59 Books Everyone Should Read in Their Early 20s

12 books everyone should read in their twenties.  Book list for millennials. Reading lists in your twenties can be hard to find. Check out these books. Literature. Book Nerd. Book worm.

I always get asked what the best books to read in your early 20s are, or even just what are the books every millennial should read… but the truth is there are so many books we all need in our lives. We need fiction books inspired by true stories or real life events that let us into the heart and soul or allow us to reimagine worlds we think we knew.

We need non fiction books to offer us tips, advice, and experiences that can only be shared by an inspirational messenger who lived it and practices what they preach. Some books may be better suited for females and other for males and others for non-identifying. But the reality is, there are so many good books out there, and while this is a long list of some of the best books to read before 30, it's not the only list. This is a (hopefully) balanced reading list for how to survive your 20s with books on career, finance, overcoming adversity and tragedy, life hacks, new perspectives, helping the planet and more. 

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59 Books Everyone Should Read in Their early 20s:

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Dr. Meg Jay

Reading books is a great way to become a lifelong learner who soaks up knowledge for future use. A good book can bring positive, lasting changes to one’s life, I would know. I bought “The Defining Decade” by Dr. Meg Jay after seeing rave reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, USA Today, and The New York Times. Let me say, this purchase was totally worth it and I made a promise to myself: I would live every day of my life with purpose from that day forward.

You may have caught Meg Jay's Ted Talk? If you haven't, go watch now! You're twenties matter, and contrary to popular belief, they are NOT the new 30.

101 Secrets For Your Twenties by Paul Agone

A humorous and insightful take on navigating your twenties and the quarter life crisis AND this is actually a 2-for-1 since I also HIGHLY recommend Paul's book 101 Questions To Ask In Your 20s (and probably your 30s too) which you can buy here

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Truthfully, all of Seth Godin’s work are good books to read in your 20s for men and women… but I’ll leave this one here since it’s wildly thought provoking and encouraging. It talks about the third class of workers, the linchpins. The people who have figured out how to make themselves indispensable. Tapping into those often elusive skills and confidence that take your career or life from average to astounding.

Start with Why by Simon Sinek

Oh wow. If you’re a millennial, Simon Sinek needs no introduction I feel like after his infamous Tedx Talk blew up and we go even deeper into that message in this book.

Before ever learning of Sinek, I’d always ask “why” and use it as my guiding light, so at times it honestly feels like I wrote it or he’s inside of my head. Either way, it’s a book to read before 30 as a woman or man with a detailed framework for building a sustainable, fulfilling life, company, or movement.

The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

“Beyond your comfort zone something better awaits.”

“Refuse to give fear decision making authority.”

We all want to live a life full of purpose and passion and that’s exactly what this book is about. A reminder to do exactly what sets your soul on fire, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people.

Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes

When I had my first 9-5 I noticed my knee-jerk reaction initially was always “yes” but then after some challenging times, it pretty quickly became “no.”
I realized in that moment, that perhaps I needed to focus on becoming open and curious again in life.

I noticed my co-workers, who also had been traumatized from our a-hole boss, struggled with the same knee jerk “no” reaction. As I continued observing people in life, I noticed the opposite side of the people pleasing coin who always say yes, and that was the self protective side who always say no.

This book inspired me to find balance between the two. A reminder that we need to move through our fear, no matter which side of the coin we find ourselves on.

Mindset by Carol Dweck

We talk a lot about mindset on this blog so this book should come as no surprise to readers. Discover the “psychology of success,” based off decades of research from the Stanford University psychologist, Carol Dweck (the author).

She provides a framework for shifting from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset and how you can utilize this research to make the most out of your life before 30.

My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

Maybe I’m bias because I’ve always adored Eleanor Roosevelt’s words from, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.' to “Do one thing every day that scares you,” which the latter is what this book is based on.

We follow Hancock through her 29th year of life, dubbed “a Year of Fear” after losing her job as an entertainment blogger and now coping with the shame and self doubt that inevitably come with unemployment. She decides to overcome her newfound anxiety by using Roosevelt's words as her mantra for the year and takes us on the adventures from shark diving to confronting old boyfriends.

