Life Changing Books

UnbrokenI just finished reading Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand. I have to say, it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. (And like you, I’ve read a lot of books.)

Laura Hillenbrand is truly a gifted writer, one of the best in the narrative non-fiction genre. And this book was life-changing for me. As someone who knew alarmingly little about World War II, I found Unbroken to be eye-opening, heartbreaking, angering, and most of all, riveting. I believe it has permanently changed the way I think about certain things. It has vastly improved my understanding of the true costs of war, imperialism, man’s capacity for evil, and even more stunningly, man’s capacity for redemption and recovery.

Lost in Shangri-La

After reading this book, I’m committed to seeking out more works of narrative nonfiction having to do with important events in the last century, and I especially want to read more books about the major wars that have forever changed our world. Unbroken is only the second “war” book I’ve ever read — I recently read Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff which was also narrative nonfiction, and also amazing.

We Who Are Alive

I think my next one will be We Who Are Alive and Remain: Untold Stories from the Band of Brothers written by my friend Marcus Brotherton.

This is why I treasure my career in the literary world. The power of books to change lives never ceases to amaze me! I’m constantly thrilled by the ability of books to inform, enlighten, and entertain… often all at the same time. Thank God for all you writers. Keep doing what you do, so that I can keep reading!

 1. Have you read any truly life changing books lately?

2. Any terrific narrative nonfiction to recommend to me?



Posted in

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Books & Such Literary Agency. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  3. Tammi T. on February 12, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    My husband has our shelves filled with several books regarding wars: the Civil War, World War I, World War II, etc. You have just given me an idea for his upcoming birthday. Once he is finished, maybe I’ll branch out of my comfort zone and see how I like it.

  4. Kathy on February 11, 2012 at 6:47 PM

    The Breaking Point! by Sue Shellenbarger changed my life. At age 32, I purchased this book just before boarding a plane to New York. Although not quite sure if the book would interest me, I was late for my flight so hurriedly purchased it and boarded the plane. The premise of the book is that women’s midlife crisis is NOT a crisis, but in fact a time of Transformation and Rejuvenation in which we re-evaluate where we are in life, and change everything we possibly can to get back on track. With children in their teens and many of us financially independent,all case stories in this book ended the same – those that followed their hearts and dreams were better for it, and the few that did not transform were still unhappy. I read the book in 4 hours, had 3 pages of notes and a solid, last ditch effort idea to discuss with my spouse to try and save our marriage. I still re-read the underlined and highlighted parts of the book,and I shared my notes with my daughter when she was contemplating a break-up with her boyfriend of 4 years. She made the b
    est decision for herself, with confidence, and we are both better and happier women because of this book.

  5. Steven Belanger on February 11, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    Anything by Mary Carr; any article or book by Anne Lamott. Manic by Terri Cheney. Erik Larson for his ideas, though I find his books ultimately disappointing.

  6. TNeal on February 8, 2012 at 11:42 PM

    You’ve convinced me to pick up “Unbroken” and read it.

    Your other WWII book, “Shangri-La,” has a similar slogan as “Ghost Soldiers” by Hampton Sides. The story is about a daring rescue of survivors of the Bataan Death March confined in a Japanese concentration camp. Good read but sobering as to the realities of war.

  7. Eric Hall on February 6, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer

    I read this book while going through officer training in the US Army. His narrative of his WWII experience as a German soldier were riveting and important. His story shows just how brutal wars are on soldiers no matter what side they are on.

    As a soldier, war is what we do. Guy’s book helped me to understand more strongly that war is the last thing one would want to do. Those that have endured it have made sacrifices that the rest of us will never really understand. However, Guy does a brilliant job in helping us to understand as best we can from reading a book.

  8. Christina on February 5, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    I highly recommend reading “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down” by Anne Fadiman.

    It’s about a refugee community in California. The refugees are Hmong, an indigenous mountain people from Laos, and how their spiritual beliefs clash with modern Western medicine. One Hmong family has a girl with epilepsy, and they consider this a great honour because they believe her condition is a sign that she can commune with the spirit world.

