Your 20s are a transformative and exciting time in your life. It’s a period of self-discovery, growth, and endless possibilities.
One of the most rewarding ways to make the most of this decade is through reading. Books can expand your horizons, challenge your thinking, and provide valuable insights that will serve you well in the years to come.
To help you navigate your literary journey in your 20s, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best books that cover a wide range of genres, themes, and perspectives.
Whether you’re seeking inspiration, practical advice, or simply a great story, this list has something for everyone.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into this list.
64 Best Books To Read in your 20s
1. “1984” by George Orwell
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Set in a totalitarian future, Orwell’s novel introduces a society under constant surveillance by an authoritarian regime led by the figurehead, Big Brother. It explores themes of government control, individuality, and truth, following the life of Winston Smith, a government employee who starts questioning the party’s oppressive rules.
2. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
Genre: Southern Gothic, Bildungsroman
This novel set in the 1930s Deep South of the United States, deals with serious issues like racial injustice and moral growth. Told through the eyes of young Scout Finch, her father, Atticus Finch, is an attorney who hopes to prove the innocence of a black man unjustly accused of rape.
3. “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho
Genre: Quest, Adventure, Fantasy
This allegorical novel follows the journey of a young Andalusian shepherd named Santiago who dreams of finding a world treasure located somewhere in Egypt. Along the way, he meets various spiritual messengers and learns about following his dreams and listening to his heart.
4. “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Genre: Tragedy, Social Commentary
Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, the novel tells the tragic story of Jay Gatsby, a self-made millionaire, and his pursuit of Daisy Buchanan, a wealthy young woman whom he loved in his youth. It’s a critical exploration of the American Dream and themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, and excess.
5. “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley
Genre: Dystopian Fiction, Science Fiction
Huxley’s novel presents a future society where people are genetically engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy. The narrative delves into themes of technological advancements, the use of technology to control society, and the sacrifice of individuality for stability.
6. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari
Genre: Non-fiction, History
Harari examines the history of humankind, from the evolution of Homo sapiens in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century. The book focuses on key transitions in human history, like the Cognitive Revolution, the Agricultural Revolution, and the rise of empires and capitalism.
7. “Becoming” by Michelle Obama
In her memoir, Michelle Obama explores her personal journey from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address as the First Lady of the United States.
8. “A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical Fiction
Set in Afghanistan from the early 1960s to the early 2000s, this novel tells the deeply moving story of the unlikely bond between two women, Mariam and Laila, who are married to the same abusive man. It’s a tale of friendship, family, the plight of women, and the history of Afghanistan over the last five decades.
9. “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg
Genre: Non-fiction, Self-help
The COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, common-sense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.
10. “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath
Genre: Semi-autobiographical, Psychological Fiction
This novel follows the life of Esther Greenwood, a young woman who finds her life spiraling out of control as she struggles with mental illness. Set in the 1950s, the book explores themes of identity, mental health, the societal expectations of women, and the nature of life and death.
11. “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu
Genre: Military Strategy, Philosophy
An ancient Chinese text dating from the 5th century BC, “The Art of War” is more than just a military manual. It’s a profound work on strategy, offering valuable lessons in decision-making and leadership. It covers various aspects of warfare strategy, emphasizing the importance of adaptation, flexibility, and understanding one’s opponent.
12. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor E. Frankl
Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology
This book is a memoir and psychological analysis of Frankl’s experiences as a concentration camp inmate during WWII. It introduces his theory of logotherapy, which posits that the primary human drive is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but the pursuit of what we find meaningful. Frankl argues that even in the most absurd, painful, and dehumanizing situation, life has potential meaning and therefore even suffering can be meaningful.
13. “The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom” by Don Miguel Ruiz
Genre: Self-help, Spirituality
Based on ancient Toltec wisdom, the book suggests four agreements as essential steps on the path to personal freedom. These agreements are: Be impeccable with your word; Don’t take anything personally; Don’t make assumptions; Always do your best. Ruiz’s insights offer a new perspective on life and provide a guide to overcoming societal impositions and self-limiting beliefs.