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison

A collection of Toni Morrison’s most powerful essays, speeches, and meditations spanning four decades. Covering everything from the faults in our culture that prevent freedom with regard to female empowerment, racism, money, the press, human rights, and so much more. This is a book I believe every man and woman should read.

Algorithms to Live By:The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths

Ok fun fact about this one: I actually stayed in Brian’s place and he gave me this book himself before it officially came out haha!

Honestly, this book is beyond FASCINATING and I’ve used the strategies outlined in it to make major life decisions like purchasing our first home (it’s why I always say we “unexpectedly” bought our first home).

Anywayyyy the authors show how computer science (think algorithms) can actually be utilized to answer the everyday questions we face like “should I rent this apartment? Should I marry this person? Should we try that new take out place?” and so much more!

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

Introverts have and will always shape the world we live in.

No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin with this book. The author is a Catholic monk who shares a wealth of wisdom and insight on spirituality to guide you in living the richest, most fulfilling life. May we all learn from it, and live with it as our guiding light.

Financially Fearless by Alexa von Tobel

This was the first personal finance book I read and is a great introduction to the world of money management you should read in your early 20s. It gives a conversational approach with super simple strategies to follow and help figure out your financial future. It’s a guideline for basic things like how much to spend on rent, identifying and reaching savings goals, and so much more.

One Hour Investor by Vishal Reddy

Our 20s are key to setting up our financial future! Go a step beyond Financially Fearless and dive a little deeper into the world of investing.

It’s a quick and easy read for beginners on stocks, mutual funds, bonds, and getting ahead on retirement.

The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make A Big Difference by Ellis Jones 

Most of us want to make a positive impact on the world, but have no idea where to start. Jones' book shows how we can make small effective changes to make a difference in life.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

This was one of the most moving books and movies for me to experience in my late teens and early 20s. A story of a young man who sold his car, donated $25,000, and disappeared “Into The Wild.” A powerful reminder that people need people.

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Yes, another non-fiction book to read in your 20s that seems to become more relevant with each passing year. Postman looks at how politics, religion, education, and media have become forms of entertainment, instead of serving our highest good and provides a blueprint to course correct the path we find ourselves on.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

A captivating and invigorating book on the intricacies of the brain and why we do certain things.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

A deep dive into her Ted Talk of the same name, Palmer showcases the importance of asking for help, a lesson we all ideally take to heart in your early 20s. 

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

I don’t want to spoil this one for you so instead I’ll just say it’s one of the best books every millennial should read if they plan to get married (or are married) or want to have kids.

Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest

After 9/11 new security measures were put in place, Priest and Arkin explore this hidden “fourth branch” of the government.

Transitions by William Bridges

I get SO many emails from young college students looking for advice on the transition after graduation. Bridges provides an awesome framework for navigating the true constant in life: change. It’s a simple 3 stage process covering the ending, the neutral zone, and the beginning.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Now that I’m in my thirties and a mother, I can tell you one thing I’m grateful for having mastered in my 20s: boundaries.

Over the years, I’ve seen so many people in a professional and personal setting struggling to set boundaries…. Making excuses for why they “can’t” do it. But this book reminds us why we need to set boundaries, and what the cost ultimately is when we don’t. It's one of the best fiction books to read in your 20s IMO.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

If you’re looking for good books for millennials full of grandfather’s wisdom, then look no further. Tuesdays with Morrie is like sitting down for a cup of coffee with your grandpa, who was also a college professor, and is about to instill the secrets about what the meaning of life is and all of the greatest life lessons he’s learned.

The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

“We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

“Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted.”

Another non-fiction book by a professor, this one written by Randy Pausch, computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon. It’s a small book that packs a lot of wisdom as he reflects on his secrets of success while he’s dying.

