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Ask HN: What are some good inspirational and uplifting books?
67 points by in9 6 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments
Hey HN. I'm in a bit of a rut. Feeling with no sense of goal, unmotivated to do basic shit, and falling back into dangerous old habbits. I have a nice job and still perform well on it. I'm just trying to became inspired as opposed to "smarter", which is what the technical books I usually read do.

And yes, going back to therapy is on my line of sight :D

I'll give a casual read that became one of my favorite books:

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

It's got some tech aspects to it since the main character is starting to get into using programming to investigate a mystery and that bit definitely feels motivating. We all have a bunch of problems that we deal with in every day life that we just need a little push to start solving. But it also is just a solid mystery book that's somewhat rooted in history with some great characters (although I think the main character and his love interest are kind of the blandest of the bunch). I don't want to say anymore since I'll get into spoiling it but I'll leave you with this:

festina lente

Love this book, would recommend it to anyone who's interested in a good mystery.

I loved Sourdough by Robin Sloan, will check out this one too.

Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33313.Kitchen_Confidenti...

Even if you have zero interest in the culinary world, you'll still enjoy the stories - and maybe even get motivated by some of them.

The crappiest CRUD-app making Java job in a toxic office is a cushy vacation compared to the life of a chef :)

cooking is one of my favorite hobbies. Will definitely check it out.

Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

> Mere Christianity by CS Lewis

Opens the book by talking shit about atheists and how atheism is not a real philosophy, and basically says it is not even worth commenting on.

I put it down immediately.

> Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Unfortunately, this has been thoroughly discredited [0]. But if the point of the list is not to be accurate but to feel good (and I'm not being sarcastic, OP asked about books to feel better) then of course anything is fair to recommend.

[0] https://retractionwatch.com/2017/02/20/placed-much-faith-und...

You're making a blind sweeping generalization here.

As has been repeatedly pointed out in the past[1][2][3], it is only the priming-related chapter (called 'The Associative Machine' in the book) that put "too much faith in under-powered studies". Not the entire book!

The book is a synthesis of forty years of Kahneman's research and his collaboration with Tversky. A wide range of topics are covered; and it still absolutely merits reading.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24048650

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22054603

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21757524

Has the whole book been discredited or just one chapter in the book?

Hmm I don't know. I liked the book when I read it but then I looked up the criticism (and the eventual retractions) and got a bad taste in my mouth.

It would better to know which parts are ok, definitely.

I thought it was only the priming stuff that had been dis-credited?

I like his honesty in his response to the blog. Personally, I get a lot of value out of Thinking Fast and Slow.

You might like these btw:

I run this site and we have authors pick their favorite books around topics/themes, here are a few that were inspirational/uplifting that might hit the right spot.

The best books on actually living before you die https://shepherd.com/best-books/actually-living-before-you-d...

The best uplifting contemporary novels https://shepherd.com/best-books/uplifting-contemporary-novel...

The best uplifting climate fiction books https://shepherd.com/best-books/uplifting-climate-fiction

The best fantasy books that are the most uplifting https://shepherd.com/best-books/fantasy-that-are-the-most-up...

My personal rec is Killer of Men by Christian Cameron. I LOVE this book and it really hit me at the right time. I love it as it is written by a Greek warrior looking back over his life as an older man, and it is a great story based on a really interesting time in history. As he walks you through his life I loved his attitude and the way he navigated it, I got a lot of inspiration and lessons from it.

If you're into audiobooks, I recommend "You're It! On Hiding, Seeking, and Being Found", a series of talks by Alan Watts [0]. I'm not sure if it can pull you up out of the rut, but it may help you to get out of it sideways.

[0] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6583629-you-re-it-on-hid...

*Master of Doom*

My takes (in random order):

- Both Johns already bagged years of professional game development experience before ID was formed. Romero started submitting games to magazines in mid-80s and Carmack in 1989. This probably explains why they managed to push out games so fast.

- John Carmack went from Apple ][ tile mapped games (Shadowforge and Wraith) to horizontal smooth scrolling (Commander Keen) in about 1 year, and to ray caster (Wolfenstein) in about 1 year, and to BSP (Doom) in a bit more than 1 year, and to real 3D (Quake) in 2.5 years. And this is only the rendering part. He was super focused and super efficient.

