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What is a book that changed your life?

3 March 2022

What is a book that changed your life? A question we ask all of our Change Makers guests, to which some answer ‘all of them’, like Gavin Esler, who says there is a lesson to be learned in the pages of every book. 

Others share one that stands out in their childhood memories, or helped them to find the path they’re now on. We’ve compiled their answers in this article to provide you with some seriously good must-reads this World Book Day:



  • The Tibetan Book Of Living And Dying claimed as a must read for all humans” – recommended by Leena Nair, CEO, Chanel and former CHRO at Unilever
  • “As a young 20-something, way back in the day, a book that set me on a trajectory for the way I wanted to live was Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. It was inspirational and spiritual and gave me a roadmap for a life of meditation, mindfulness, compassion, and acceptance.” – Maggie Miller
  • The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana MazzucatoAndrew Roughan
  • Who Says You Can’t? You Do by Daniel ChidiacDeborah Williams, Founder, The Women’s Association


True stories

  • In the Footsteps of Scott by Roger Mear and Robert Swan. At the age when I borrowed this book from the library,  I think part of me was sifting through these stories looking for clues about what it meant to be a man. I don’t know if Robert realised quite where the echoes or ripples of his story – and it’s a fantastic story of endeavour and challenge, of victory and loss – would reach, decades after the telling, but here I am now lying in a tent on the Ross Ice Shelf, camped a few miles away from where he and his team would have camped in the mid-eighties. I’m still not a great deal closer to deciding what it means to be a man, but perhaps part of it is as simple as going out, living boldly, and sharing our stories, however they pan out. Casting pebbles with the journeys we make, and leaving tiny ripples in the universe.” – Ben Saunders
  • Let the record Show – A Political History of ACT UP New York 1987-1993’, Sarah SchulmanDan Glass
  • My Brother Jack. It’s an Australian novel I read in my early teens about an Oz WW1 vet and the difficulties of normal life. My grandfather came back from the Somme and never discussed it, so this was my first idea of the awful impact of war and of WW1 on Oz in particular.” – Peter Flavel, CEO, Coutts
  • “Every book I read is inspiring! One in particular is War Doctor by David Nott. It is a life-changing book about a trauma surgeon who for 20 years has volunteered to fly out to disaster zones and conflict areas to treat people suffering from trauma. He also trains local doctors so they have the skills to treat the appalling injuries that war inflicts upon its victims. What an extraordinary man.” – Lord Alf Dubs



  • The Trouble with Donovan Croft by Bernard Ashley. I read this book as a child and I still remember the wonderful emotions it sparked in me. It’s about a black child who is fostered by a white family. It is a book about pain and redemption and spoke deeply to me about the need to listen and consider other points of view.” – Kamal Ahmed, Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder, The News Movement
  • “The book that most inspired me as a young adult was Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game. This is pretty ironic as it has virtually no female characters! But when I spent a year recently as a Visiting Fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, a community of extraordinarily intelligent and interesting people devoting themselves to the life of the intellect, I realised I was experiencing the privilege of living out The Glass Bead Game in real life.” – Mary Ann Sieghart, journalist and author
  • The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi. David Bowie did the soundtrack to the BBC four part adaptation. I love how Kureishi’s novels always have such a strong musical narrative running through them. The main character, Karim, is a queer mixed race kid from South London – a true inbetweener, belonging nowhere. I read it around the same age he is in the novel. It woke me up and made me laugh and see myself in a whole new light. I always picture Ab Fab’s Edina Monsoon being one of the wanna-be mystics beguiled by Karim’s dad posturing as the Buddha of Suburbia.” – Anil Sebastian, producer and vocalist



  • Emma by Jane Austen. I was not a reader when I was growing up and well into my teens, but this was the novel that turned me, at 18, and became a gateway to reading as a voluntarily, desperately-loved pursuit – and decided my career too I suppose.” – Meg Mason, author
  • “I suppose my very first was Great Expectations – which I got as a Christmas present when I was four! When I was finally old enough to read it, the twist made my head reel. I saw the power of story-telling right there” – Mark Gatiss, screenwriter and actor
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. When I was twelve I remember imbibing it, the nineteenth century feminist call to arms in which a powerless woman gains agency and learns to make her own moral choices. The story has been replayed numerous times in other novels, such as Rebecca. Such was its impact on me that I used Jane Eyre as a motif in my new novel Widowland, which is itself about a woman in an authoritarian, oppressive society whose job is to censor the classics of English literature for subversive portrayals of women. Through Jane Eyre, my heroine gains agency and learns to see for herself.” – Jane Thynne
  • Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Prince – Sir Ken Olisa


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