A Therapeutic Library: 100 Essential Books That Teach Fulfilment, Calm and Wellbeing

The School of Life     Recommended by Staff    

Books, however familiar, are amongst the strangest objects on the planet: little portals that open directly into the ideas, feelings, loves and sorrows of writers from all times and places.

There are many reasons to love reading. But boldly, we emphasise one: we read for emotional guidance and support. The right book can bring consolation or courage; it can locate fresh sources of generosity or confidence; it can help unlock our half-forgotten reserves of creativity or resilience. But time is precious, and opportunity is limited.

That’s why The School of Life has put together an ideal library that can speak helpfully to our individual needs and longings. Ranging across history and drawing on world literature, we’ve found our group of book-friends. A few may be acquaintances already, many will be new companions. But all offer the same essential thing: they will go with us as true friends through the complex, fascinating (and sometimes painfully hard) places of life with kindness and wisdom.

The Amplified Come As You Are: The Story Of Nirvana

Michael Azerrad     Recommended by    

“Just tell the truth. That’ll be better than anything else that’s been written about me.” — Kurt Cobain to author Michael Azerrad

A downright revolutionary 30th-anniversary deluxe edition of the iconic bestselling biography of Nirvana, updated with exclusive new content exploring the personal and cultural forces that inspired the music, the author’s friendship with Kurt Cobain and why multiple generations remain fascinated by the 1990s.


It has been three decades since Nirvana upended the pop cultural landscape with Nevermind, the landmark album that became the soundtrack of Generation X, capturing its confusion, frustration, and passion. In 1993, Michael Azerrad published what stands as the definitive biography of this revolutionary band and its star-crossed leader Kurt Cobain. Written with the band’s complete cooperation, Come as You Are: The Story of Nirvana became a massive bestseller and was, in the words of Cobain, “the best rock book I’ve ever read.”

Seven months after the book’s original publication, Cobain was dead by suicide, making Come as You Are the only book about Nirvana that features original interviews with Cobain, bassist Krist Novoselic, and drummer Dave Grohl.

Now, Azerrad has revisited and reconsidered his original text. The result is this “amplified” version—a truly unique book-within-a-book featuring hundreds of extensive new essay-like annotations that deepen our understanding of this legendary band and the time in which it existed. Azerrad reconsiders the key players and their cultural context; ruminates on topics such as punk rock, selling out, and Generation X; and offers insights into the inner life and creative mind of one of the most significant songwriters and musicians in rock history—a haunting and haunted artist whose influence continues powerfully to the present day.

It all comes down to a search for the answer to the question: Why was this music so extraordinarily powerful?

Vivid, evocative, and thought-provoking, this gorgeous hardcover book—featuring 100 photos and ephemera—is an essential document not just for Nirvana fans but for anyone interested in the cultural legacy of the 1990s.

Knife: Meditations After an Attempted Murder

Salman Rushdie     Recommended by Staff    

A searing, deeply personal account of enduring a brutal attempt on his life, thirty years after the fatwa that was ordered against him – from internationally renowned writer and Booker Prize-winner Salman Rushdie.


On the morning of 12 August 2022, Salman Rushdie was standing onstage at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, preparing to give a lecture on the importance of keeping writers safe from harm, when a man in black – black clothes, black mask – rushed down the aisle towards him, wielding a knife. His first thought – So it’s you. Here you are.

What followed was a horrific act of violence that shook the literary world and beyond. Now, for the first time, and in unforgettable detail, Rushdie relives the traumatic events of that day and its aftermath, as well as his journey towards physical recovery and the healing that was made possible by the love and support of his wife, Eliza, his family, his army of doctors and physical therapists, and his community of readers worldwide.

Knife is Rushdie at the peak of his powers, writing with urgency, with gravity, with unflinching honesty. It is also a deeply moving reminder of literature’s capacity to make sense of the unthinkable, an intimate and life-affirming meditation on life, loss, love, art – and finding the strength to stand up again.

The Book of Doors

Gareth Brown     Recommended by Staff    

These books are like weapons. And possession is power. . . With a perfect combination of dark magical books, unforgettable characters, and a storyline that grabs the reader and simply doesn’t let go, this is the heart-stoppingly exciting contemporary fantasy debut of 2024.