- Tools are really important to rapid iteration. Romero's 2D editor (forgot the name) was used throughout the early years, which says something.

- Early programmers *have* to deal with assembly language routinely. This probably dispelled a lot of "magic" and one of the primary reasons why some of them were so good. Essentially everyone who programs games for long enough is a low level programmer. I wonder if modern programmers should take the same grinding.

- This is probably controversial but I believe Romero leaving ID tipped the balance and I find ID games starting from Quake 2 are less interesting.

- Everyone who wants to get serious about tech should take a few weeks off and concentrate on learning and working on difficult stuffs. Preferably more time but a few weeks should be the minimum.

I really enjoyed Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. It's more of a kick in the pants than an inspirational book, but it actually helped me think about (and act on) my priorities.

Seconded. Great book

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by him is also good.

I'd strongly suggest Simon Sinek:



presently reading:


Before these, I've really appreciated:


Someone already suggested Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4069.Man_s_Search_for_Me... ...and I absolutely agree!

Next in my queue is Flow by prof. Mihai Csikszentmihalyi:


Happy reading! :)

Edit: formatting

Jubilee, Margaret Walker.

A tree grows in brooklin, Betty Smith.

Cutting for Stone, Abraham Varghese.

They are not light reading. But you do feel like you are a better person after you’re done reading them.

wow! All are unheard books for me. Will for sure check them out! Thank you!

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl.

Good luck.


It shall bring you down emotionally, then build you up again - but stronger.

"Seek and ye shall find."

Read the New Testament and then the Bhagavad Gita. Jesus's words are uplifting but there's a lot of information that he gave the disciples that didn't make it into the Book. The Gita can be viewed as the "missing manual".

- - - -

I just lost my cat recently and had a birthday, so I'm in a deeply existential mood.

"All things are impermanent." It's as true as true can be. One day the cat is here, fluffy and meowing. The next day the cat is gone, and unlike the one in the story the cat is not ever coming back. Everything is like this: temporary, transient, contingent, impermanent.

The only thing, if anything, that we can "take with us" or that outlasts us is the effect we had on the world around us while we were alive. That is the closest thing to a "possession" you'll ever have.

So look to that. If you seek meaning in life, try helping people. Be kind. Cherish every moment. Feel and express love.

Hope this helps. :)

Thank you for those kind words. I have two 2yo twin cats as well and the thought of not having them around is tough. Will check out both recommendations. I've never heard of Bhagavad Gita and it seems incredibly interesting.

You're very welcome.

It's hard to lose someone you love. I knew this day would come (or, more precisely, the other way 'round: me predeceasing the cat, would be so much worse for my friends and family...

There's a old Buddhist tale:

A family has just finished construction of their new home, and the tradition there is to get a kind of of banner or scroll of wise words to put over the household shrine, to honor and bless the new home. So they go to the local monk and commission him to make it. He paints a scroll and calls them to come pick it up. They arrive and read it:

    Grandfather dies.
    Father dies.
    Son dies.
    Grandson dies.
Naturally the family are taken aback, and respectfully ask the monk to redo it. He calls them back the next day and tells them, "I tried and tried. I arranged the lines in every combination, but this is the best order."

So, yeah, I knew this day would come...) but it's still hard.

Enjoy the Gita, I recommend reading many different translations, and don't settle too early on an interpretation (i.e. some people believe it was a real battle while most believe it's pure allegory, things like that. It's part of a huge epic story, the Mahabharata.)

This sounds a bit clichéd, but bear with me:

Definitely check out Leonardo da Vinci's biography by Walter Isaacson. It gives a delightful account of da Vinci's life and his exploits. It's hard not to feel inspired after reading it. (It also has 120+ illustrations of da Vinci's drawings and notes. They're all digitized; you can flip through them here[0].

A random teaser from a recent comment[1]: da Vinci spent a lot of time dissecting human corpses and horses and made many draft drawings. Then he declares in his notebook, "I'm going to write a treatise on human anatomy; it will be better than those created by surgeons because I can draw exploded views of arms and muscles from different angles." He never finishes it. But, he discovered[2] the functioning of the aortic valve in the heart!