    Her Western doctors think otherwise, and try to put her on a complicated medical regimen that her family doesn’t follow or understand – instead, they do Hmong spiritual rituals. Both sides honestly feel that what they are doing is in the best interests of the young girl, but it is their lack of communication and cultural understanding (on both sides) that makes things worse.

    I read it about a year and a half ago, and I still think about it constantly – like I was a giant bell and it had rung me soundly.

  9. Patti Richter on February 3, 2012 at 10:06 PM

    Same Kind of Different as Me –Lynn Vincent– is a powerful story. I won’t forget the message of this book–the difference that one person can make. It’s about a homeless man and those who prayerfully tried to help him.

    • TNeal on February 8, 2012 at 11:44 PM

      I read that “Same Kind of Different …” and agree. It’s an inspirational joy to read.

  10. Leah Good on February 3, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    I’m going to have to read Unbroken.

    I just finished the rough draft of a Post WWII YA novel and found several good/eye opening narrative non-fiction books in the process.
    ~The Liberators: America’s Witness to the Holocaust–by Michael Hirsh
    ~Bread, Butter, and Sugar–by Martin Schiller
    ~Surviving the Americans–Robert L. Hilliard (This book is heavily biased by the author experiences and opinions.)
    ~A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days when God Wore a Swastika–by Alfons Heck (A side of WWII you may have never seen before.)

  11. Book Suggestions on February 2, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    Evidence Not Seen, Darlene Deibler Rose.

    Hitlers Hell, Anita Dittman

  12. Jerry Eckert on February 2, 2012 at 2:04 PM

    If you want to include “my” war (Vietnam) in your readings, three come to mind, all of them Pulitzer winners I think.
    1) Once Upon a Distant War – by William Prochnau. 2) A Bright Shining Lie – Neil Sheehan, and 3) The Best and the Brightest – David Halberstam. All three are by journalists that covered that debacle, and are excellent reads.

  13. Susan on February 2, 2012 at 12:03 PM

    I also was riveted by “Unbroken”. The story is enthralling in its continual chain of remarkable events, any one of which would be worthy of a story of its own. But the redemption at the end is what sets this book truly apart.

    Two other books of this genre that I have found fascinating are “The Worst Hard Time”, about the Dust Bowl and “Ghost Soldiers”, about WWII in the Philippines.


  14. Leigh D'Ansey on February 2, 2012 at 2:07 AM

    ‘A Thread of Grace’ by Mary Doria Russell is a wonderful novel about World War II. The story follows the Blum family, Jewish refugees who sought a safe haven in Italy. But Italy quickly turned into a battleground where human behaviour ran the full spectrum from the most shockingly cruel to the most courageous and humane. The randomness of who lives and who dies was shocking but very true to life. Truly worth reading.

    Last year the most memorable book I read was ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ by David Guterson. The writing is just so beautiful. These two books might not have changed my life but they’re stories I’ll never forget.

  15. Kelly Thompson on February 1, 2012 at 10:47 PM

    Thanks for the heads up on the new reads. World War II is an incredible era for good stories; as a devoted “Band of Brothers” fan, I especially look forward to checking out “We Who Are Alive and Remain.”

  16. Stef Kramer on February 1, 2012 at 10:18 PM

    Read Unbroken last year and couldn’t quit thinking about it. It was a book I wanted to purchase for others whenever they think they are having a tough day. Truly an incredible story as told by an incredible writer. I’m still amazed that I wasn’t reading historical fiction.

  17. Janet on February 1, 2012 at 6:15 PM

    I failed to mention that “The Light Bringer” is a novel but the incidents in the first part of the book are based on the authors’ real-life experiences.

  18. Janet on February 1, 2012 at 6:12 PM

    “The Light Bringer” by Chris DiGiuseppi and Mike Force. It really makes one think about how one’s actions in this life determine one’s journey to the other side.

  19. Janet Kobobel Grant on February 1, 2012 at 5:41 PM

    I read Unbroken last year and still periodically think about it. Another book that continues to haunt me is The Incredible Life of Henrietta Lacks. This nonfiction narrative book is about an African American whose cancerous cells were the first cells to ever reproduce in a lab–and they’ve continued to reproduce since the ’60s when they were removed from Henrietta’s body. Part science book, part haunting biography, and part investigative reporting, this book fascinated and amazed me. And I don’t like science books!