14. “Educated” by Tara Westover
Tara Westover recounts her journey from growing up in a strict and abusive household in rural Idaho with no formal education to earning a PhD from Cambridge University. The book is a tale of self-discovery, family loyalty, and the struggle for a new life. It deals with themes like the power of education, the ties of family, and the pains of severing them.
15. “Animal Farm” by George Orwell
Genre: Political Satire, Allegory
This novel is an allegory for the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the early Soviet Union. Orwell uses a farm and its rebellious animals as a setting to expose the corruption and abuses of power in communism. It illustrates how power can corrupt and how revolutions can go astray when their leaders betray the very principles they supposedly fought for.
16. “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” by Mark Manson
Genre: Self-help, Philosophy
A counterintuitive approach to living a good life, Manson’s book cuts through the clichés of the self-help industry. He argues that life’s struggles give it meaning and that the mindless positivity of typical self-help books is neither practical nor helpful. Instead, he suggests finding what’s truly important to you and letting go of everything else.
17. “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg
Genre: Self-help, Psychology
This book explores the science of habit formation in our lives, companies, and societies. Duhigg explains why habits exist and how they can be changed, emphasizing the transformative power that comes from understanding how habits work. Filled with compelling narratives, it provides insight into how habits can be used to build a successful business or transform a community.
18. “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
Genre: Psychology, Economics
Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman explores how two different ways our brains process thought – ‘fast’ intuition and emotional reaction, and ‘slow’ deliberate and logical reasoning – shape our judgments and decisions. The book delves into the cognitive biases and errors that affect our everyday lives and discusses their implications for everything from economics to personal happiness.
19. “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey
Genre: Self-help, Business
Covey presents an approach to being effective in attaining goals by aligning oneself to principles of a character ethic. The book details seven habits which are grouped into three categories: independence, interdependence, and continuous improvements. It remains a blueprint for personal development and professional success.
20. “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green
Genre: Young Adult, Romance
This novel tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a teenager with thyroid cancer who reluctantly attends a cancer support group. There she meets and falls in love with Augustus Waters, an ex-basketball player and amputee. A heart-wrenching yet often humorous tale, it explores themes of love, loss, and the nature of suffering.
21. “Atomic Habits” by James Clear
Genre: Self-help, Psychology
This book delves into the intricacies of habit formation and offers a comprehensive guide on how to create good habits and break bad ones. Clear emphasizes the power of tiny changes and how they compound into significant results over time. The book offers practical strategies and techniques to reshape your habits and thereby transform your life.
22. “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert T. Kiyosaki
Genre: Personal Finance, Business
Kiyosaki presents the financial knowledge he acquired from two father figures: his biological father (the “Poor Dad”) and the father of his best friend (the “Rich Dad”). The book challenges the conventional beliefs about work, money, and investing, stressing the importance of financial education, investing, and building wealth through smart money management.
23. “Freakonomics” by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Genre: Economics, Sociology
Levitt and Dubner combine economics with storytelling to explore the hidden side of seemingly unrelated subjects. The book uses economic theories to explore real-world phenomena and uncovers surprising connections, demonstrating how economics is at the root of a wide range of human behavior.
24. “The Little Prince” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Genre: Fantasy, Philosophical
This poetic tale, with watercolor illustrations by the author, touches on themes such as loneliness, friendship, love, and loss. Narrated by a downed pilot in the Sahara Desert, it recounts his encounter with a young prince from another planet and the prince’s adventures across the cosmos.
25. “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman
Genre: Relationships, Self-help
Chapman identifies five primary ways people express and experience love, which he calls “love languages”: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. Understanding these languages, he argues, can help improve relationships and deepen connections.
26. “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain
Genre: Psychology, Self-help
Cain argues that modern Western culture undervalues the traits and capabilities of introverted people, leading to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness. The book highlights the strengths of introverts—like sensitivity and seriousness—and emphasizes the need to balance the extrovert ideal in society.