[0] http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=arundel_ms_263

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29495779

[2] https://www.rct.uk/collection/919082/the-aortic-valve

Hope in the dark by Rebecca Solnit[0] is helpful for thinking about your own actions in a larger context

The mindful self compassion workbook[1] is a cbt like guidebook to treating yourself well (mentally/emotionally)

Brene Brown’s books [2] help mentally reframe shame and give you an added awareness to how your past experiences/mental patterns influence your current experience/interpretation of events. She also has a ted talk on Netflix for a short intro to her overall approach.

Braiding Sweetgrass[3] by Robin Wall Kimmerer is currently one of my favorite books. Some aspects are depressing particularly around our current culture but I found it also gave me hope by laying out an alternative and healthier way of interacting with the world.

[0] - https://bookshop.org/books/hope-in-the-dark-untold-histories...

[1] - https://bookshop.org/books/the-mindful-self-compassion-workb...

[2] - https://bookshop.org/books/daring-greatly-how-the-courage-to...

[3] - https://bookshop.org/books/braiding-sweetgrass-3e12996d-ea04...

I’ve been searching for a book that helps me identify some goals for myself for yearsss. Once i get some I’ll have read enough books to know what to do with them but nothing so far has helped me become inspired.

Closest I’ve come so far is to read books that make me cry with laughter! I feel at my best after reading these kinds of books and more inspired than any self help book has ever made me feel.

My no 1 recommendation is “let’s pretend this never happened” by Jenny Lawson (aka the bloggess) of all her books it’s hands down the best and the funniest and i reread it regularly because it’s so unpredictable and unlikely! (Though the randomness does feel forced at times)

The only other book that springs to mind is getting things done by David Allen it helped me sort things out of my head to make room to be inspired.

The World as Will and Representation, Vol 1, by Arthur Schopenhauer.

It is still a very original book, and will strongly influence your thoughts on basically everything: love, music, literature, architecture, science, religion.

Volume 1 is also amazingly accessible, and often very funny. If you don't like dry philosophy books which must invent their own language systems, but still fail to bring their basic points across, you will be in good company - because Schopenhauer hates them. He frequently reminds the reader that if someone has truly and fully understood something, he can explain it in simple sentences. And Schopenhauer delivers.


It has been a long time since I've had an interest in philosophy. I was one of those "humanities" kid that read stuff I wasn't at all muture enough to go through. And I remember loving some bits I read from Schopenhauer. Perhaps its time for me to relive that interest.

"There's no such thing as a dragon" by Jack Kent. It's a short story written for children with a very good message for all ages. Here's a very young Dr. Jordan B. Peterson going through it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J54FMA895OA

Reading history always makes me feel better. For example the periods after the founding of the US or the period after the end of the US civil war. Turns out we've been doing stupid stuff for a long time. And yet I generally agree with the way we've progressed, even though there's still more to improve.

Autobiography of a Yogi and Yogananda's Man's Eternal Quest are pretty good as far as inspirational goes...

The American Spirit by David McCullough. This book treats us to the fascinating stories of doctors, artisans, and performers across the history of the United States and it`s truly inspiring.

P.S. But I also like his "1776" book - https://ivypanda.com/essays/book-report-on-1776-by-david-mcc... (a little review for those who are interested).

I highly recommend two books:

Awareness by Tony Dmello and The greatest salesman in the world by Og Mandino

Some context: Last year was an awful year, lost my entire net worth and got super depressed- work lost its meaning and took sometime to recover- I wrote about it here: https://www.vice.com/en/article/bvnn3a/i-lost-dollar400000-a...

But a friend recommended both of those books and they helped me get back on track- PS. I am very much an atheist, so the recommendations might seem offtrack but both of the books carry remarkable advise.

holy crap man. What a story. Glad to hear you are bouncing back from that. Will read those with a lot of respect since they helped you go through such a difficult time.

Enlightment Now + The Better Angels of Our Nature by Pinker


Maybe the problem is you're trying to "feel good" rather than confront feeling bad.

My recommendation is Simone de Beauvoir's Ethics of Ambiguity. It details various strategies people have for confronting their own existential terror, and ultimately works to develop an ethical system for a world without meaning.

I've found it very insightful for helping to recognize your own behaviors that are effectively ways of denying the true existential questions that are haunting you throughout your life.