  20. Roger Floyd on February 1, 2012 at 5:31 PM

    Living now in the US Southwest, I’m pulling out more books with a SW feel or locale. I suggest you try “Bless Me, Ultima” by Rudolfo Anaya, which I finished last year. It takes place in the months immediately following WWII (that war was, in itself, a life-changing event). It is fiction, tho. For narrative NF, try “Blood and Thunder” by Hampton Sides, or “Undaunted Courage” by Stephen E. Ambrose. I could go on and on.

    P.S. Don’t you wish you were Laura Hillenbrand’s agent?

  21. Amy Boucher Pye on February 1, 2012 at 4:45 PM

    Best memoir by far I’ve read in the past year is _Jesus, My Father, the CIA and Me: A Memoir… of Sorts_ by Ian Morgan Cron. Oh my word. The writing is amazing. Moved me to tears more than once. His memories of growing up with an alcoholic father who, he eventually learns, is a CIA agent.

    I became a self-appointed book ambassador for that book here in the UK, even getting the publisher to send it to a handful of gatekeepers and featuring it as my selection for the Woman Alive book club (Christian women’s mag in the UK) and interviewing him for Christian Marketplace.

  22. HopefulLeigh on February 1, 2012 at 4:26 PM

    While it’s an autobiography, I just read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. It was a well written and gripping account of Mandela’s childhood leading up to his inauguration as president of South Africa. I was struck by the fact that he had an ordinary life but made extraordinary choices.

  23. Ellen Marie Wiseman on February 1, 2012 at 4:23 PM

    While doing research for my novel, The Plum Tree (Kensington January 2013 about a German girl trying to save the love of her life, a Jewish man) I fell in love with these non-fiction books:

    German Boy by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
    The War of Our Childhood by Wolfgang W.E. Samuel
    Among the Dead Cities by A.C. Grayling
    Frauen; German Women Recall the Third Reich by Alison Owings

  24. Zachary S. Sigmon on February 1, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    I read Unbroken over the summer, and I agree: It is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. How amazing, though, that God’s grace can bring such an amazing story out of such tragedy!

  25. Amy Leigh Simpson on February 1, 2012 at 4:02 PM

    A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers was solely responsible for igniting my love of fiction. Seems trivial but the story, the heroines unwavering faith, and the historical landscape completely captivated me and changed my life. A must read for fiction!

  26. Daniel Wheeler on February 1, 2012 at 3:52 PM

    None Braver
    The only thing worth dying for
    Where men win glory
    Lone survivor
    Shadow of the Sword
    No Way Down

    And the one I’m putting together on my grandfathers brother (great uncle?) Who was a POW in Asia during WW2.

  27. Ruth Douthitt on February 1, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    Oh yes! “Unbroken” was definitely a life changing book for me too! I read some paragraphs out loud to my husband and son because the story was so amazing.

    I have read many narrative books about WWII. I highly recommend any on the battles in the Pacific or the Bataan Death March. You will be forever changed when you read these stories of survival!


  28. John Buss on February 1, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Wow! I’m amazed at all of the interest in WWII stories and can attribute this to the resolve of “The Greatest Generation.” I have one question that has been nagging at the back of my head. How does one know if a story has been previously written by others, repeatedly rejected by the gate-keepers and will never see print no matter how well done BEFORE investing our efforts and hopes in yet another doomed project?

  29. Jen on February 1, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    Our church, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, gave every family at Christmas Eve services a copy of Unbroken. They then did a four week sermon series using the book. Week 3 we had the privilege of hearing Louis Zamperini tell his stories in our church. You can see the video of each of these at the website. Here is the link to the Louis interview with John Ortberg –

  30. Bret Draven on February 1, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Bravo Two-Zero by Andy McNab. Just a phenomenal book!

    “In January 1991, eight members of the SAS regiment embarked upon a top secret mission that was to infiltrate them deep behind enemy lines. Under the command of Sergeant Andy McNab, they were to sever the underground communication link between Baghdad and north-west Iraq, and to seek and destroy mobile Scud launchers. Their call sign: BRAVO TWO ZERO.

