There are no two ways about it—we’re living through a difficult time. The spread of coronavirus has changed the way we live, work, and socialize, and pushed all of us to stay home as much as we can. Even so, COVID-19 has actually given us an unexpected gift: the time and space to read life-changing books, books whose influence we will feel long after the pandemic has become a distant memory.
With that in mind, Next Big Idea Club curators Malcolm Gladwell, Susan Cain, Adam Grant, and Daniel Pink have compiled this list of 12 incredible reads, each of which will make an excellent companion on your journey through this global challenge and beyond.
1. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
What makes an experience most satisfying is a psychological state called flow, in which people experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total engagement with life. Renowned psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi investigates the inner workings of flow, and shows us how to tap into its power and joy.
2. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
This memoir by psychiatrist Viktor Frankl describes the years he spent living in the Nazi death camps of World War II. But beyond his tale of survival, Frankl also offers universal reflections on coping with suffering and finding meaning in life, insights that have resonated with millions of readers around the world.
3. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou’s debut memoir captures the varied textures of a deeply-lived life: the wonder of childhood, the ache of abandonment, the insult of bigotry, and the ultimate triumph of the human will. It’s a moving, at times heartbreaking story of feeling imprisoned, and discovering how to finally be free.
4. Fly Already: Stories by Etgar Keret
This highly unusual yet deeply penetrating collection of short stories shines a spotlight on life’s everyday absurdities that we take for granted. Veteran fiction writer Etgar Keret masterfully sets love and despair on a collision course destined to make you laugh and think in equal measure.
5. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
This beloved classic combines poetic and philosophical musings into 26 short fables about love, marriage, work, joy, sorrow, friendship, beauty, and more. It’s a short, yet deeply moving and life-affirming read that will change the way you see yourself—and the world—for the better.
Nearly 75% of us experience some kind of major adversity before the age of 20, from growing up alongside domestic violence to coping with bullying and neglect. Clinical psychologist Meg Jay combines cutting-edge research with captivating storytelling to explain how some people not only survive these trying times, but also later reach extraordinary levels of achievement.
7. Why Are We Yelling?: The Art of Productive Disagreement by Buster Benson
In a time when enraged argument has become a centerpiece of our daily news diet, Buster Benson redefines what it means to disagree well. He explains that conflict doesn’t have to be unpleasant or counterproductive; instead, it can help us deepen relationships and come up with new ideas—if we bring the right skills and mindset to bear.
8. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
In a major leap forward for the science of success, acclaimed psychologist Angela Duckworth argues that the secret to outstanding achievement is not natural-born talent, but a special blend of passion and purpose that she calls “grit.”
Award-winning journalist Eric Weiner takes the reader on a globetrotting adventure to determine where happiness lies, how it works, and what the rest of us can learn from the happiest people on earth.
10. Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness by Ingrid Fetell Lee
The way our surroundings look and feel have a measurable impact on our productivity, creativity, and more, writes designer Ingrid Fetell Lee. She then explains which small changes to our homes can help maximize our sense of well-being.
11. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Drawing on twenty-five years of research, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt illuminates how our beliefs often stem not from reason, but from gut feelings. He explains where our varying conceptions of “right” and “wrong” come from, and offers the truth behind why moral conflict emerges—and how cooperation can be achieved.
12. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping by Robert M. Sapolsky
Primatologist Robert Sapolsky explains that, like other animals, human beings feel stress. But unlike other animals, we rarely resolve that tension by fighting or fleeing, creating a chronic condition of stress that literally makes us sick. Fortunately, Sapolsky outlines specific guidance to help us all manage our stress responses and stay healthier than ever.