I reread "Kim" by Rudyard Kipling whenever I feel I'm in a rut. It's pleasantly soporific during reading, but kicks me back out of the rut at the end. No idea why.

Not self-help books really but I can recommend the George Dyson trilogy for inspiration/perspective.

Darwin Among the Machines

Turing’s Cathedral


I would also look into the possibility of attending a guided hallucinogen session a la Pollan

I highly recommend “How to Live, or a Life of Montaigne” by Sarah Bakewell. The book follows the life of the French nobleman of the 1500’s who was a wine grower, philosopher, and essayist named Michel Eyquem de Montaigne.

The book is organized by his writings on the various aspects of life, and his thoughts on what other philosophers have written on these topics.

I found the book to be inspiring, especially for personal journaling of my own thoughts on life.

- The Road to Mecca by Muhammad Asad [0]

- Listen to recitation of the Quran [1]

0. https://www.amazon.com/Road-Mecca-Muhammad-Asad/dp/188775237...

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d22KYHiTrEc

Lord of the Rings

Maybe an off-the-wall recommendation, but I found Anxious People by Fredrik Backman to be inspirational and uplifting.


Still Me, Christopher Reeve's Autobiography. It contains not only his story about becoming Superman, and the story of how he coped with disability after falling off a horse, but also the best story about Robin Williams I've ever come across.

Born a crime by Trevor Noah. It’ll make you laugh and cry, but it is so good and inspirational. The audiobook is also phenomenal.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle is also great, though is more geared towards women.

Also, the stoics. I’m enjoying the practicing stoic by Ward Farnsworth. They’re surprisingly accessible

The Commanding Self by Idries Shah It is a curious choice, I admit, but it takes you out of the mundane reality into fresh view of life. Expanding your view is a great cure for depression. I was also very inspired by Shah's "Thinker from the East".

A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine. A gentle and persuasive introduction to modern Stoicism.

Note: Insofar as it aims at tranquility (apatheia = avoidance of passions), it might not help you to get more motivated, though.

Mans Search For Meaning, by Viktor Frankl really changed my perspective on life. I recommend it wherever I can. Some parts are not so uplifting due to the context, but the overall effect it had on me certainly was

Anything that helps you identify your values so you can align your habits and routines with them:

- Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl (existential psychologist and holocaust survivor - some principles of finding meaning in life's circumstances from someone who went through a concentration camp)

- 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson (Despite the politicized figure he became, the book is more about finding meaning in adopting responsibility with each rule being an example of how to do so)

- Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*ck by Mark Mason (light hearted self help, but some nice principles in it)

- Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (a little dated, but contains some nice aphorisms. Audible has a really great version read by Richard Armitage, the guy who played Thorin in the Hobbtit)

- Give the New Testament a shot (not everyone's cup of tea, but several billion have found it helpful in finding a meaningful life so its probably worth a shot)

Also, don't neglect audio books! I've found going for walkins while listening to these kind of books a great way to relax and reflect.

Thank you for the awesome list! Yes, audiobooks are awesome. One habbit that kind of faded away in my life is biking and listening to them. Will strive to restart it.

I've read 12 rules in the past (perhaps in the year it came out?), and yes, even though I don't agree with a lot of Petereson's opinions politically, it is just a good helpfull book to help one center his routine and life goals around. I wonder if the sequel is as good!

Again, thank you!

I don't think I would call Man's Search For Meaning uplifting, although it should definitely be required reading. It may be spiritually or existentially uplifting, but it also puts you face to face with the grim realities of humanity's darkness—which can be fairly depressing.

Crap, the best ones I've read are mostly in Spanish, books by Gabriel Rolón or by Jorge Bucay were really helpful to me to help me reframe my POV of the world.

I tried to find translations for them, but with no luck.

This is an international forum and many people know more than one language.

If you have recommendations, please list them regardless of language!

If anything, the thought of books worth reading only increases one's incentive to learn that language.

I can read in spanish :D Not as fluently as in english, but tackling a book in spanish would be a nice challenge! Let me know if there are any titles from those authors you'd recommend me starting with!

Some of Bucay's book are in English. Rolón has a column in a radio show, in Spanish.