Because some doors should never be opened.

New York bookseller Cassie Andrews is not sure what she’s doing with her life. She lives quietly, sharing an apartment with her best friend, Izzy. Then a favourite customer gives her an old book. Full of strange writing and mysterious drawings, at the very front there is a handwritten message-

This is the Book of Doors. Hold it in your hand, and any door is every door.

Cassie is about to discover that the Book of Doors is a special book – a magic book. A book that bestows extraordinary abilities on whoever possesses it. And she is about to learn that there are other magic books out there that can also do wondrous – or dreadful and terrifying – things.

Because where there is magic there is power and there are those who will stop at nothing to possess it.

Suddenly Cassie and Izzy are confronted by violence and danger, and the only person who can help them is Drummond Fox who has a secret library of magical books hidden in the shadows for safekeeping, a man fleeing his own demons. Because there is a nameless evil out there that is hunting them all . . .

Because this book is worth killing for.

Addictive, brilliantly written and utterly irresistible, The Book of Doors is the spell-binding, mind-bending, heart-pounding new adventure that is perfect for fans of The BindingThe Midnight Library and A Discovery of Witches . . .

———————————-

‘A stunning fever dream of a story.’ LEE CHILD

‘A beautiful, unputdownable love letter to books.’ BETH LEWIS

‘A real page-turner – incredibly ambitious and inventive.’ ROSIE ANDREWS

The Year I Met My Brain

Matilda Boseley     Recommended by Luka    

This book is a game changer! I can’t recommend it enough for anyone with, or suspects they have, ADHD. Chock-full of stats and research to satisfy my fact-loving brain, but brilliantly balanced with anecdotes that decode some of the more complex stuff – like the difference between dopamine and norepinephrine! Boseley clearly knows her audience; this book is bold and colourful, with bigger chunks of text made more accessible with dot points, summaries, diagrams, and bloody cute illustrations.

As a journalist, Boseley is a seriously skilled writer, and I can’t stress enough just how accessible and readable this book is – obviously very helpful for those with ADHD! Why does it seem like so many people are diagnosed with ADHD lately? Why have some adults with ADHD been missed? And in the future of ADHD education, who is being left behind? Boseley unpacks all these questions in detail, and offers substantial insight into the big question: how the bloody hell do you live with ADHD? -Luka

What Happened to Nina?

Dervla McTiernan     Recommended by Luka    

So… What Happened to Nina? My first foray into Dervla McTiernan’s catalogue; it’s good to know if I ever need a good crime-mystery, I have a new confidant in McTiernan! What Happened to Nina? is very, very hard to put down. It reminded me somewhat of Gone Girl – grisly missing-girlfriend crime-drama – in an era where ‘picking a side’ is fodder for brutal, rage-fuelled, click-bait algorithms. The mystery of what happened to Nina Fraser expands into a dark feud between the Frasers and the Jordans. The Jordans are certain their love-sick son (and Nina’s boyfriend), Simon, is being framed. The Frasers just want Nina back, at whatever cost. The rumour mill is a weapon, and between the two grief-stricken families, they stab true. It’s odd to call a crime novel ‘a great time’, but… I had a great time reading this. It’s seriously captivating. -Luka

All You Need Is Love: The End of the Beatles – An Oral History by Those Who Were There

Steven Gaines and Peter Brown     Recommended by Staff    

‘I can think of no one better placed to tell the story behind The Beatles than Peter Brown.’ -Pattie Boyd Harrison

‘A revealing oral history of the forces that spurred the band’s breakup… drawing from a trove of never before published conversations. Beatles fans will be impatient to get their hands on this.’ –Publishers Weekly

All You Need is Love is a ground-breaking oral history of the Beatles and how it all came to an end. Based on never-before-published or heard interviews with Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, and their families, friends, and business associates, this is a landmark book, containing stunning new revelations, about the biggest band the world has ever seen.

