The 26 Most Inspiring Books for Graduates

Each one of these graduation books will inspire, motivate, and problem-solve for grads entering the real world or heading off to college.

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Close-Up Of Mortarboard And Open Book On Table Against pink Background
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It can be a serious struggle to pick out the right college graduation gifts or high school graduation gifts for your new grad. While gifts for the dorm or first apartment—or that oh-so-practical money gift—are great, the best gift they can receive might actually be some non-required reading. Enter: the graduation book.

It can be inspirational, practical—or just plain funny. But no matter what book you pick, it'll help them as they make the transition into the real world.

How to Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question, by Michael Schur

Cover of the book How to Be Perfect
Bookshop.org

For the graduate who's always looking to do the right thing, this guide to living an ethical life—written by the comedic mind behind The Good Place, The Office, and Parks and Recreation—may be just the ticket. It answers modern-day dilemmas ranging from the trivial (Can I still enjoy great art if it was created by terrible people?) to the profound (Why bother being good at all if there are no consequences to being bad?).

How to Adult: Personal Finance in the Real World, by Jake Cousineau

How to Adult Personal Finance Book
Amazon.com

Help your favorite new adult make sense of dollars and cents with this entertaining personal finance primer, which offers smart advice in a relatable way for teens and young adults.

I Wish You More, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Cover of the book I Wish You More, with an illustration of a small child on the cover
Bookshop.org

If you're over Oh, the Places You'll Go! but still want that inspirational children's book vibe, this simple book shares heartfelt wishes with your graduation gift recipient—whether they're moving on from kindergarten or medical school.

Carpe Every Diem: The Best Graduation Advice from More Than 100 Commencement Speeches : A Graduation Book, by Robie Rogge

Cover of the book Carpe Every Diem: The Best Graduation Advice from More Than 100 Commencement Speeches : A Graduation Book
Amazon.com

Why settle for a single inspirational graduation speech? This compilation showcases the most brilliant excerpts from more than 100 graduation speeches for your grad. (Tip: If you're gifting this to a valedictorian, consider sharing your graduation gift early so they can get a little speech inspiration of their own.)

Your Turn: How to Be an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Cover of the book Your Turn: How to Be an Adult
Amazon.com

Author Julie Lythcott-Haims' followup to her best seller, How to Raise an Adult gives sage advice to grads on how to become an adult—and how some of the markers that used to signify adulthood—such as marriage, buying a house, having kids—don't necessarily apply as this generation takes their own path toward their future.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall

The Book of Hope by Jane Goodall
Amazon.com

The perfect gift for the grad who's interested in climate change—or just the grad who has struggled with trying times over the past few years—environmentalist Jane Goodall shares her reasons for optimism, even in the face of challenges.

The Little Things in Life: Simple Reflections from the Hundred-Acre Wood, by Catherine Hopka

Winnie the Pooh The Little Things in Life
Amazon.com

This fresh new book featuring the beloved Winnie the Pooh character could be the perfect accompaniment for a new graduate's adventures in the real world.

GMorning, GNight! Little Pep Talks for Me and You, by Lin-Manuel Miranda

GMorning, GNight by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Amazon.com

Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda was also famous for his inspirational tweets to start and end each day—and his short words of wisdom are compiled here (with charming illustrations by Jonny Sun) to help graduates whenever they're feeling down.

The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project
Amazon.com

Happiness guru (and podcaster) Gretchen Rubin experimented with all sorts of paths and possibilities on the road toward happiness—and she shares what worked, what didn't in her year of attempting to find more happiness. Perhaps her insights can help a new grad set themselves up for a happier life, right from the get-go.

Assume the Worst, by Carl Hiaasen, Roz Chast (Illustrator)

Assume the Worst, by Carl Hiaasen, Roz Chast (Illustrator)
Penguin Random House

While most graduation speeches are full of hope and inspirational mantras, Hiaasen has different approach, of course. In this satirical graduation speech, Hiaasen lays out his wisdom for those entering the real world, in short: Always assume the worst. He includes such words of "wisdom" as, "If you don't learn how to judge others—and judge fast—you'll get metaphorically trampled from now until the day you die," and, "Nobody can be absolutely anything they want to be." Pessimists and optimists alike will laugh at Hiaasen's tough-love and hilarious insights.

Bored and Brilliant, by Manoush Zomorodi

Bored and Brilliant, by Manoush Zomorodi
St. Martin's Press

The digital world has transformed the way we spend our free time. The hours spent swiping away at our smartphones have depleted the hours we used to spend brainstorming and daydreaming. In this fascinating book, Zomorodi, host of WNYC's popular podcast and radio show Note to Self, makes the case for being bored. She argues that daydreaming plays an essential role in creative thinking and outlines ways to structure time to space out in your own life.

In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It, by Lauren Graham

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It, by Lauren Graham
Graham spent years giving us advice as Lorelei, everyone’s favorite fast-talking television mom on Gilmore Girls. In this commencement speech, first given in 2017 at her hometown high school, Graham takes a different approach from most graduation speakers, who offer practical career advice or tell graduates they can do anything they set their minds to. Instead, she says, it doesn’t matter what you do in the world or what you become. What matters most is finding joy.To buy: $9, amazon.com. . Penguin Random House

Graham spent years giving us advice as Lorelei, everyone's favorite fast-talking television mom on Gilmore Girls. In this commencement speech, first given in 2017 at her hometown high school, Graham takes a different approach from most graduation speakers, who offer practical career advice or tell graduates they can do anything they set their minds to. Instead, she says, it doesn't matter what you do in the world or what you become. What matters most is finding joy.