Still would enjoy the recommendation here.

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I find it inspirational.

It's hard to know what somebody else will find inspiring, but I can share a handful that I personally found to be so:

The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand

It's Not About The Bike - Lance Armstrong

Ultramarathon Man - Dean Karnazes

Charles Proteus Steinmetz: The Electrical Wizard of Schenectady - Robert Bly

Report From Engine Co 82 - Dennis Smith

The Universe Speaks in Numbers: How Modern Math Reveals Nature's Deepest Secrets - Graham Farmelo

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth - Paul Hoffman

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan - Robert Kanigel

Also, I haven't read it yet myself, but I have heard good things about The Last Lecture[1] by Randy Pausch, and have it queued up to read soon.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Lecture

The Last Lecture was great. If you can, watch the lecture too [0]. Even beyond the literal message, Randy Pausch's outlook and delivery really elevated the story for me.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo&vl=en

If you are okay with reading fantasy books: Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree (a veteran warrior wants to leave violence behind and open a coffee shop)

Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse. This book is mysteriously brilliant to me. I feel like reading it was like peering into my own soul.

Zen mind, Beginner's mind, from Shunryu Suzuki.

The great work of your life by Stephen Cope

Have started reading this one recently, really fun read so far. Book's focus is on Dharma.

The Bible. People have been going to it for thousands of years. Revised Standard version or New International Version are good translations.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am more or less an atheist who thinks the Bible is largely fairy-tales and gobbledygook. So take what I'm about to say with the appropriate sized grain of salt.

New International Version

The NIV, as I understand it, was translated not by "neutral" scholars who were interested in a 100% accurate translation as their primary goal. Rather, it was translated by people who were "true believers" and were focused on making the Bible more understandable to modern readers (possibly at the cost of some literal accuracy) and possibly - if you buy into some of the harsher criticisms - glossing over some of the "problematic" parts of the Bible.

Anyway, I'm not passing judgment one way or the other. I have an NIV alongside several other translations, so I found it worth spending the $$$ to buy a copy for one reason or another. Just wanted to point out that this translation is not free of possible concerns.


People like the experience of reading a book they believe to be the pinnacle of truth and wisdom. I doubt many non-believers find the same inspiration, outside of a few "greatest hits" like Psalm 23 and "Love is patient, love is kind...". Many other parts of the Bible are strange, cryptic, or extremely dull.

The man who planted trees by Jean Giono

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

Ride of a Lifetime by Bob Iger

How Will You Measure Your Life? by Clayton M. Christensen

Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins

Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury slotted in a place like you are in for me when I was a teen, good luck.

I did love fahrenheit 451, so this one should be right up my alley in terms of writting style.

If there's no problem that it has its somber moments, too:

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

Can't Hurt Me: Master Your Mind and Defy the Odds (D. Goggins)

Karma Yoga (S. Vivekananda)

The Power of Now (E. Tolle)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

Life is short and so is this book -Peter Atkins

Novel/fiction... All the light we cannot see

Check out The Kybalion, and also Prometheus Rising.

How to Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

That's a pretty controversial pick for this list. Tho I did enjoy reading it.

In that spirit but much less controversial and possibly a lot more uplifting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unbroken_(Zamperini_biography).

I’ve added some movies I love too :)

Books ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho ‘Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress’ by Steven Pinker ‘Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You’ by Bill Burnett, Dave Evans ‘Exhalation’ and ‘Stories of Your Life and Others’ by Ted Chiang

Movies ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ ‘Dead Poet’s Society’ ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’ ‘King Richard’ ‘Shawshank Redemption’ Anything Studio Ghibli

Since we're talking movies, I'll throw in a handful of movie titles that I find inspirational and /or uplifting as well:

Rocky, Rocky II, Rocky III, Rocky IV, Rocky Balboa

Vision Quest

Tin Cup

The Pursuit of Happyness

The Social Network




Iron Man

The Man Who Knew Infinity - based on the book of the same name, which I also recommend.

Since you started listing movies, I'll add one to this thread:

Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story

Illusions, by Richard Bach

The Egg, by Andy Weir

Impro - Keith Johnestone

I would recommend Jordan Peterson's 12 Rules for Life (and its sequel).

Anything by Jordan Peterson.

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