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan

Five days after graduating Yale in 2012, Marina Keegan was tragically killed in a car accident. In some ways, I think this could be one of the hardest books to read in your 20s, because it’s a reminder of just how fragile life is as you read through the beautiful short stories and essays she left behind that perfectly share the struggles, hope, and uncertainty we all experience in life.

The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin

On a city bus one day, Rubin realized she wasn’t focusing on the things that truly matter in life. To remedy this she decided to focus on a year of happiness. It’s been described as “a cross between the Dalai Lama’s The Art of Happiness and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love.” It’s wildly engaging, thoughtful, and even shares some secrets for adulthood making it one of the books you must read in your 20s!

The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky

This could be one of the best books to read in your early 20s as it reminds us that happiness isn’t a destination and mindset matters above all else. No matter how many things we check off the “adulting” list (dream job, car, vacation, marriage, house, kids, etc.), happiness isn’t guaranteed. In fact, those markers can actually limit us and throw us into the depths of anxiety, depression, or the like.

Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner

I lost one of my high school BFFs at 19, then 6 months later, my dad 20 days before my 20th birthday. It was a rough period, but the reality is, our 20s are often the first time most of us are faced with true loss. Whether it’s a friend, family member, or even the less tangible changes happening in our lives. There’s a whole other layer of complexity to this with social media. Soffer and Birkner share an honest and comforting outlook about modern loss.

It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora Purmort

Just try not to laugh and cry while reading this!! Following 27 year old Nora Purmort (the author) whom you may recognize from her #4 ranked TED Talk of 2019, “We don't move on from grief, we move forward with it. She shares her experience meeting the love of her life who was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer that gave them only 3 years together. A true story of resilience, for people whose lives have been turned upside down, and are looking for some laughs, tears, comfort, nostalgia, and hope.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

As someone who has always been obsessed with generational and ancestral trauma, and the impact that has on not only our twenties, but our lives, this is a fascinating read.

It spans 7 generations of a family settling in Colombia. Facing wars, disaster, and of course miracles and love. A poignant reminder on how our lives are shaped well before we are birthed, and what we can do with that information to heal.

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein

A riveting and informative account on climate change and how our impact on Earth will continue.

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

Okay, so stick with me on this one… Today we are so inundated with technology and social media. While it’s great, it’s also a lot of information to sift through and learn to live a balanced life in. Thoreau’s work is obviously a classic, but it’s his decision “to live deliberately” that makes this classic one of the books you should read in your 20s.

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Humans have forever shaped Earth. Kolbert explores the major extinctions and the impacts they've had on our planet.

The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

“On such a flat earth, the most important attribute you can have is creative imagination.”

A nonfiction book by a male that challenges us to look at life in a new way with answers to some of our great questions like how to be a political activist and social entrepreneur, and how to manage our privacy and reputations in this new world we find ourselves with eyeballs on us from across the globe with just a swipe of the thumb.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”

This is one of the fiction books for millennials on this list that will feel so real you'll be convinced it's a true story.

As twenty year olds you’re faced with so much possibility and potential. It’s the first time we are truly allowed to step away from the expectations of teachers, parents, coaches, etc. and pursue our own dreams. Let this novel remind you that your true compass is always the voice within.

The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman

I always say that our twenties are all about unlearning everything we’ve been spoon fed up to this point. And that’s exactly what Rachel Friedman did in her biography where she ditched the road laid out (college, safe job, married, kids, etc.) and bought a one way ticket to Ireland.

This is the perfect read if you're thinking about traveling solo in your 20s, especially as a female.

A great reminder to lean into the inevitable quarter-life crisis and create a life that actually sets your soul on fire.

Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer

Memory can be shaped for better. Foer shares about his yearlong quest to improve his memory under the tutelage of “mental athletes”.

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin

Originally published in 1956, it’s become one of the iconic LGBTQIA classic fiction books to read in your 20s. Taking us through love, controversy, fear, alienation, and so much more.

Hyperbole And A Half by Allie Brosh

A deeper look into some of the most notable essays from Brosh’s blog that will have you laughing out loud at the mayhem of young adulthood.

