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- It's college graduation season, and if you haven't got the recent grad in your life a gift, now might be a good time to start brainstorming.
- There are plenty of routes you can take for college grad gifting — practical gifts, experiential gifts, gift cards. But if you're looking for something that'll inform, motivate, and inspire the recent grad in your life, you can't go wrong with a book.
- Below, we've rounded up 21 books that any recent grad would love to read.
- See all of our graduation gift guides here.
A note from the editor: Graduation ceremonies across the country are being canceled and postponed, but that doesn't mean students aren't still preparing to move on to the next phase of their lives. We hope this list provides some guidance for how to help them celebrate their accomplishments and smoothly transition to whatever form their next chapter may take.
Finding the right gift for a recent grad can be tough. Should you get them some decor to liven up a new apartment? Could you chip in for a big trip they're planning when quarantine is over? Would they be better off with just a gift card or some cash?
As the college-aged contingent transitions from students to alumni, their lives will become occupied with all new kinds of challenges, excitements, and memories. Transitioning from the college bubble to the real world can be difficult, so why not impart some wisdom on your recent grad to guide them through all these changes?
Books make great gifts for graduates, especially ones that can help them kickstart their careers, better understand the industry they're entering, supply them with lifelong lessons, or just tell them everything will be fine. We rounded up all those books and then some.
Top 5 books for recent graduates
- "The Defining Decade" by Meg Jay
- "In Conclusion, Don't Worry About It" by Lauren Graham
- "The Beautiful Chaos of Growing Up" by Ari Satok
- "Becoming" by Michelle Obama
- "Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
Keep reading for 21 inspiring books that recent grads will want to read:
Captions are adapted synopses from Amazon.
“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. 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.
"The Beautiful Chaos of Growing Up" by Ari Satok
With humor and insight, "The Beautiful Chaos of Growing Up" takes you into the turbulent world of young adulthood. Capturing the newfound freedoms of college life and the dizzying adventure of the years that immediately follow it, this poetry collection reflects on the ups, downs, and in-betweens of the journey towards independence. In poems that explore the thrills and anxieties of college friendships and graduation, internships and job interviews, first dates and first apartments, lies a warmhearted, powerful examination of what it means to grow up.
“Congratulations, By the Way” by George Saunders
Three months after George Saunders gave a graduation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders's words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives. Powerful, funny, and wise, "Congratulations, by the way" is an inspiring message from one of today's most influential and original writers.
"I Will Teach You to Be Rich" by Ramit Sethi
Buy as many lattes as you want. Choose the right accounts and investments so your money grows for you — automatically. Best of all, spend guilt-free on the things you love.
Personal finance expert Ramit Sethi has been called a "wealth wizard" by Forbes and the "new guru on the block" by Fortune. Now he's updated and expanded his modern money classic for a new age, delivering a simple, powerful, no-BS six-week program that just works.
"Lead From the Outside" by Stacey Abrams
Leadership is hard. Convincing others ― and yourself ― that you are capable of taking charge and achieving more requires insight and courage. "Lead from the Outside" is the handbook for outsiders, written with an eye toward the challenges that hinder women, people of color, the working class, members of the LGBTQ community, and millennials ready to make change. Stacey uses her hard-won insights to break down how ambition, fear, money, and failure function in leadership, and she includes practical exercises to help you realize your own ambition and hone your skills. It discusses candidly what Stacey has learned over the course of her impressive career in politics, business and the nonprofit world: that differences in race, gender, and class provide vital strength, which we can employ to rise to the top and create real and lasting change.
“The Defining Decade” by Meg Jay
Drawing from a decade of work with hundreds of twentysomething clients and students, "The Defining Decade" weaves the latest science of the twentysomething years with behind-closed-doors stories from twentysomethings themselves. The result is a provocative read that provides the tools necessary to make the most of your twenties, and shows us how work, relationships, personality, social networks, identity, and even the brain can change more during this decade than at any other time in adulthood-if we use the time wisely.
"Ask a Manager" by Alison Green
There's a reason Alison Green has been called "the Dear Abby of the work world." Ten years as a workplace-advice columnist have taught her that people avoid awkward conversations in the office because they simply don't know what to say. Thankfully, Green does — and in this incredibly helpful book, she tackles the tough discussions you may need to have during your career.
"Option B" by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant
After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build. "Option B" combines Sheryl's personal insights with Adam's eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity. It illuminates how to help others in crisis, develop compassion for ourselves, raise strong children, and create resilient families, communities, and workplaces. Many of these lessons can be applied to everyday struggles, allowing us to brave whatever lies ahead.
"Earn It" by Mika Brzezinksi and Daniela Pierre-Bravo
The whirlwind of job applications, interviews, follow-up, resume building, and networking is just the beginning. What happens after you've landed the job, settled in, and begun to make a difference? Where do you go from here? What if you feel stuck in what you thought would be your dream profession? New York Times best-selling author Mika Brzezinski and producer Daniela Pierre-Bravo provide an essential manual for those crucial next steps. "Earn It!" is a practical career guidebook that not only helps you get your foot in the door; it also shows you how to negotiate a raise, advocate for more responsibility, and figure out whether you're in the career that's right for you.
