The best books to inspire you and make you feel good about the world (and yourself)

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a journalist, travel writer, and author based in Australia, writing about all sorts of people and on topics that I find personally inspiring and thrilling, and which are guaranteed to raise the spirits of readers. I was born in England but travelled the world for 10 years before ending up in Australia in 1989. I also lecture in travel writing at Boston University’s Sydney campus.


I wrote...

Healing Lives

By Sue Williams,

Book cover of Healing Lives

What is my book about?

It’s about a heartwarming friendship between two women from opposite ends of the earth, and with stunningly different backgrounds, which has ended up changing the lives of tens of thousands of the poorest women on earth. 

Australian doctor Catherine Hamlin went over to Ethiopia in 1959 and was horrified to discover that so many young women were suffering life-threatening fistula injuries after undergoing difficult childbirths. One of them was a young peasant girl, Mamitu Gashe. Catherine saved her life, and they became like family to each other. Today, even though Mamitu can still neither read, nor write, nor speak English, she has become one of the top fistula surgeons in the world. It’s a story that touched my heart.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Grass Is Singing

Sue Williams Why did I love this book?

This is one of the books that first stirred my interest in Africa, the tragedies of the colonial period, and the enormous impact of that period forevermore. As a result of Doris Lessing’s novel, which draws heavily on her own life in Africa, exploring the power and fear between the two sides through a relationship between a white woman running a farm in what was to become Zimbabwe and a black servant, I studied African politics at university and then spent a lot of time after I graduated on the continent. It’s a love affair that has never faded.

By Doris Lessing,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Grass Is Singing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Nobel Prize-winner Doris Lessing's first novel is a taut and tragic portrayal of a crumbling marriage, set in South Africa during the years of Arpartheid.

Set in Rhodesia, 'The Grass is Singing' tells the story of Dick Turner, a failed white farmer and his wife, Mary, a town girl who hates the bush and viciously abuses the black South Africans who work on their farm. But after many years, trapped by poverty, sapped by the heat of their tiny house, the lonely and frightened Mary turns to Moses, the black cook, for kindness and understanding.

A masterpiece of realism,…


Book cover of Weep Not, Child

Sue Williams Why did I love this book?

I was entranced by this book when I first read it, and still am. I loved the way Kenyan writer and activist Ngugi wa Thiong'o told a story in such a simple, unadorned way that just manages to get under your skin. It’s an important lesson for any writer about unaffected writing! This was the first major novel in English by an East African writer and is just so redolent of its time and place. It charts the life of a young boy growing up through a major change in his home country, and the rise of the Mau Mau freedom fighters.

By Ngugi Wa Thiong'o,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Weep Not, Child as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This is a powerful, moving story that details the effects of the infamous Mau Mau war, the African nationalist revolt against colonial oppression in Kenya, on the lives of ordinary men and women, and on one family in particular. Two brothers, Njoroge and Kamau, stand on a rubbish heap and look into their futures. Njoroge is excited; his family has decided that he will attend school, while Kamau will train to be a carpenter. Together they will serve their country - the teacher and the craftsman. But this is Kenya and the times are against them. In the forests, the…


Book cover of Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Sue Williams Why did I love this book?

The former South African president and freedom fighter Nelson Mandela is, in so many ways, the heroes’ hero. He’s an iconic figure in the world today and will remain so long after his death. This book is such a moving autobiography, one of the finest memoirs I’ve ever read. You learn so much about the man, his early years, his battles, and his 27 years in prison, and to emerge from that such a generous and forgiving man… It blew me away. In London, I’d done some work for the Anti-Apartheid Movement in its campaign for an end to apartheid and his eventual release and rise to power was a life-defining moment.

