journey of a resilient creator a little better. Very useful to start with and then add more information.

41. Maid, by Stephanie Land

Recommended by Carrie, twin, mom, grandma, optimist, grateful, coffee snob

I believe this is a must read for anyone who hires someone else to clean their house. Land is working as a housecleaner but beats incredible odds to go college (and graduate!) while a single mom and then writes a bestselling book!

42. Germs, Guns and Steel, by Jared Diamond

Recommended by Boris, content marketer

Information transmissions, advantages that tip the scales on a large scale in societies

43. A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin

Recommended by Ding, a retired photographer and lover of history

A day’s journey turns into the remembrance of an extraordinary life as an old soldier chats to a young stranger on a bus ride into the Italian alps. Experiences from a wealthy child's upbringing in Rome to slaving in the marble quarries to World War One as fought in the Dolomites carry the reader through to a satisfying acceptance of a life well lived.

44. Barking to the Choir, by Gregory Boyle

Recommended by Lars Peterson

The author is funny, wise, and compelling. What makes this book hard to put down is the way in which he has introduced a non-judgmental and loving perspective and way of life to thousands of gang members - with dramatic results.

45. A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn

Recommended by MM, retired librarian

It gave a succinct and readable counterpoint to usual account of US history.

Last year's edition