Oprah Winfrey Book Recommendations
Self-made billionaire Oprah Winfrey and books simply go hand in hand, whether we’re discussing her favorite business classics, spiritually enlightening texts, or fictional novels.
“Books were my path to personal freedom,” she shares. “I learned to read at age 3 and soon discovered there was a whole world to conquer that went beyond our farm in Mississippi.”
Reading clearly played a profound role in shaping Oprah Winfrey as a person, and furthermore, this beloved educational activity of hers must have had something to do with the spirited – and rewarding for that matter – approach she takes to life.
Therefore, in order to get to the bottom of what inspired a most capable individual to the heights of financial prosperity, we’ve compiled this list of 20 inspirational books Oprah Winfrey has read herself and would certainly have recommended to others as well.
This guide was created with the help of research derived from interviews, articles, and Oprah.com.
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
With a compassionate realism and narrative sweep that recalls the work of Charles Dickens, this magnificent novel captures all the cruelty and corruption, dignity and heroism, of India. The time is 1975. The place is an unnamed city by the sea. The government has just declared a State of Emergency, in whose upheavals four strangers – a spirited widow, a young student uprooted from his idyllic hill station, and two tailors who have fled the caste violence of their native village – will be thrust together, forced to share one cramped apartment and an uncertain future.
As the characters move from distrust to friendship and from friendship to love, A Fine Balance creates an enduring panorama of the human spirit in an inhuman state.
If at Birth You Don’t Succeed by Zach Anner
Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book, If at Birth You Don’t Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who’s hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn’t “Your Body is a Wonderland.”)
Zach lives by the mantra: when life gives you wheelchair, make lemonade. Whether recounting a valiant childhood attempt to woo Cindy Crawford, encounters with zealous faith healers, or the time he crapped his pants mere feet from Dr. Phil, Zach shares his fumbles with unflinching honesty and characteristic charm. By his thirtieth birthday, Zach had grown into an adult with a career in entertainment, millions of fans, a loving family, and friends who would literally carry him up mountains.
Source: One of the few books Oprah Winfrey has written an editorial review on, she remarked, “Zach makes you want to be a better person, with his humor and his heart and everything he’s had to deal with from the time he was born. I’ve never met anyone like him, and I’ve met a lot of people.”
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. Life is hell for all the slaves, but especially bad for Cora; an outcast even among her fellow Africans, she is coming into womanhood – where even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they decide to take a terrifying risk and escape. Matters do not go as planned – Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her. Though they manage to find a station and head north, they are being hunted.
In Whitehead’s ingenious conception, the Underground Railroad is no mere metaphor – engineers and conductors operate a secret network of tracks and tunnels beneath the Southern soil. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But the city’s placid surface masks an insidious scheme designed for its black denizens. And even worse: Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom.
Source: “Every now and then a book comes along that reaches the marrow of your bones, settles in, and stays forever. This is one. It’s a tour de force, and I don’t say that lightly,” Winfrey divulges.
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, the book takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.
Source: “I remember starting it and just devouring it, not being able to get enough of it, because I fell in love with Scout,” Winfrey says.
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
Though more than seventy years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. In The Good Earth Pearl S. Buck paints an indelible portrait of China in the 1920s, when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings.
This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is a must-read for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.
Source: “Reading Pearl Buck’s writing feels like reading poetry to me. I just love the quiet rhythm of the words,” Winfrey expounds upon. “They evoke the simple beauty of the characters and the harsh mystery of China’s ancient culture.”
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty – and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.
However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ facades. When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job – even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.
Source: “It’s got everything that’s grabbing the headlines in America right now,” Winfrey explains. “It’s about race and class, the economy, culture, immigration and the danger of the us-versus-them mentality. And underneath it all, pumps the heart and soul of family love, the pursuit of happiness, and what home really means.”
Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton
Cry, the Beloved Country, was an immediate worldwide bestseller when it was published in 1948. Alan Paton’s impassioned novel about a black man’s country under white man’s law is a work of searing beauty.
This gem among books Oprah Winfrey recommends reading is the deeply moving story of the Zulu pastor Stephen Kumalo and his son, Absalom, set against the background of a land and a people riven by racial injustice. Remarkable for its lyricism, unforgettable for character and incident, Cry, the Beloved Country is a classic work of love and hope, courage and endurance, born of the dignity of man.
Source: “Captures the very essence of South Africa in transition from a rural, tribal nation of spiritual heritage to a modern country of big cities, violence and upheaval,” Oprah says. “The pain of this transition is burned throughout part one of this novel.”
Sula by Toni Morrison
Nel and Sula’s devotion is fierce enough to withstand bullies and the burden of a dreadful secret. It endures even after Nel has grown up to be a pillar of the black community and Sula has become a pariah. But their friendship ends in an unforgivable betrayal – or does it end? Terrifying, comic, ribald and tragic, Sula is a work that overflows with life.
Source: “Her stories are fiction, but nowhere will you find greater truths about life,” Winfrey believes. “She laid the foundation of my love for reading, and for all those who asked the question, ‘Toni Morrison again?’ with my fourth selection of her work, I say with certainty there would have been no Oprah’s Book Club if this woman had chosen not to share her love of words with the world.”
Deacon King Kong by James McBride
In September 1969, a fumbling, cranky old church deacon known as Sportcoat shuffles into the courtyard of the Cause Houses housing project in south Brooklyn, pulls a .38 from his pocket, and, in front of everybody, shoots the project’s drug dealer at point-blank range.