    Each man laden with 15 stone of equipment, they patrolled 20km across flat desert to reach their objective. Within days, their location was compromised. After a fierce fire fight, they were forced to escape and evade on foot to the Syrian border. In the desperate action that followed, though stricken by hypothermia and other injuries, the patrol ‘went ballistic’. Four men were captured. Three died. Only one escaped. For the survivors, however, the worst ordeals were to come. Delivered to Baghdad, they were tortured with a savagery for which not even their intensive SAS training had prepared them.

    Bravo Two Zero is a breathtaking account of Special Forces soldiering: a chronicle of superhuman courage, endurance and dark humour in the face of overwhelming odds.”

  31. Rachel @ The Lazy Christian on February 1, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    You should read everything by Erik Larson, if you haven’t already. I just finished In the Garden of Beasts, which is about the American ambassador to Germany on the eve of WWII, and it’s phenomenal. I’m pretty sure Larson is my favorite author—his Devil in the White City and Thunderstruck are also incredible. It’s all nonfiction, but told in a gripping narrative!

  32. mpope on February 1, 2012 at 2:03 PM

    I echo Kendall’s comment. _In the Heart of the Sea_ made me a loyal Nathaniel Philbrick fan. Anything by him is bound to inform and entertain. If your interested in biographies, I also recommend the Living Biographies series written in the 1940s by Henry Thomas and Dana Lee Thomas. There are several in the series: Living Biographies of Famous Novelists, Poets, Philosophers, etc. Each one I’ve read makes me want to have another in the series. They are truly well written and read like fiction. They are, however, very hard to find since they’re out of print.

  33. Jennifer M on February 1, 2012 at 2:02 PM

    I have read the first two and was quite amazed by the transformation of the Japanese guards. If you haven’t read The Hiding Place by the late Corrie ten Boom, make sure you have a crate of tissues on hand and a block of un-interrupted time. Her story will bring you to your knees.

  34. TC Avey on February 1, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    I’ve been thinking about reading Unbroken, but haven’t gotten around to it. Thanks for motivating me to finally read it.

    Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas is excellent. Bonhoeffer himself wrote books while he was alive and after reading Metaxas’ book on the life of Bonhoeffer I plan on reading his works.

    Bonhoeffer is an amazing man, he was executed my Hitler shortly before the fall of the Nazi empire. Bonhoeffer was a man of God who spoke out when he knew it would cost him his life.

  35. Zachary S. Sigmon on February 1, 2012 at 1:10 PM

    I read Unbroken over the summer, and I agree: it is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and it opened my eyes to a lot of things. But how amazing that God’s grace can bring forgiveness out of such tragedy!

  36. Marcus Brotherton on February 1, 2012 at 12:23 PM

    Hey … this was a very welcomed surprise to receive this mention, Rachelle. Thanks a million.

    WE WHO ARE ALIVE & REMAIN is unlike most books in that its an oral history project. It removes me, as author, from the equation, and lets readers experience meeting the veterans first hand.

    The WWII veterans I interviewed for that book were absolutely fabulous. Their stories give such a powerful and poignant glimpse into a world of terror and grief and duty and honor.

    The takeaway value is definitely gratefulness. I, as a generation who benefitted from their sacrifices, have been given so much.

  37. Beth K. Vogt on February 1, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    Rachelle, my To Be Read (TBR) is growing with each comment! I think we need to make a list … gulp! Did I just volunteer?! 😉

  38. Preston on February 1, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    I’m a little surprised no one has mentioned “Black Hawk Down”. I’m not sure it qualifies as life-changing, but it’s certainly a good (and gripping) look at modern warfare.

    Also, on my wish list is the 5-star reviewed “The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War”, which is a soldier’s account of his tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  39. Kendall on February 1, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    Anything by Nathaniel Philbrick is great, but I’d especially recommend In the Heart of the Sea, about the sinking of the whaleship Essex. Such amazing writing–you can practically feel the wind and spray hitting your face.

