The best books which capture the essence of the human condition

Who am I?

Back in the mid-80s, at the tender age of 19, I dropped out of college, and with $800 of hard-earned cash and my bicycle, booked a one-way ticket to Europe. This would be the first chapter of a life of adventure and self-discovery. Through my experiences, I have gained a deeper understanding of the fundamental human qualities which transcend cultural boundaries—in short, the human condition. And what better way to explore the rich and varied tapestry of our collective humanity than through the stories we tell? I hope you enjoy my (far too abbreviated!) eclectic list of books. 


I wrote...

Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future

By Susan English,

Book cover of Callisto 2.0: A novel of the future

What is my book about?

She had to travel beyond the planet to discover her true self. Will she find the courage to walk through the doorway to a new future?

Shambhala Space Station, 2097. When physicist Callisto is recruited to work on faster-than-light technology by a beautiful older woman, she eagerly accepts the opportunity at the women-only research station orbiting Earth’s moon. But her enthusiasm suffers when her first discovery is unexpected heartbreak. Throwing herself into work on a problematic warp drive prototype, Calli blossoms in the utopian female community that shows her love and acceptance for the first time. But when a twisted conspiracy, disingenuous affair, and disastrous betrayal test her place in this unique environment, the brilliant scientist must dig deep to find her moment of truth.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Shantaram

By Gregory David Roberts,

Book cover of Shantaram

Why this book?

If I were consigned to a deserted island and could choose only one book to bring with me, it would be Shantaram. This is so much more than a fictionalized memoir; it is an epic journey, an exploration of the heart, a pilgrimage of the soul, and a treatise on the human spirit. The writing is flawless, with phrases exquisitely wrought, more poetry than prose. Deeply powerful and moving, this novel epitomizes the essence of humanity in all its triumphs and tragedies. 


Julie of the Wolves

By Jean Craighead George, John Schoenherr (illustrator),

Book cover of Julie of the Wolves

Why this book?

As a young girl, most afternoons you could find me up a tree, book in hand. My favorite stories all had a common theme: animals. I felt a stronger connection to the animal world than to my own species. When I first read Julie of the Wolves at the age of 8, I was far too young to understand all the social implications of being a barely pubescent orphaned girl forced into a child marriage, but I resonated with the overwhelming desire to escape the confusion and pressures of human relationships. How I longed to be Julie, living among the wolves! 


A Man Called Ove

By Fredrik Backman,

Book cover of A Man Called Ove

Why this book?

In this charming novel, the main character, Ove, is a grumpy old curmudgeon who shows us that even the most misanthropic among us often reveals a heart of gold. I love it when a book makes me laugh out loud, and this one hit the mark! There were moments when I laughed so hard I cried, and other times when my tears were shed for the tragedy of loneliness and lost love. 


Stone Butch Blues: A Novel

By Leslie Feinberg,

Book cover of Stone Butch Blues: A Novel

Why this book?

I came out in Northampton, Massachusetts, dubbed the “Strange Town Where Men Aren’t Wanted” by The National Enquirer, where being straight was the minority. Though grappling with my own internalized homophobia, I was immediately embraced by the vibrant, dynamic, and supportive lesbian community there. I had it easy compared to Jess, the protagonist in this semi-biographical work. This haunting and heartbreaking narrative, as well as the tragic stories of far too many of my friends, opened my eyes to the emotional toll of homophobia that continues to plague so much of the world today. Stone Butch Blues is not an easy read, but the struggles and triumphs of Jess remind me that being true to ourselves in the face of negation and adversity is one of the greatest of human achievements.


Pride and Prejudice

By Jane Austen,

Book cover of Pride and Prejudice

Why this book?

For me, no list of books describing the human condition would be complete without Jane Austin, and my personal favorite, Pride and Prejudice. Austin explores the strengths and foibles of her characters with wit, humor, and compassion. Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, and all the supporting personas are so real, so wonderfully flawed, they leap off the page. And of course, the language is a delight. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in neighbourhoods, the patriarchy, and wolves?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about neighbourhoods, the patriarchy, and wolves.

Neighbourhoods Explore 13 books about neighbourhoods
The Patriarchy Explore 33 books about the patriarchy
Wolves Explore 64 books about wolves

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Transit of Venus, More Than a Woman, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies if you like this list.