Native Son by Richard Wright

Another novel that somehow continues to become more relevant as the years pass by… a literary classic about what it is like to be black in America… while it’s technically fiction, let’s be real, it’s the story so many real people face. It’s a plea to readers about the effects of racism, socio-economic injustice, and oppression.

Getting from College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World by Lindsey Pollak

As a recent graduate myself, I often wonder how to get the job without experience and how to get the experience without the job? Pollak shares a step-by-step guide for transitioning from college to a career and why professionalism matters.

Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want by Jenny Blake

Blake gives you the steps and inspires you to take action. We only live one life, so dream big!

The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World's Most Successful People Launched Their Careers by Alex Banayan

So the title of this book is a little misleading, but it's well worth the read. It's not necessarily about how the most successful people launched their careers, but more about how the author, Alex, went from college student, to sort of turning his back on school and what people expected of him to find “the third door” that led to interviewing these people and getting on the Price Is Right.

Wildly relatable for college students who feel like they are crawling out of their skin and not on the right path and inspiring about the possibilities when we right our own rules from his own story to the insights shared by the people he interviewed like Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, Steve Wozniak, Jane Goodall, Larry King, Jessica Alba, Pitbull, Tim Ferriss, Quincy Jones, and so many more! I read it in like 2 days.

21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership by John C. Maxwell

This is a good book to read in your 20s as you’re stepping more into your career. Often we dream of the corner office, or being in charge and Maxwell looks at what makes a great leader, and what makes a not-so great leader in this non-fiction book packed with stories and tips.

Wait, How Do I Write This Email? by Danny Rubin

I interviewed Danny Rubin a few years back for a career summit, and all I can say is he is an expert in the job search process and his book doesn’t disappoint. Full of actionable advice and wisdom, it’s a must read if you feel at a loss moving through the corporate world.

Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

The CEO of Zappos shares his story of creating a company culture that’s unparalleled. An excellent guide book for not only bosses, but also as workers, and human beings looking to create true happiness in the workplace and focus on mission over profits (because profits will always follow if the former are achieved).

I leave this as a good book to read in your 20s, because too often we were taught “that’s just the way it is” about working a job you hate. It’s my dream, we all find careers that value us and inspire us.

7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders by Stephen R. Covey

This has always been a guiding book for me. After getting fired twice, my focus was all about rebuilding my life based off my priorities and what I truly valued, a sentiment echoed in this nonfiction book. Packed with loads of actionable advice to actually implement the wisdom shared. Great for those feeling lost or overwhelmed in the hustle culture too!

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

A classic that stands the test of time from male author Dale Carnegie who shares his insights about achieving anything with the art of influencing people.

Pivot by Jenny Blake

Can you make a career change in your 20s? I’m here to say it’s possible, I’m living proof.

And Jenny Blake lays out wonderful tips and insights for those looking to take their side-hustle and turn it into their career.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

“Is Google making us stupid?” Carr challenges our reliance on technology and the potential damage it's having on our brains and lives.

Design Your Future by Dominick Quartuccio

I’ve always said the secret to living your best life as a millennial is to unlearn everything we’ve been taught and your early 20s is a great time to do that. In this self-help book for early 20-somethings and millennials, Quartuccio shows readers how to break the “self-imposed ceiling” so many of us have put in place.

Discovering the subconscious beliefs I was running in my mind and how that led to self-sabotaging patterns in my life was critical for navigating my quarter life crisis and healing.

The Doctor Is In by Ruth Westheimer

Ahh Dr. Ruth! You may know her from all her time on TV as a sex therapist butttt did you know she’s also lived a truly inspiring life?

From surviving the Holocaust to working as a sniper during Israel’s War of Independence, to tragedy, love, and joy her story is the perfect book to read in your 20s.

I think her life is a great example of no matter how dark times may seem, mindset matters, and our lives are constantly changing. Rely on her strength as you go through the inevitable ups and downs to follow

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

There are not a lot of books that can boast a 5 star review on Amazon with literally thousands of raters, but alas The Hiding Place Is. A non-fiction story about a family who helped Jews and underground workers escape the Nazis, only to be tested in the concentration camps themselves. Corrie Ten Boom was the sole survivor of her family and she offers a wildly inspiring outlook for anyone struggling to find hope, meaning, or purpose in dark times.  

