The 26 Most Inspiring Books for Graduates
It can be a serious struggle to pick out the right college graduation gifts or high school graduation gifts for your new grad. While practical 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 you pick, it'll help them as they make the transition into the real world.
1 The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times, by Jane Goodall
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.
2 The Little Things in Life: Simple Reflections from the Hundred-Acre Wood, by Catherine Hopka
This fresh new book featuring the beloved Winnie the Pooh character could become the new Oh the Places You Go!—the perfect accompaniment for a new graduate's adventures in the real world.
3 GMorning, GNight! Little Pep Talks for Me and You, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
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.
4 The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin
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.
5 Assume the Worst, by Carl Hiaasen, Roz Chast (Illustrator)
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.
6 Bored and Brilliant, by Manoush Zomorodi
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.
7 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.
8 The Financial Diet, by Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage
When Fagan was in her 20s, she found herself in financial ruin of her own making. Sick of being broke, she took charge of her money, set a budget, became financially literate, and stopped living paycheck to paycheck. In The Financial Diet, she gives readers the tools they need to get informed, get organized, and get their finances under control—once and for all. This book is the perfect gift to help recent grads make smart money decisions early on.
9 Build Your Dream Network, by J. Kelly Hoey
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.
10 Advice From My 80-Year-Old Self, by Susan O'Malley
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.
11 The ABCs of Adulthood, by Deborah Copaken and Randy Polumbo
It's time to relearn your ABCs. Journalist and photographer Deborah Copaken delivers 26 genuine and funny pieces of advice set alongside beautiful street art. These little doses of wisdom remind readers to move past Anger, avoid sympathy card faux pas at Funerals, and to make sure to get plenty of Zzzs. Practical and pretty to look at—it's a win-win.
12 The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg
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...
13 How to Cook Everything: The Basics, by Mark Bittman
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.
14 Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, by Lisa Congdon
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.
15 Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up In 468 Easy(ish) Steps, by Kelly Williams Brown
Hilarious and relatable, the author of adultingblog.com shares her tips for life after college. Skip through the chapters as needed (e.g., turn to "Domesticity" for advice on finding and cleaning an apartment or "Love" to learn how to argue effectively with your partner), but be ready to jot down some very helpful advice.
16 I Just Graduated... Now What?, by Katherine Schwarzenegger
Don't let the bombardment of "What's Next?" get to you. Schwarzenegger interviewed notable names (Eva Longoria, John Legend, and Serena Williams to name a few) to get their takes on navigating the bumpy roads of post-collegiate life. Their honest advice is a helpful reminder that you aren't alone.
17 What Do I Do If…? By Eric Grzymkowski
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.
18 The Road to Character, by David Brooks
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."
19 Way More Than Luck
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.
20 Do Over, by Jon Acuff
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.
21 Getting There, by Gillian Zoe Segal
Thirty industry influencers discuss essential career advice for young people about to enter the workforce. Most importantly, they focus on obstacles they faced at work, because those often were essential to their success. Mentors include businessman and politician Michael Bloomberg, trainer Jillian Michaels, and artist Jeff Koons.
22 Headstrong, by Rachel Swaby
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.
23 Make Trouble, by John Waters
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.
24 Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College, by Caroline Kitchener
We're told our whole lives: work hard, get into a good college, and you'll get a great job. But for many people, the process is far from that simple. In Postgrad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College, Caroline Kitchener writes about her experiences and those of four of her fellow Princeton grads in their first year out of school. Through their stories, Kitchener shows that even graduating from an Ivy League school doesn't give you a fast pass through life. This honest account is a must-read for grads that feel alone as they struggle with newfound independence.
25 The Schmuck in My Office: How to Deal Effectively With Difficult People at Work, by Jody Foster MD
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.
26 Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life…and Maybe the World, by Admiral William H. McRaven
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.