27. “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank
Genre: Autobiography, Memoir
Written during WWII, this diary is the extraordinary account of Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. The diary poignantly details her daily life in hiding, her emotional highs and lows, and her insights into human nature.
28. “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding
Genre: Fiction, Allegory
This novel focuses on a group of British boys stranded on an uninhabited island and their disastrous attempt to govern themselves. Themes include the conflict between the human impulse towards savagery and the rules of civilization which are designed to contain and minimize it.
29. “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie
Genre: Self-help, Interpersonal Relations
One of the first best-selling self-help books ever published, Carnegie’s book offers timeless advice on how to be successful in social and business environments. It teaches fundamental techniques in handling people, ways to make people like you, and how to influence others’ thinking respectfully.
30. “Outliers: The Story of Success” by Malcolm Gladwell
Genre: Non-fiction, Sociology
Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. He argues that successful people don’t rise from nothing, but rather they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages, extraordinary opportunities, and cultural legacies that allow them to learn, work hard, and make sense of the world in ways others cannot.
31. “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood
Genre: Dystopian Fiction
Set in a near-future New England, in a totalitarian state resembling a theonomy, which has overthrown the United States government. The novel focuses on the journey and victimization of Offred, a Handmaid. The Handmaids are forced to produce children for the ruling class and live under strict rules and constant surveillance, an allegory for the control of women in patriarchal societies.
32. “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami
Genre: Romance, Bildungsroman
This coming-of-age story captures the essence of youthful angst and romance. It’s set in 1960s Tokyo and tells the story of Toru Watanabe, who reminisces about his days as a college student living in Japan. Central themes are love, loss, and sexuality, intertwined with Murakami’s unique blend of melancholy and nostalgia.
33. “The Book Thief” by Markus Zusak
Genre: Historical Fiction
Narrated by Death, the book is set in Nazi Germany and follows the life of a young girl, Liesel Meminger, living near Munich with her foster parents. Her experiences are conveyed as she steals books and shares them with neighbors during bombing raids, as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.
34. “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini
Genre: Historical Fiction, Drama
The story is set against the backdrop of the fall of Afghanistan’s monarchy through the Soviet invasion, the exodus of refugees to Pakistan and the United States, and the rise of the Taliban regime. It explores the troubled friendship of two boys growing up in Kabul.
35. “The Nightingale” by Kristin Hannah
Genre: Historical Fiction
The novel tells the story of two sisters in France during World War II, and their struggle to survive and resist the German occupation of France. It was inspired by the story of a Belgian woman, Andrée de Jongh, who helped downed Allied pilots to escape Nazi territory.
36. “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker
Genre: Epistolary Novel, Historical Fiction
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a series of letters written by a poor black woman, Celie, addressing God and later her sister, Nettie. Celie narrates her life of hardship, sexual abuse, and oppression in the Southern United States and her journey to finding her voice, independence, and self-worth.
37. “Beloved” by Toni Morrison
Genre: Magical Realism, Historical Fiction
Set after the American Civil War, it tells the story of a woman named Sethe who is haunted by the ghost of her dead baby daughter, whom she had killed to save from a life of slavery. This novel delves deeply into the painful legacy of slavery and the complex, sacrificial bonds of motherhood.
38. “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel
Genre: Adventure Fiction, Philosophical Novel
This novel tells the story of Pi Patel, a Tamil boy from Pondicherry who survives 227 days stranded on a lifeboat in the Pacific Ocean with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker. The narrative explores themes of spirituality, survival, and the nature of reality.
39. “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking
Genre: Popular Science
In this landmark book, Hawking discusses fundamental questions about the universe and our existence. Hawking explores complex concepts like black holes, the big bang, and the nature of the universe in a way that is accessible to a general audience.