    The other great, great nonfiction book I like, that doesn’t get a lot of attention, is James Tabor’s Blind Descent. It’s about two teams of cave explorers as they race to reach the deepest point on Earth. It’s such a different world in those caves, and it’s amazing to think of all these things that are literally happening under our feet.

    Great post! I’m looking forward to checking out a few of these recommendations 🙂

  40. Mark H. on February 1, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    I agree on Unbroken–just an amazing story and terrific writing.

    For more WWII, Stephen Ambrose’s D-Day and Band of Brothers are both terrific reads. He’s a good storyteller and talked to a lot of the soldiers to get their stories.

    Mark Bowden’s Black Hawk Down is a riveting read, very intense. It really brings home the chaos of modern warfare.

  41. ericavetsch03 on February 1, 2012 at 11:15 AM

    I’d recommend Over The Earth I Come by Duane Schultz about the Dakota Uprising of 1862 and We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese, written by Elizabeth Norman.

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 1, 2012 at 11:52 AM

      Erica, those sound amazing, I’m adding to my list. Thanks!

  42. Sarah Thomas on February 1, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    I’m not typically a fan of memoir or narrative nonfiction, but I love James Alexander Thom. “Follow the River” is amazing! About a woman kidnapped by the Shawnee who ultimately escapes and walks 1,000 miles home to freedom. There’s also “Long Knife,” “Sign-Talker” and several others. Wonderful!

  43. Gwen on February 1, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    My mom recently read Unbroken and really liked it as well. I should get on that book. I’m currently reading Seabiscuit by Hillenbrand, and am impressed with her writing. Just how she describes things is incredible.

  44. Elizabeth Carden on February 1, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    I just finished “In the Garden of Beasts” by Erik Larson and, while it wasn’t what I would call inspirational, it did help me gain understanding about the forces that allowed Nazi Germany to rise. Scary stuff.

    As for inspirational non-fiction “Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” by Immaculee Ilibagiza will change you forever.

    Great post!

  45. Adam on February 1, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    It’s not necessarily nonfiction, but considering historical war novels it’s hard to top The Killer Angels. And Morgan Llwelyn’s Irish Century series is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

  46. marion on February 1, 2012 at 10:21 AM

    Non fiction: A Sense of the World: How a Blind Man Became History’s Greatest Traveler, by Jason Roberts. Remarkable achievement in the 1800s, or at any time.

  47. Jesse on February 1, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    ‘To End All Wars’ by Adam Hochschild (one of the founding editors of Mother Jones) is not only one of the best books about World War 1 I’ve ever read, but one of the best books period. It’s a unique book because it not only details how and why World War 1 started(not to mention detailing it’s horrific end, and why the armistice eventually led to World War 2) but it details the pacifist movement in Europe at that time. It also talks about the woman suffragist movement, and the extreme lengths these courageous women went to in order to ensure all women could vote and, as the title suggests, to end all wars.

  48. Cathy West on February 1, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    When I was doing my research for Yesterday’s Tomorrow, I learned more about The Vietnam War than I probably needed to. The stories I read, the pictures I saw, the things I was told, stayed with me. I gained a new perspective on many levels, and an undying respect for the military. One book in particular touched me deeply, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about that war and what is was like in-country. The book is called “War Torn – Stories Of War By The Women Who Reported The Vietnam War.”

  49. Angel on February 1, 2012 at 10:08 AM

    “One Child” by Torey Hayden was life- altering for me. She was a special education teacher in the 70’s, and has written several books on her experiences. This one is by far the best.

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 1, 2012 at 11:51 AM

      Angel, I read every single book that Torey Hayden ever wrote! Yes, “One Child” started it all for me too. I couldn’t get enough of her writing.

  50. David Todd on February 1, 2012 at 9:50 AM

    I can’t say anything I’ve read recently has been life changing. I’d say there have been four books that have been life changing for me. The first one, and probably most important, was Maybe I’ll Pitch Forever, the authobiography of Satchell Paige. It awakened me, as a fifth grader living in an all-white community, to the effects of racial predujice. The last one was The Winds of War by Herman Wouk (along with its sequel, War and Remembrance, which is a great historical fiction on World War 2.

