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11 Life-Changing Nonfiction Books For College Students To Read Before Graduation

While some professors assign books you may not love, you can get lost in these life-changing books you must read before you graduate.

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A man reading a life-changing book in a library.

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To be a college student means to be ready for higher education. Higher learning requirements, such as greater reading and writing skills, await you. How can we improve them? Here’s a tip for you today— read nonfiction books for college students.

I know romance novels or science fiction are more fascinating, but nonfiction books can help you, a college student, effectively get background information.

The understanding and acquisition of new knowledge depend on existing knowledge, which is background knowledge.

The stronger the background knowledge, the more they can understand the new content by analogy.  And reading nonfiction books is one of the effective ways for college students to accumulate background knowledge.

The following nonfiction books for college students are life-changing because each shows real-life humanistic experiences and takes you into a deep self-reflection that would lead to a change of your perspective about life dilemmas and afflictions.

1. Option B – Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy 

by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Malala Yousafzai said about Option B, “none of us can escape sadness, loss, or life’s disappointments, so the best option is to find out Option B.”  The book is full of painful experiences, hurting emotions, but at the same time, it’s full of hope and optimism.

Sandberg and Grant write the touching stories of several people whose lives have changed unexpectedly by tragedy. This life-changing book attempts to answer the question: how do we move forward after the unimaginable happens?

How do we cope with loss? And ultimately, how do we build resilience?

The book teaches us that the seeds of resilience are planted in the “ways we process negative events.” If we know how to process traumatic events, we build resilience.

The authors of this book have the answer to cope with loss by the three P’s of recovery. Personalization is the belief that the unfortunate events that happen to us are our fault.

Pervasiveness is the belief that these events will affect our entire lives and in all areas of our lives. Lastly, permanence is the belief that the sadness and desperation of this event will last forever.

If we become incredulous about the three P’s, we build resilience.

This book doesn’t only help you understand its characters and build sympathy towards them, but it aims to help you understand the hardships of life and how to cope with them. 

Maybe this nonfiction book can give you the strength to cheer up when you are always facing all kinds of difficulties as a college freshman. BUY IT HERE

Related: 10 Fun Ideas for Dating in College

2. Sapiens – A Brief History of Humankind

by Yuval Noah Harari

More than a history book, this book is a story. The story of our species. Using a chronological structure, Harari narrates the story of human existence that began about 300,000 years ago, when the homo sapiens began conquering the world.

This book explains how everything, from language to science, began. It gives you a new uncanny perspective about our species and how we became who we are now. The narrative answers the question: why and how did humans conquer the world?

It explains the cognitive, agriculture, and scientific revolutions and how these have changed the course of history.

Also, Harari gives you a sense of how much humanity has improved, from child mortality rates decreasing, to managing agriculture so our mass population can be fed.

It also explains the beginning of the use of currency and the transition of our needs becoming more and more materialistic.

As a result, we keep striving for better things. At the end of the book, Harari speaks about a feasible future in which our bodies will change grammatically through science and the use of anti-aging remedies with the purpose to increase our lifespan.

A Brief History of Man is a study of the history of the world, encompassing physics, anthropology, ecology and psychology. Therefore, this nonfiction book can greatly enrich the knowledge of college students. BUY IT HERE

3. When Breath Becomes Air

by Paul Kalanithi

This book is simply impossible to forget and a real tear-jerker. Paul Kalanithi spent his entire life dedicated to his education, earning two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees in Literature and Philosophy, and graduated from Yale University as a physician.

It was when he was doing his post-graduate fellowship in Neuroscience that he was diagnosed with lung cancer. Kalanithi narrates about his life as a student, a husband, a doctor, and eventually, as a patient.

There is a notable transition between his interest in medicine to his interest in humanism. After reading about his experiences in this nonfiction book, might you think that your own struggles in college were not that hard.

Through its pages, we can see that Kalanithi still lives to influence others with his life-changing story about fragile and impetuous mortality.

“Most lives are lived with passivity toward death – it’s something that happens to you and those around you.” Even though Kalanithi’s life was being truncated by illness, he makes the ultimate decision to have a child with his wife. He wishes for longevity. He says in the book, “Words have longevity I do not.”

While reading this book, you can vividly see that while he is dying, he becomes wiser. But, the most important lesson from this book is that, even if it’s true that we will all succumb to death, the meaning in our lives never dies.


4. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

by Barack Obama

Besides addressing issues of race, this story is about finding one’s identity, accepting oneself, but most of all finding one’s destiny. Obama shows his struggle with biracial identity, but his decision to discover his father’s past leads him to find his true identity and destiny.

Obama narrates that, despite barely seeing his father, his curiosity to find more about Kenya and his father was his ultimate decision in changing the course of his life.

After traveling to Kenya and meeting his father’s family was when Obama found himself and decided to move on with his own life.

Since this nonfiction book is a story about his younger years in college, he doesn’t address his political inclinations but conveys the importance of community work and unity, which is significant for college students as well.

The book takes you on an unmissable journey through his beginnings in Hawaii and Indonesia, to Chicago, New York, and Kenya with the only motivation to find one’s identity and life purpose. BUY IT HERE

Related: 35 Genius 21st Birthday Ideas That Will Make Your Day Unforgettable

5. Educated 

by Tara Westover 

While other students at Brigham Young University stepped into their new life as college students, for Tara Westover, it was her first time in a classroom setting. The nonfiction book tells the story of Tara Westover‘s journey to find her life’s purpose through education.

She was 17 years old, had studied on her own for the ACT, and passed. During her college classes, she realized she didn’t know what the Holocaust was or who Martin Luther King was.