40. “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams
Genre: Science Fiction, Comedy
This comedic adventure follows the misadventures of the last surviving man, Arthur Dent, following the demolition of Earth by an alien race. Hitchhiking through space with a cast of quirky characters, the novel satirizes various aspects of modern life through its unique blend of absurdity and wit.
41. “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
Genre: Classic Romance, Social Commentary
This novel centers on the emotional development of Elizabeth Bennet, the protagonist, and her relationship with Mr. Darcy, a wealthy and proud man. Set in rural England in the early 19th century, it explores themes of love, marriage, morality, and social class, with a keen eye for humor and social observation.
42. “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison
Genre: African-American Literature, Bildungsroman
This novel addresses many of the social and intellectual issues faced by African-Americans in the early 20th century, including black nationalism, the relationship between black identity and Marxism, and the reformist racial policies of Booker T. Washington. The story follows an unnamed black man who feels socially invisible.
43. “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller
Genre: Satirical, Historical Fiction
Set during World War II, this novel follows Captain John Yossarian, a U.S. Army Air Forces B-25 bombardier, and a host of other characters stationed on the fictional island of Pianosa, in the Mediterranean Sea west of Italy. It is renowned for its satirical critique of bureaucratic operation and reasoning.
44. “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck
Genre: Epic, Family Saga
This novel tells the story of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, and their interwoven stories over two generations, drawing parallels to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Set in the Salinas Valley, California, it explores themes of freedom, sin, and human nature.
45. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Brontë
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Tragedy
This novel centers on the all-consuming, passionate, but thwarted love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them. It’s known for its complex structure, intricate narratives, and dark themes.
46. “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Genre: Psychological Fiction, Philosophical Novel
This novel focuses on the mental anguish and moral dilemmas of Rodion Raskolnikov, an impoverished ex-student in Saint Petersburg who formulates and executes a plan to kill a pawnbroker for her money, a crime he justifies in terms of Nietzschean philosophy.
47. “The Stranger” by Albert Camus
Genre: Absurdist Fiction, Philosophical Novel
The novel is a first-person narrative, through the eyes of Meursault, an indifferent French Algerian. Described as a sociopath, he commits a senseless murder on an Algerian beach and finds himself irretrievably alienated from society. The novel explores themes of existentialism, absurdism, and nihilism.
48. “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy
Genre: Post-apocalyptic Fiction
This is a tale of survival of a father and his young son in a post-apocalyptic world. The narrative details their struggles to survive after a mysterious cataclysmic event has turned the world into a barren wasteland. It’s a raw meditation on the limits of hope and morality in times of despair.
49. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov
Genre: Tragicomedy, Postmodern Literature
The novel is notable for its controversial subject: the protagonist and unreliable narrator, a middle-aged literature professor under the pseudonym Humbert Humbert, is obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, Dolores Haze, whom he sexually abuses after he becomes her stepfather. It’s a complex exploration of obsession, art, and morality.
50. “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss
Genre: Fantasy, Bildungsroman
This is the first book in the “Kingkiller Chronicle” series and tells the story of Kvothe, an adventurer and famous musician. The narrative is structured as a story-within-a-story, with Kvothe narrating his life to a scribe. The novel covers his childhood in a troupe of traveling players, his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-ridden city, and his daring yet unsuccessful attempt to enter a legendary school of magic.
51. “Moby-Dick” by Herman Melville
Genre: Adventure, Epic
This novel tells the story of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest to kill Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that maimed him on a previous voyage. Rich in symbolism and complex themes, the narrative explores obsession, revenge, and man’s struggle against nature. It’s also famous for its detailed descriptions of the whaling industry of the 19th century.
52. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
Genre: Historical Fiction, Epic
Set against the backdrop of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia, the novel is as much a historical study as it is a fictional narrative. It follows the lives of several aristocratic families and attempts to blend a vast range of topics, from the Tsarist society and family life to the battlefield.