“In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It” by Lauren Graham
In this expansion of the 2017 commencement speech she gave at her hometown Langley High, Lauren Graham, the beloved star of "Gilmore Girls"and "Parenthood," reflects on growing up, pursuing your dreams, and living in the here and now. In her hilarious, relatable voice, Graham reminds us to be curious and compassionate, no matter where life takes us or what we've yet to achieve. Grounded and inspiring — and illustrated throughout with drawings by Graham herself — here is a comforting road map to a happy life.
"Make Your Bed" by William H. McRaven
On May 17, 2014, Admiral William H. McRaven addressed the graduating class of the University of Texas at Austin on their Commencement day. He shared the ten principles he learned during Navy Seal training that helped him overcome challenges not only in his training and long Naval career, but also throughout his life; and he explained how anyone can use these basic lessons to change themselves-and the world-for the better.
Told with great humility and optimism, this timeless book provides simple wisdom, practical advice, and words of encouragement that will inspire readers to achieve more, even in life's darkest moments.
"The Miracle Morning" by Hal Elrod
What's being widely regarded as "one of the most life changing books ever written" may be the simplest approach to achieving everything you've ever wanted, and faster than you ever thought possible.
What if you could wake up tomorrow and any — or every — area of your life was beginning to transform? What would you change? "The Miracle Morning" is already transforming the lives of tens of thousands of people around the world by showing them how to wake up each day with more energy, motivation, and focus to take your life to the next level. It's been right here in front of us all along, but this book has finally brought it to life.
"Now What" by Ari King
This book features over sixty interviews with recent college graduates (22-26 years old) and older, more established graduates (27-75 years old) about their experiences transitioning from college students to the real world while looking for work, applying for graduate school, and trying to figure out what to do next. From the budding marine biologist who studied abroad in Saint Croix to the driven journalist who graduated early for a newspaper job, "Now What?!" is packed full of advice for students and alumni alike.
"This is Marketing" by Seth Godin
Seth Godin has taught and inspired millions of entrepreneurs, marketers, leaders, and fans from all walks of life, via his blog, online courses, lectures, and bestselling books. He is the inventor of countless ideas that have made their way into mainstream business language.
Now, for the first time, Godin offers the core of his marketing wisdom in one compact, accessible, timeless package. "This is Marketing" shows you how to do work you're proud of, whether you're a tech startup founder, a small business owner, or part of a large corporation.
"Very Good Lives" by J.K. Rowling
In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, "Very Good Lives" presents J.K. Rowling's words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?
Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life's most important questions with acuity and emotional force.
"What I Know Now" by Ellyn Spragins
If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say?
In this moving collection, 41 famous women write letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and insights they wish they had had when they were younger. Their letters contain rare glimpses into the personal lives of extraordinary women and powerful wisdom that readers will treasure.
"What You're Really Meant to Do" by Robert Steven Kaplan
Robert Steven Kaplan, leadership expert and author of the highly successful book "What to Ask the Person in the Mirror," regularly advises executives and students on how to tackle these questions. In this indispensable new book, Kaplan shares a specific and actionable approach to defining your own success and reaching your potential. Drawing on his years of experience, Kaplan proposes an integrated plan for identifying and achieving your goals. He outlines specific steps and exercises to help you understand yourself more deeply, take control of your career, and build your capabilities in a way that fits your passions and aspirations.
"You Learn by Living" by Eleanor Roosevelt
One of the most beloved figures of the 20th century, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt remains a role model for a life well lived. At the age of 76, Roosevelt penned this simple guide to living a fuller life. now back in print, You Learn by Living is a powerful volume of enduring common-sense ideas and heartfelt values. offering her own philosophy on living, Eleanor takes readers on a path to compassion, confidence, maturity, civic stewardship, and more.
"Bossypants" by Tina Fey
Before Liz Lemon, before "Weekend Update," before Sarah Palin, Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on "Saturday Night Live"; from her passionately half-hearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon; from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we've always suspected: you're no one until someone calls you bossy.
"Freakonomics" by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner
What do you get when you mix an award-winning journalist and a curious economist? You get a book like "Freakonomics," which seeks to understand some of society's most bizarre riddles using economic principles. For example, what do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common? Crack open "Freakonomics" to find out.
"Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari
Author Yuval Noah Harari's fascinating exploration of human history makes for a read that is as thought-provoking as it is captivating. A true history of humankind, Dr. Harari covers the theory of the out-of-Africa movement all the way to developments in CRISPR gene editing. He does so while keeping the information structured, interesting, and easily digestible.
See more graduation gift guides
Check out all of our Class of 2020 graduation gift guides for ideas categorized by budget and type.
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