In 1980-1981 former COO of Apple Corp, Peter Brown and author Steven Gaines interviewed everyone in the Beatles’ inner circle and included a small portion of the transcripts in their international bestselling book The Love You Make, which spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list. But left in their archives was a treasure trove of unique and candid interviews that they chose not to publish, until now.

A powerful work assembled through honest, intimate, sometimes contradictory and always fascinating testimony, All You Need is Love is a one-of-a-kind insight into the final days, weeks, months and years of the Beatles phenomenon.

Magus: The Art of Magic from Faustus to Agrippa

Anthony Grafton     Recommended by Staff    

A revelatory new account of the magus – the learned magician – and his place in the intellectual, social and cultural world of Renaissance Europe.

At the heart of the extraordinary ferment of the High Renaissance stood a distinctive, strange and beguiling figure- the magus. An unstable mix of scientist, bibliophile, engineer, fabulist and fraud, the magus ushered in modern physics and chemistry while also working on everything from secret codes to siege engines to magic tricks.

Anthony Grafton’s wonderfully original book discusses the careers of men who somehow managed to be both figures of startling genius and – by some measures – credulous or worse. The historical Faust, Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola, Johannes Trithemius and Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa are all fascinating characters, closely linked to monarchs, artists and soldiers and sitting at the heart of any definition of why the Renaissance was a time of such restless innovation. The study of the stars, architecture, warfare, even medicine- all of these and more were revolutionized in some way by the experiments and tricks of these extraordinary individuals.

No book does a better job of allowing us to understand the ways that magic, religion and science were once so intertwined and often so hard to tell apart.

The Familiar

Leigh Bardugo     Recommended by    

From Sunday Times bestselling author of Ninth HouseHell Bent and the Shadow and Bone series comes a highly anticipated, gorgeously written novel with a dusting of magic brimming with peril and dark deeds.

In a shabby house in the new capital of Madrid, Luzia Cotado uses scraps of magic to get through her days of endless toil. But when her scheming mistress discovers her scullion is hiding a talent for little miracles, she demands Luzia use those gifts to win over the royal court.

Determined to seize this chance to better her fortunes, Luzia plunges into a world of power-hungry nobility, desperate kings, holy men and seers, where the lines between magic, science and fraud blur. With the pyres of the Inquisition burning, she must use every bit of her wit and resilience to win fame and hide the truth of her ancestry – even if that means enlisting the help of an embittered immortal familiar, whose own secrets could cost her everything.

Thunderhead

Miranda Darling     Recommended by    

A black comedy, set in suburbia, about one woman’s struggle to be free.

When Winona Dalloway begins her day – in the peaceful early hours before her children, that ‘tiny tornado of little hands and feet’, wake up – she doesn’t know that by the end of it, everything in her world will have changed.

On the outside, Winona is a seemingly unremarkable young mother- unobtrusive, quietly going about her tasks. But within is a vivid, chaotic self, teeming with voices – a mind both wild and precise.

And meanwhile, a storm is brewing …

‘Darkly funny, astute, timely – Thunderhead‘s protagonist insists on being heard, and we as readers feel compelled to listen. To care. Such a fresh and lovely voice, full of humour, insight, and energy. I loved Winona – and her story.’
-Sofie Laguna

Thunderhead takes the brewing storm of domesticity and cracks it open with incredible vulnerability, generosity, and humour. At once Rachel Cusk, at once Jenny Offill, and altogether entirely Miranda Darling, this powerful, restless, irresistible novel is essential reading.’
-Laura Jean Mckay

‘Set over one fever-pitched day … It’s a daring book, adopting the aesthetics of Deborah Levy with the velocity of a crime thriller and an off- kilter voice, deeply internal, darkly comic, clipped and Woolf-ish … Thunderhead brims with magazine- style musings – all those dizzying top notes, that intertextuality, the style. It’s a strong, complex and self-aware voice, and it is the primary vehicle through which we gauge Winona’s resilience and determination. If The Catcher in the Rye were instead penned by a domestic violence survivor, it might read a little like Thunderhead. For fans of Melissa Broder, Elizabeth Hardwick and Edwina Preston.’
-Mel Fulton, Books+Publishing

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