    As to book recommendations, the one I’m reading now might interest you. War Letters, edited by Andrew Carroll, covers the American Civil War through Desert Storm and Bosnia. They are mostly letters home from servicemen and women, but include some home front letters. It’s not narrative non-fiction, but it’s a barely filtered look at most of our wars.

  51. Carol McClain on February 1, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    Two life changing books have been works of fiction–The Grapes of Wrath and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
    Or, perhaps these have not been so much as life changing, but gave voice to my passion–dignity for all humans, a dignity we’ve cast aside in our post-modern world.

  52. Cathryn Hasek on February 1, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    I, too, love narrative nonfiction and memoir. I am involved in writing a creative non-fiction story at the moment and it is very exciting. I enjoyed Pulitzer Price winning novelist, Tracy Kidder, and his work, “Strength in What Remains.” An account of a medical student’s escape from the slaughter in Burundi in 1994, his precarious existence in New York and his eventual return home. It is amazing writing!!

  53. Marielena on February 1, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    I highly recommend:
    “The Lessons of Love: Rediscovering our passion for life when it all seems too hard to take,” (Harper SanFrancisco) by Melody Beattie.

    This book touched me deepy and did for me what I pray I can do some day in my own book(s)– it gave me hope.

  54. Jessica Nelson on February 1, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    WWII has been an area of interest for me since I was a kid. Thanks for the recommendation of this book!

  55. Sue Harrison on February 1, 2012 at 9:09 AM

    UNBROKEN was definitely one of my life changers in 2011. My father served in the South Pacific in WWII and I truly began to appreciate his service and sacrifice even more, although he was never a POW.

    My most recent life-changer was THE READING PROMISE by Alice Ozma, a gift from my daughter-in-law this Christmas. Beautifully written, funny, actually memoir more than narrative non-fiction, but wonderful!

  56. Kelly Combs on February 1, 2012 at 9:02 AM

    A life changing book I read was Christian inspirational, Modern Girls Guide to Bible Study by Jen Hatmaker. I believe you may have had an association with her at some point?

    Another amazing book is The Book of God, which is a novelized version of the Bible. It is true to the Bible, yet includes dramatic (fictional) physical descriptions and embellished conversations. It was a very interesting read.

  57. Wendy Paine Miller on February 1, 2012 at 8:52 AM

    Just started reading LIFE IS SO GOOD for my book club. It’s a memoir about a slave’s grandson who learned to read at age 98. It’s a powerful read so far. Engaging voice. Climbing inside.

    I echo the thoughts above about One Thousand Gifts, The Glass Castle, Angela’s Ashes, A Girl Named Zippy, Crazy Love and Scared.

    I moved Unbroken toward the top of my TBR pile because of this post. And I have a feeling after reading comments I’ll be moving more to the top.
    ~ Wendy

  58. Joe Pote on February 1, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    My favorite book read in 2011 was “Unbroken,” and my second favorite was “Lost in Shangri La.”

    What can I say? You, apparently have great taste in books, Rachelle!

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 1, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      Well, Joe, you know what they say about great minds.

  59. s.p.bowers on February 1, 2012 at 7:41 AM

    Have you read Ghost Soldiers by Hampton Sides? It’s be a good long while since I read it but I remember how it touched me.

  60. Deborah Serravalle on February 1, 2012 at 5:55 AM

    As for book signings, Margaret Atwood has been a fan of something called The Long Pen. Seriously. I checked it out. There’s a website It’s made by Syngrafii Corp.

    This post is ironic as lately I’ve bumped against criticism of fictional WWII themed books – the claim that they’ve been done to the point of cliche. And yet…Esi Edugyan won Canada’s big literary prize – The ScotiaBank Giller – for Half Blood Blues. And that’s my point, Ms Edugyan wrote about African-American jazz musicians who went to Europe to escape Jim Crow laws at home. As they deal with their personal issues of jealousy and betrayal, the reader also gets a bird-eye view of Nazi-occupied Berlin and Paris from their viewpoint. Certainly a new perspective on an old theme.