Ridiculed by her classmates, she struggled with having a social life. Coming from a Mormon family living in Idaho, she was only allowed to read the book of Mormon and the Bible.

She didn’t have a birth certificate, and she has never been to a doctor’s office for check-ups.

Her father suffered from extreme paranoia about the government and the education system. Also, he didn’t want his children to be “brainwashed” by the education system.

Her father refused to go to a hospital or hospitalize his children even though they were badly injured. She realized her only way to escape her bipolar father and physically abusive brother was through education.

This life-changing book is a lesson of survival, the power of transformation, and the determination to shape your fate. Westover is not just another young woman leaving home to go to college; she escaped home to seek unknown knowledge and her greatest talent was her desire to learn.  BUY IT HERE


by Michelle Obama

When it comes to life, Michelle Obama once said, “Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.” 

Perhaps this quote explains in some way how she is becoming Michelle Obama.  

In the life-changing book, Obama offers a candid and sobering look back at her own life– born in a working-class family  of Chicago, she went to attend an Ivy League university where the percent of the colored population was only eight. Finally, she graduated with a promising job.

Later, as First Lady, she became a great helper of her husband and successfully balanced her family and career, becoming one of the most respected women in the world of our time. After reading the book, you will be impressed by Obama’s love of learning, unyielding personality and strong sense of purpose. 

Michelle Obama’s life can be described as a life of becoming a better version of herself. Young college students, especially girls, may learn wisdom and persistence in life from this nonfiction book.


Related: 30 Fun Hobbies For Women In Their 20s

7. Amusing Ourselves to Death

by Neil Postman

In the era of entertainment, you must be surrounded by Douyin, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. And going to college means you have more freedom to use these apps.

I understand that you enjoy these apps. But what does entertainment itself mean? Then you must read this non-fiction book —- Amusing Ourselves to Death.

With this book, you will learn that the new media prefer completely different content from traditional media. It seems that the new media tends to end up dominating the mainstream culture.

People prefer short content, or more simply, short videos. Under such circumstances, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for deeper thinking. And recognizing it is important for you college students.

This nonfiction book makes a less obvious point — people today seem to know everything, but without the ability to think deeply, people may know nothing. If you want to really gain knowledge, you’d better stay deep in a field.


8.The Drowned and the Saved

by Primo Levi 

This book is the final work of Primo Levi, Italy’s most intellectual and talented writer. The author looks back graciously, without elaborating on specific experiences or making repeated accusations.

He merely analyzes human nature in a restrained manner, with a subtle pride in being an “intellectual.”

Levi took his life to bear witness to the atrocities of the Nazis, and his succinct work is a wonderful celebration of life, proving that the human spirit cannot be overcome.

The World War may have been over for many years, but its spiritual impact may still be there. After reading this book, perhaps you will understand why you ought to be against the war.

This nonfiction book may be cruel for some college students, but it’s certainly worth reading. So that you can understand what war really means.


9. The Order of Time

by Carlo Rovelli

There is a lot of speculation about the time. What does “the passage of time” mean? Do we exist within time, or does time exist within us? With his poetic words, Carlo Rovell allows people to join him in contemplating this age-old puzzle — the nature of time. 

People subconsciously think that time is uniform throughout the universe, that it flows steadily from the past to the future, and that it can be measured by clocks and watches. But Rovelli shows that people’s perception of the passage of time depends on their perspective.

Because this book is so full of scientific information and so beautifully written, you often lose track of time as you read it!

One thing that needs to mention is that the book is not limited to a scientific perspective, but has a deeply humanistic feel.

It is a great scientific nonfiction book for those college students who are beginning to wonder about the universe, that is, the origin of time and space.


10. The Hard Thing About Hard Things

by Ben Horowitz

While most entrepreneurship books talk about doing the right thing and not screwing things up, Ben Horowitz also tells you what to do when things are already screwed up.

Ben Horowitz is a Silicon Valley investor, known as one of the “50 best angel investors in Silicon Valley,” who invested in Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, and Skype in their early years.

This is a sincere book, and almost all of the advice in it comes from the author’s lessons in failure. When reading those failures, you will realize that starting a business is really a tough thing to do.

So if you already know something about entrepreneurship and want some useful advice, this book couldn’t be a better fit.

This is a great nonfiction book for students who want to start their own business after college. In good times and bad times, you can find advice that’s right for you.


11. The Vital Question

by Nick Lane

Do you think the earth is amazing? The earth is the only planet in the whole universe where life exists. Or to put it this way, the birth of life itself is magical. But how did life evolve from a simple bacterium to something as complex as a human?

If you’re wondering, read this book: The Vital Question.

This is an ambitious yet insightful work of popular science. Most endearingly, Lane’s book presents a complete picture of the specific paths of a biologist’s thinking, research, and experimentation, which is extremely rare.

Because of the complex picture that it presents, the book requires at least a high school student’s knowledge of physics, chemistry, and biology.

This is a great nonfiction book. Although there is a lot of jargon, there are also many poetic descriptions that will certainly attract college students. The whole book can greatly satisfy the curiosity of teenagers and let them feel the magic of this world.


Final Thoughts on Nonfiction Books For College Students

In general, nonfiction books can not only help college students improve their reading and writing skills, but also help new employees improve their work skills.

You should know that most work reports are logical, complex, and require strong information processing skills to understand.

Starting reading nonfiction in college can help you develop your analytical skills at an early age.

Perhaps, after reading one of our recommended life-changing nonfiction books for college students, you’ll realize the power of such books: The truth itself is powerful.


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