As the story deepens, it becomes clear that the lives of the characters – caught in the tumultuous swirl of 1960s New York – overlap in unexpected ways. When the truth does emerge, McBride shows us that not all secrets are meant to be hidden, that the best way to grow is to face change without fear, and that the seeds of love lie in hope and compassion.
Source: Among those books Oprah Winfrey feels “reminds us that when we come together as a community in compassion and empathy, our love triumphs.”
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten-year-old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement, and the uneasy ways of love.
Source: “It is impossible to read this book and not come away thinking differently about our status as women and about all the unsung heroines who play a role in getting us to where we are,” Winfrey says.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendiá family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad and alive with unforgettable men and women – brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul – this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction.
Source: Winfrey calls this read “as steamy, dense and sensual as the jungle that surrounds the surreal town of Macondo.”
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
Born mute, speaking only in sign, Edgar Sawtelle leads an idyllic life with his parents on their farm in remote northern Wisconsin. For generations, the Sawtelles have raised and trained a fictional breed of dog whose remarkable gift for companionship is epitomized by Almondine, Edgar’s lifelong friend and ally. Edgar seems poised to carry on his family’s traditions, but when catastrophe strikes, he finds his once-peaceful home engulfed in turmoil.
Forced to flee into the vast wilderness lying beyond the Sawtelle farm, Edgar comes of age in the wild, fighting for his survival and that of the three yearling dogs who accompany him, until the day he is forced to choose between leaving forever or returning home to confront the mysteries he has left unsolved.
Source: “I think that this is right up there with the greatest American novels ever written,” Winfrey proclaims. “Up there with Steinbeck and even Harper Lee.”
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
Sandberg is chief operating officer of Facebook and coauthor of Option B with Adam Grant. In 2010, she gave an electrifying TED talk in which she described how women unintentionally hold themselves back in their careers. Her talk, which has been viewed more than six million times, encouraged women to “sit at the table,” seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.
Lean In continues that conversation, combining personal anecdotes, hard data, and compelling research to change the conversation from what women can’t do to what they can. Sandberg provides practical advice on negotiation techniques, mentorship, and building a satisfying career.
She describes specific steps women can take to combine professional achievement with personal fulfillment, and demonstrates how men can benefit by supporting women both in the workplace and at home.
Source: One of the few books Oprah Winfrey has written an editorial review on, she described this as “honest and brave…the new manifesto for women in the workplace.”
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State – and she would do it alone.
Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, Wild powerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.
Source: “No matter where you are in your climb in life, no matter what you’re doing, you have to keep getting yourself up every day. No matter the obstacle in front of you, you just have to keep getting up and doing what you have to do,” Winfrey drives home. “Sometimes that means dealing with demons – and let me tell you, the logistics of this hike, the weather, the animals, the fact that for most of the journey Cheryl’s boots were the wrong size (she lost six toenails from the rubbing), would have scared me off ten different times. But more often it means dealing with the demons inside us.”
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Described by William Faulkner as the best novel ever written and by Fyodor Dostoevsky as “flawless,” Anna Karenina tells of 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 thereby exposes herself to the hypocrisies of society.
Set against a vast and richly textured canvas of nineteenth-century Russia, the novel’s seven major characters create a dynamic imbalance, playing out the contrasts of city and country life and all the variations on love and family happiness.
Source: “From Stiva’s debts and infidelity to Levin’s idealized dream of a wife and family – from Nikolai’s drunken Communist rants to Kitty’s naive and passionate heart – Tolstoy weaves an extravagant web,” Winfrey notes.
A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
With his bestselling spiritual guide The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle inspired millions of readers to discover the freedom and joy of a life lived “in the now.” In A New Earth, Tolle expands on these powerful ideas to show how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world.
Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence.
Source: “This is one of the most important subjects and presented by one of the most important books of our time,” Winfrey acknowledges. “I don’t think there’s anything more important than awakening and also knowing what your purpose is.”
Night by Elie Wiesel
Night is Elie Wiesel’s masterpiece, a candid, horrific, and deeply poignant autobiographical account of his survival as a teenager in the Nazi death camps. It offers much more than a litany of the daily terrors, everyday perversions, and rampant sadism at Auschwitz and Buchenwald; it also eloquently addresses many of the philosophical as well as personal questions implicit in any serious consideration of what the Holocaust was, what it meant, and what its legacy is and will be.
Source: Among the books Oprah Winfrey considers “required reading for all of humanity.”
Becoming by Michelle Obama
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – 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.
With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.
Source: Among the books Oprah Winfrey wants the whole world to read.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food – and each other.
The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, “each the other’s world entire,” are sustained by love.
Source: Among the books Oprah Winfrey considers unlike any she has chosen before.
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer
Whether this is your first exploration of inner space, or you’ve devoted your life to the inward journey, this book will transform your relationship with yourself and the world around you. You’ll discover what you can do to put an end to the habitual thoughts and emotions that limit your consciousness.
By tapping into traditions of meditation and mindfulness, author and spiritual teacher Michael A. Singer shows how the development of consciousness can enable us all to dwell in the present moment and let go of painful thoughts and memories that keep us from achieving happiness and self-realization.
Source: Recently added to the list of books Oprah Winfrey considers her favorites.
If you enjoyed this guide to books Oprah Winfrey recommends reading, be sure to check out our list of The 10 Most Inspirational Books by Tony Robbins!