    As for life-changing … Three Day Road (A WWI novel) and Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden – although fiction, also offered a bird’s-eye view of native culture and life I would not otherwise be privy to. Jane Eyre gave me a love of literature. As did Anne of Green Gables and Little Women. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series taught me there’s nothing like a good story.

  61. P. J. Casselman on February 1, 2012 at 5:51 AM

    The most recent life changing book that I read was “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. It was a vital reminder of our call to a radical love. Here’s a quote:

    Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they only want to be saved from the penalty of their sin. They don’t genuinely hate sin and aren’t truly sorry for it. They’re merely sorry because God is going to punish them. Lukewarm people don’t really believe that this new life Jesus offers is better than the old sinful one.

    As far as a great, narrative nonfiction book goes, my favorite book about the Vietnam War era was “A Rumor of War” by Philip Caputo. It is an enlightening look at the seeds of the war by a man who served during its early years.

  62. KBR on February 1, 2012 at 5:45 AM

    VERA ATKINS AND THE MISSING AGENTS OF WWII, by Sarah Helm (these agents were all beautiful British women!).

    RIGHTEOUS GENTILE: RAOUL WALLENBERG, MISSING HERO OF THE HOLOCAUST, by John Bierman (not the most eloquently written, but I wept at Wallenberg’s heroism and eventual fate).

    THE MASCOT,by Mark Kurzem. A beautifully written story about the author’s father, a Jewish boy hiding in the Nazi Army!

    I have lived in Budapest for the past 18 months, a beautiful city ravaged by the war, and then held in the terrifying grip of Communistic Russia. As an American, I now have an understanding of survivors and the terrible cost of war that I’d not have garnered otherwise. These books were recommended to me by an elderly friend who, as a young girl, fled Budapest in 1944 to escape the Nazis and didn’t return until after the wall fell in 1989. Her story should be written.

  63. marion on February 1, 2012 at 4:38 AM

    Crime and Punishment. The Brothers Karamazov.

    Life changers because they deal with a topic that’s largely taboo these days (although it still crops up in all sorts of novels): Guilt & Redemption.

  64. Lisa McKay on February 1, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories From Rwanda (Philip Gourevitch) is very powerful (and very disturbing).

    • Leah Good on February 3, 2012 at 10:05 AM

      There is a equally thought provoking movie about this same incident titled “Hotel Rwanda”.

  65. Beth K. Vogt on February 1, 2012 at 3:16 AM

    Beth Jusino handed me a copy of Scared by Tom Davis and said, “I’ll be interested to see what you think of this book.”
    It was a hard, hard read. I only read it during the daytime because I knew I wouldn’t sleep well at night if I read it right before bed. At times, I thought about stopping … but knew that was just plain cowardice. The old “ignorance is bliss” route.
    Sometimes a book rips the comfortable right out of your life. That book did it for me.

    • Cathy West on February 1, 2012 at 10:09 AM

      Beth, I haven’t been able to finish that one yet. You’ve just reminded me I need to, but like you, I found it hard to read. I’ve been to South Africa several times, my mother was South African, and my daughter served on a missions team in Swaziland – she is very familiar with the things Tom writes about. We have Africa in our hearts for many reasons. Perhaps one day God will make me brave enough to go there and serve in some way. I know that is the desire of my husband’s heart – I’m not quite there yet!!

  66. Nancy Kimball on February 1, 2012 at 2:51 AM

    FOR THE SINS OF MY FATHER by Albert DeMeo.

    Mafia aficionados beware. This autobiography of the son of a notorious hit-man will destroy what you think you know about life inside the mob.

    For everyone else, you can’t share Al’s story and not be changed by it. A poignant and honest recount of a life most kids dream about that became one not worth living and the journey of healing that would bring him back.
    If you think you know what right and wrong is and they are both absolutes, prepare to have your world-view wrecked and your good guy / bad guy compass shattered.

  67. Elizabeth Byler Younts on February 1, 2012 at 2:16 AM

    Wow! I’m going to have to put Unbroken in my wish list. I love ww2! I LOVE Band of Brothers…though, I have only watched the DVDs. My husband got me started on those!