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

This book becomes eerily more relevant with each passing you… a look into the future of a world so dark that people turn to an online utopia… only to be pulled back into the very world they’ve been avoiding. Described as “Willy Wonka meets the Matrix” and I can’t come up with a better description than that.

 

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult

I always love some Jodi Piccoult. She has a way of getting to the heart in her books.

This one follows a school shooting through the events leading up to it and the aftermath. So why am I suggesting this as one of the good books to read in your 20s after so many have probably gone through active shooter drills in their teens?

It’s making the list because we are moving further and further into a divisive cancel culture. Things are becoming very black and white, and we seem to be forgetting that we are all human with a backstory that shaped us. That in order to heal the obvious injustices, like school shootings, we need to focus on the small scale injustices we sweep under the rug and only whisper about behind closed doors. It’s my hope that this book offers some insight and perspective about healing humanity on a deeper scale.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Ohhh I love this one! It just goes to show you that no matter how successful, eloquent, and visionary someone is, they too, struggle to find their purpose at points. Despite our differences, I can relate to her story so much as she had to move past societal expectations and finally admit to herself that the career path she thought was her endgame, was so not what she wanted.

I know you’ll see yourself in this story as well as our 20s are all about the ever changing direction.

Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

One of my favorite books on this list and the one I always recommend when asked what book should every man read. I’ve read handfuls of times. Written by Viktor Frankl, a psychologist recounting portions of his experiencing surviving the concentration camps during the Holocaust, and then the second half of his book is about his revolutionary approach to psychotherapy: Logotherapy. Which he derived from his experience. A powerful practice in finding meaning and hope even in the darkest times.



 List of the Best Books Everyone Should Read in Their 20s:

  1. The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Dr. Meg Jay
  2. 101 Secrets For Your Twenties by Paul Agone
  3. 101 Questions To Ask In Your 20s (and probably your 30s too)
  4. Linchpin by Seth Godin
  5. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  6. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau
  7. Year of Yes: How To Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person by Shonda Rhimes
  8. Mindset by Carol Dweck
  9. My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock
  10. The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations by Toni Morrison
  11. Algorithms to Live By:The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian
  12. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  13. No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton
  14. Financially Fearless by Alexa von Tobel
  15. One Hour Investor by Vishal Reddy
  16. The Better World Handbook: Small Changes That Make A Big Difference by Ellis Jones
  17. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
  18. Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
  19. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
  20. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
  21. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  22. Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest
  23. Transitions by William Bridges
  24. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  25. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  26. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
  27. The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan
  28. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  29. The Myths of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky
  30. Modern Loss by Rebecca Soffer and Gabrielle Birkner
  31. It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) by Nora Purmort
  32. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
  33. This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate by Naomi Klein
  34. Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  35. The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
  36. The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman
  37. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  38. The Good Girl’s Guide to Getting Lost by Rachel Friedman
  39. Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything by Joshua Foer
  40. Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
  41. Hyperbole And A Half by Allie Brosh
  42. Native Son by Richard Wright
  43. Getting from College to Career: Your Essential Guide to Succeeding in the Real World by Lindsey Pollak
  44. Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want by Jenny Blake
  45. The Third Door: The Wild Quest to Uncover How the World's Most Successful People Launched Their Careers by Alex Banayan
  46. 21 Irrefutable Laws Of Leadership by John C. Maxwell
  47. Wait, How Do I Write This Email? by Danny Rubin
  48. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
  49. 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders by Stephen R. Covey
  50. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
  51. Pivot by Jenny Blake
  52. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr
  53. Design Your Future by Dominick Quartuccio
  54. The Doctor Is In by Ruth Westheimer
  55. The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom
  56. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  57. Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Piccoult
  58. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  59. Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

 

Originally published 03/25/17; Updated 7/10/2020

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