53. “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo
Genre: Historical Fiction, Social Critique
This sprawling epic covers the lives of several characters over a 20-year period in the early 19th century, culminating in the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. The novel focuses on the struggles of ex-convict Jean Valjean and his experience of redemption, examining the nature of law and grace, and is a profound moral and philosophical examination of justice in society.
54. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
Genre: Realist Fiction, Tragedy
The novel unfolds in a rich tapestry of characters, but centers on the doomed love affair between the sensuous and rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. Tragedy unfolds as Anna rejects her passionless marriage and must endure the hypocrisies of society. It’s a thought-provoking exploration of love, family, politics, and religion in Tsarist Russia.
55. “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Genre: Philosophical Novel, Mystery
This novel revolves around the murder of Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and the subsequent trial of his sons. It’s a deeply philosophical text, exploring subjects such as free will, morality, and the existence of God. The novel is renowned for its deep character analysis and exploration of existentialist themes.
56. “Don Quixote” by Miguel de Cervantes
Genre: Satire, Chivalric Romance
Widely considered the first modern novel, it tells the story of a nobleman, Don Quixote, who becomes insane and believes he needs to revive chivalry, rectify wrongs, and bring justice to the world. He recruits a simple farmer, Sancho Panza, as his squire, and together they embark on a series of absurd, yet profound, adventures.
57. “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway
Genre: Lost Generation, Modernist Fiction
This novel is a love story between the young American, Jake Barnes, who was wounded in World War I, and the irresistibly charming Lady Brett Ashley. Set in the 1920s, it captures the lives and morality of the post-World War I generation, known as the Lost Generation.
58. “The Sound and the Fury” by William Faulkner
Genre: Southern Gothic, Stream of Consciousness
This novel tells the story of the Compson family’s decline and fall, and the disappearance of the old Southern aristocracy. It’s celebrated for its innovative narrative technique and its exploration of deep human themes like time, memory, and history. The novel is divided into four sections, each narrated by a different character, including the mentally disabled Benjy Compson.
59. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez
Genre: Magical Realism, Epic
This novel tells the multi-generational story of the Buendía family in the fictional town of Macondo. The narrative is a blend of magical elements and realistic description, exploring themes of solitude, the passage of time, and the political upheavals of Latin America. It’s known for its rich and imaginative storytelling.
60. “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Genre: Novel, Social Critique
This is a powerful tale of love, race, and identity following the lives of Ifemelu and Obinze, young Nigerians who face different paths when they leave Nigeria for the West. Ifemelu heads to America, where she grapples with what it means to be black, while Obinze, unable to join her post-9/11, goes to London and faces an undocumented life. The story is a poignant exploration of the immigrant experience, race, and the pursuit of identity.
61. “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Epic
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a sweeping family saga, focusing on the life of Calliope Stephanides and her Greek-American family. Through the story, Eugenides addresses complex themes like identity, gender, and the American immigrant experience. The narrative also explores Calliope’s realization and coming to terms with being intersex.
62. “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt
Genre: Bildungsroman, Literary Fiction
The novel follows the life of Theo Decker who, after surviving an accident that kills his mother, is taken in by a wealthy Upper East Side family. The story revolves around a famous painting called ‘The Goldfinch’ which Theo takes from the museum after the accident and its significance throughout his life. The book delves into themes of grief, guilt, fate, and the search for meaning.
63. “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz
Genre: Bildungsroman, Urban Fiction
This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel tells the story of Oscar Wao, a Dominican boy in New Jersey who is obsessed with science fiction and fantasy novels, falls in love easily, and dreams of becoming a writer. The narrative also explores the brutal history of the Dominican Republic and the curse that haunts Oscar’s family.
64. “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith
Genre: Social Comedy, Epic
Set in London, this novel focuses on the later lives of two wartime friends—the Bangladeshi Samad Iqbal and the Englishman Archie Jones—and their families. The story addresses a multitude of themes, including the complexities of the English post-colonial experience, the nature of family and friendship, and the ways in which the past affects the present.