    As far as a recommendation. Well, this is pretty shameless…but I wrote & had published a nonfiction book about my Amish grandma through the Great Depression. It’s called Seasons: A Real Story of an Amish Girl. 😉 This was right on the heals of Ira Wagler’s Growing Up Amish…another good read, I’ve been told. 😉

  68. Zillah on February 1, 2012 at 2:14 AM

    I haven’t read any life-changing stories about war lately, but I like to think I’ve written one. Looking for a publisher. It’s a historical romance, based on real-life experiences of the two main characters. Men don’t talk about their wartime experiences in most cases, and some are affected for the rest of their lives. You are right, Joseph. There’s nothing glorious about war. I suppose the “glory” is in the self-sacrifice and courage which surfaces in the lives of the men and woman involved.

  69. Susy Flory on February 1, 2012 at 2:12 AM

    One other I really love is A Girl Named Zippy by Haven Kimmel. Original, hilarious, and unforgettable.

    • Cathy Mealey on February 1, 2012 at 10:52 AM

      “Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table” by Ruth Reichel is a fun memoir for foodies. Life-changing? Not on the scale of “Unbroken” but definitely fun!

  70. Susy Flory on February 1, 2012 at 2:11 AM

    You might enjoy Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero, by Michael Hingson. It’s about a man, blind from birth, whose courage and faith were tested in the fires of September 11 along with his intrepid guide dog, Roselle. (Full disclosure–I collaborated on the book.) Laura Hillenbrand is my hero, especially in light of her struggles with CFS, and I’ve learned so much from studying her work. She is amazing and I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

    • Rachelle Gardner on February 1, 2012 at 9:36 AM

      I’ll definitely check out Thunder Dog – sounds great! Loved Girl Named Zippy and the sequel (with the best title ever) She Got Up Off the Couch.

  71. Joseph Ramirez on February 1, 2012 at 1:32 AM

    Recently read ‘WITH THE OLD BREED’ by E.B. Sledge. It’s a first person account of the WWII battles for Pelieliu and Okinawa. It touched me with the humanity of the author… he was wasn’t much more than a kid when he saw the things he saw. He tells it very plainly, in a matter-of-fact way, and he is brutally honest about the facts of life in prolonged battle.

    It’s definitely going to influence the way I write battle scenes. I think a lot of the way war is described in fiction glorifies it. After reading this book, the reader can’t help but realize that there is nothing glorious about war. It’s horrific. And the boys who went through it for our sake… I just gotta take my hat off to them.

  72. Anita on February 1, 2012 at 1:31 AM

    I read “Unbroken” last year and was just as taken with the story. Laura Hillenbrand is a wonderful writer. I also enjoyed “Seabiscuit” by her. I read mostly historical non-fiction, biographies and memoirs. I loved “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt. A little book by Abigail Thomas, “A Three Dog Life”, touched me deeply.
    Thank you for the reviews.

    • Rachelle on February 1, 2012 at 9:32 AM

      Anita, I’ve read all of those too and loved them. “A Three Dog Life” has really stuck with me over the years.

  73. S. Wiersma on February 1, 2012 at 1:12 AM

    Becoming God’s True Woman by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. 🙂

  74. Cheryl Barker on February 1, 2012 at 12:59 AM

    I read Unbroken last year and loved it as well. So much I didn’t know about that period.

    You’ve probably already read it, Rachelle, but Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts is a life-changer. Another book with an amazing true story and amazing writing as well is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. If you haven’t read it yet, you’ve got to add it to your list.

    • Rachelle on February 1, 2012 at 1:11 AM

      Yes, read them both. Jeanette Walls is the author who jump-started my memoir kick several years ago, and I’ve been voraciously reading memoir ever since.

  75. Sarah on February 1, 2012 at 12:58 AM

    I just finished reading “7: An Experimental Excess Against Mutiny”. Life-changing not because of beautiful well-written prose uncovering here-to-fore unknown principles and thoughts, but because of her blatant confrontation of the excesses in her life (food, clothing, stuff, stress, etc) that were crowding out the more important needs. It’s made me stop and wonder where in my life I need to create some more “blank spaces”.