By Nelson Mandela,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Long Walk to Freedom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2018 is the centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth

'The authentic voice of Mandela shines through this book . . . humane, dignified and magnificently unembittered' The Times

The riveting memoirs of the outstanding moral and political leader of our time, A Long Walk to Freedom brilliantly re-creates the drama of the experiences that helped shape Nelson Mandela's destiny. Emotive, compelling and uplifting, A Long Walk to Freedom is the exhilarating story of an epic life; a story of hardship, resilience and ultimate triumph told with the clarity and eloquence of a born leader.

'Burns with the luminosity of faith in…


Book cover of The Pickup

Sue Williams Why did I love this book?

South African writer Nadine Gordimer, the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1991, commands enormous power with her words. While they have a deceptively poetic lilting beauty, they also deal incisively with epic issues. The Pickup is one of my favourites, an ultimately lifting tale about a white woman and an illegal Arab immigrant, which portrays the power of love and understanding to cross great divides in class and wealth and outlook.

By Nadine Gordimer,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Pickup as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

When Julie Summers' car breaks down in a sleazy street, a young Arab garage mechanic comes to her rescue. Out of this meeting develops a friendship that turns to love. But soon, despite his attempts to make the most of Julie's wealthy connections, Abdu is deported from South Africa and Julie insists on going too - but the couple must marry to make the relationship legitimate in the traditional village which is to be their home. Here, whilst Abdu is dedicated to escaping back to the life he has discovered, Julie finds herself slowly drawn in by the charm of…


Book cover of The Power of One

Sue Williams Why did I love this book?

The late Australian author Bryce Courtenay was a gifted storyteller and this novel, centering on a white English boy in South Africa, nicknamed Peekay, is an Australian classic. Written from a first-person perspective with events from 1939 to 1951, it charts his rise to a boxing champion and is an inspirational story about how you can achieve (almost) anything if you want it enough. A Hollywood movie was made of it in 1992.

By Bryce Courtenay,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked The Power of One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of one’–can prevail.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

In 1939, as Hitler casts his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, the seeds of apartheid take root in South Africa. There, a boy called Peekay is born. His childhood is marked by humiliation and abandonment, yet he vows to survive and conceives heroic dreams–which are nothing compared…


You might also like...

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

Book cover of The Midnight Man

Julie Anderson Author Of The Midnight Man

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I write historical crime fiction, and my latest novel is set in a hospital, a real place, now closed. The South London Hospital for Women and Children (1912–1985) was set up by pioneering suffragists and women surgeons Maud Chadburn and Eleanor Davies-Colley (the first woman admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons) and I recreate the now almost-forgotten hospital in my book. Events take place in 1946 when wartime trauma still impacts upon a society exhausted by conflict, and my book choices also reflect this.

Julie's book list on evocative stories set in a hospital

What is my book about?

A historical thriller set in south London just after World War II, as Britain returns to civilian life and the men return home from the fight, causing the women to leave their wartime roles. The South London Hospital for Women and Children is a hospital, (based on a real place) run by women for women and must make adjustments of its own. As austerity bites, the coldest Winter then on record makes life grim. Then a young nurse goes missing.

Days later, her body is found behind a locked door, and two women from the hospital, unimpressed by the police response, decide to investigate. Highly atmospheric and evocative of a distinct period and place.

The Midnight Man

By Julie Anderson,

What is this book about?

BEWARE THE DARKNESS BENEATH

Winter 1946

One cold dark night, as a devastated London shivers through the transition to post-war life, a young nurse goes missing from the South London Hospital for Women & Children. Her body is discovered hours later behind a locked door.

Two women from the hospital join forces to investigate the case. Determined not to return to the futures laid out for them before the war, the unlikely sleuths must face their own demons and dilemmas as they pursue - The Midnight Man.

‘A mystery that evokes the period – and a recovering London – in…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in South Africa, undocumented immigrants, and murder?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about South Africa, undocumented immigrants, and murder.

South Africa Explore 120 books about South Africa
Undocumented Immigrants Explore 25 books about undocumented immigrants
Murder Explore 940 books about murder