Build Your Dream Network, by J. Kelly Hoey

Build Your Dream Network, by J. Kelly Hoey
Penguin Random House

Networking, students are often told, is a crucial aspect of job-hunting—but what does it really entail? It's easy to get caught up sending dozens of LinkedIn connections or exchanging business cards, but are these interactions really helping you to achieve your goals? In this guide, Hoey teaches readers how to properly leverage professional relationships to help your career and how to build connections that last.

Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self, by Susan O'Malley

Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self, by Susan O’Malley
amazon.com

What advice would your future 80-year-old self give to you today? That's the question artist Susan O'Malley, who tragically died at age 38 before this charming book's publication, asked more than 100 people in the San Francisco Bay Area. From an 8-year-old boy's admonition to "listen to your mom, be friendly to people, don't pull people's hair" to an 85-year-old woman's counsel to "stay in touch with your friends," everyone, regardless of age, can take something away from this uplifting work.

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg

The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
amazon.com

Using science and compelling anecdotes, New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg offers a fascinating look at the habits we make and how we can change them to be happier, healthier, and more successful. With the days of pulling all-nighters and eating pizza at 2 a.m. (hopefully) behind your new grad, there's no time like the present to get into a good routine...

How to Cook Everything: The Basics, by Mark Bittman

How to Cook Everything: The Basics, by Mark Bittman
amazon.com

A spinoff of the New York Times food writer's classic cookbook, this tutorial breaks down all the essentials of cooking: how to chop veggies, roast meat, cook pasta, and make simple meals with natural, fresh ingredients. Bittman even outlines the necessary equipment you'll need to furnish your kitchen. A must for any new cook.

Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, by Lisa Congdon

Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, by Lisa Congdon
amazon.com

Taking its title from a famous Abraham Lincoln quote, this beautifully hand-lettered book shares 100 inspirational quotations from great minds such as Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, and Walt Whitman. Revisit this colorful read whenever you need a pick-me-up—or a push—to get out there and make the most of your day.

What Do I Do If…? By Eric Grzymkowski

what do i do if
Amazon

From an attack by killer bees to a clogged toilet to a forgotten anniversary, this tiny book offers solutions for any disaster your grad might encounter when finally out on his or her own. Each sticky situation is marked by how likely it is to happen, how easy it is to prevent, and whether or not you need to respond quickly.

The Road to Character, by David Brooks

the road to character
Amazon

New York Times columnist David Brooks uses this book to distinguish "resume virtues"—skills that might look good to an employer—from "eulogy virtues"—morals and values that help us grow and form relationships. He encourages everyone to focus on the latter, and uses anecdotes, interviews, and psychology to give readers the tools to develop a more "moral character."

Way More Than Luck

way more than luck
Amazon

This book has 14 transcribed commencement speeches that encourage recent grads to be creative, be brave, and make their marks on the world. Speakers include Nora Ephron, Ira Glass, Tom Wolfe, and David Foster Wallace, and the book also illustrates the most inspirational quotes from each address.

Do Over, by Jon Acuff

do over by jon acuff
Amazon

First-time employees need the right tools and resources to make the most of their desk jobs. Do Over goes over four inevitable transitions: a career ceiling (when you feel stuck), a career bump (maybe you lose your job), a career jump (a possible promotion), and a career opportunity (usually unexpected and scary). This practical advice will help grads take advantage of all four transitions, and succeed in any field.

Headstrong, by Rachel Swaby

headstrong
Amazon

Women's contributions to science and research are often overlooked, so Swaby profiles the achievements of 52 influential and innovative women who have proven that the sciences aren't just for men. If you know a young woman looking to break into this male-heavy field, they'll appreciate this book of innovators.

Make Trouble, by John Waters

Make Trouble, by John Waters
amazon.com

For the creative grad in your life, give them this illustrated book from John Waters. Waters' commencement speech at the Rhode Island School of Design, which was so inspiring it went viral online, is reimagined with pictures from Eric Hansen in this new book. While we are taught in school to pay attention and follow directions, Waters argues that to have a really creative life, one must reject what they've been told and forge their own paths. He encourages grads to make trouble in their lives: to imagine and execute crazy new ideas, to listen and try to work with their enemies, and to never forget to dream big.

The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work, by Jody Foster MD

The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively with Difficult People at Work, by Jody Foster MD
amazon.com

Many college students resent group projects, especially when their grades are riding on each member stepping up to do their part. What recent grads might not realize is that the real world is like one big group project—and you won't always love your team members. In The Schmuck in My Office, Dr. Jody Foster gives practical tips for dealing with all kinds of office characters, from perfectionists, to narcissists, to coworkers that are impossible to communicate with. Foster also gives a little tough love to the reader—pointing out that sometimes they are the schmuck. With humor and relatable anecdotes, Foster focuses in on one of the most important parts of the working world: how well we collaborate with our peers.

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World, by Admiral William H. McRaven

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World, by Admiral William H. McRaven
amazon.com

When Admiral William H. McRaven gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin, he never anticipated it would be viewed online more than 10 million times, and then be expanded upon and turned into this book. For grads that are eager to make a difference in the world, but don't know where to start, give them Admiral McRaven's advice. He builds on ten simple principles, drawn from his time in Navy Seal training (but applicable to civilian life!), that will give them practical advice on how little changes (as simple as making your bed in the morning!) can have a profound impact on their day.

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