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12 Oprah Winfrey Book Recommendations That Will Change Your World

Oprah Winfrey has recommended hundreds of books over the years— here are twelve of the most powerful reads.
by Tania Strauss | Sep 21 2023

It’s no exaggeration to say that Oprah changed the reading game with the launch of her eponymous Book Club in 1996. “The Oprah Effect,” as it’s come to be known, can catapult a title to the top of the bestseller list and help it reach readers who would never have thought to pick it up – or who otherwise might not have heard about it at all.

While its success has spawned countless other celebrity book clubs in the last couple of decades, there’s a reason why Oprah’s list endures. Whether a centuries-old classic or the latest release, Oprah’s picks make the reader think: they have something to teach us about the world, the way that people live, or even the art of literature itself.

Though the full Oprah’s Book Club roster is focused mostly on fiction, there’s no shortage of nonfiction gems to be found. From memoirs that will move and inspire you, to self-help books that give you tools for better living, to works of history and journalism that will help you understand why things are the way they are, below are all the nonfiction books Oprah’s recommended in her 25+ years as the world’s most influential reading advocate:

1. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

This book is a thought-provoking and empowering guide that urges women to push past societal barriers and pursue their ambitions fearlessly. With refreshing honesty, Sandberg addresses the issue of gender inequality in the workplace and offers practical advice on how women can navigate through the challenges they face. Drawing from her own experiences as Facebook’s COO, Sandberg shares valuable insights on negotiation techniques, creating equal partnerships, and building supportive networks. An essential read for anyone seeking to level the playing field, “Lean In” is a rallying cry for women to embrace their power, embrace their voices, and lean into their careers.

2. Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Dubbed “an instant American classic” in this glowing New York Times review, Caste makes the case that American society should be understood as a race-based caste system, similar to those found in India and pre-WWII Germany. While the history of America’s brutal racial hierarchy can be tough to read, exploring how caste systems are created and perpetuated can help us begin to break them down.

3. Hidden Valley Road by Martha Kolker

Praised by Oprah as “a riveting true story of an American family that reads like a medical detective journey,” Hidden Valley Road chronicles the story of the Galvin family: twelve children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia. Despite the Galvins’ difficult and often heartbreaking journey, their case illuminated the genetic origins of much mental illness, and how it can be effectively treated.

4. Becoming by Michelle Obama

This blockbuster memoir by America’s beloved former First Lady would have been a hit even without Oprah’s help. Still, Winfrey believes the book’s impact goes beyond the simple fact of its celebrity author: “It is Michelle Obama’s personal story, of course,” she says, “but I believe it’s going to spark within you the desire to think about your own becoming.”

5. The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton with Lara Love Hardin

A memoir by a man who spent thirty years on death row for two murders he didn’t commit, Hardin’s story is a powerful examination of social and legal justice, systemic racism, and the resilience of the human spirit. By turns harrowing and inspiring to read, Hardin’s difficult journey has given him a unique perspective on exactly what it means to live and be free.

6. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle

An unflinching look at addiction, disordered eating, and how gender roles can harm relations between men and women, Glennon Doyle’s memoir details her journey to rock bottom and back again after learning of her husband’s infidelity. Doyle’s vulnerable storytelling made the book a sensation and is a testament to the ways in which our pain can help us build stronger relationships and a more authentic self.

7. Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Another blockbuster story about addiction, hitting rock bottom and finding a road back, Wild chronicles the author’s grueling 1,100-mile solo hike up the Pacific Crest Trail after the death of her mother and the breakup of her marriage. Strayed’s critically-lauded memoir about love, grief, and hard-won survival was later made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

8. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhard Tolle

A self-help book about transcending the human ego to create a better world, A New Earth promises that by emphasizing the present moment, we can put an end to both individual and global suffering. Oprah found Tolle’s spiritual teachings so powerful that she partnered with him on a chart-topping podcast to bring his work to a wider audience.

9. The Measure of a Man by Sidney Poitier

The first Black man to become a bonafide Hollywood movie star, Sidney Poitier changed not only an industry but helped to reshape American popular culture during the Civil Rights era. With his recent death at the age of 94, there’s no better time to revisit the actor’s fascinating life and learn about the victories and hardships that come with being such a trailblazing figure.

10. Night by Eli Wiesel

A brutal and blistering account of its author’s experiences as a Jewish prisoner in the Nazi death camps, Night gained only minor attention when it was first published in the 1960s. It’s since become a seminal work of memoir and Holocaust literature, translated into over 30 languages. In 1986, Wiesel received a Nobel Peace Prize for his life’s work as a political activist and advocate against hatred and genocide.

11. Stolen Lives by Malika Oufkir and Michéle Fitoussi

The daughter of a powerful Moroccan general, Malika Oufkir was raised like a princess and then spent over two decades as a political prisoner, after her father was involved in a coup against the king. “People read the book and they are changed by it—enlightened by it—opened up by it,” says Oprah of the harrowing account, which is a testament to perseverance in the face of incredible suffering and injustice.

12. The Heart of a Woman by Maya Angelou

The fourth of Angelou’s seven total autobiographies, The Heart of a Woman is celebrated as a brilliant account of motherhood and the self. It chronicles a time when Angelou traveled to Africa, became a Civil Rights activist and published writer, and had a fateful encounter with Billie Holiday – all while raising her son to manhood.

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