100 books like A Paradise Built in Hell

By Rebecca Solnit,

Here are 100 books that A Paradise Built in Hell fans have personally recommended if you like A Paradise Built in Hell. Shepherd is a community of 10,000+ authors and super readers sharing their favorite books with the world.

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

Book cover of The Birth and Death of Meaning

Jeff Greenberg Author Of The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life

From my list on the core desires that guide human behavior.

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a Regents Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. Ever since I was a child growing up in the South Bronx, I have been interested in why people are so driven to believe they are right and good, and why there is so much prejudice in the world. This has led to me to a lifelong exploration of the basic motivations that guide people’s actions, and how these motivations influence how people view themselves and others, and the goals they pursue.

Jeff's book list on the core desires that guide human behavior

Jeff Greenberg Why did Jeff love this book?

This is to me is the best book ever written for understanding what human beings are, how we are similar to and different from other animal species, how we develop from helpless newborns to fully functioning adults, and what we are striving for in our lives. Most nonfiction books make a point and then repeat it over and over with examples and anecdotes. In contrast, The Birth and Death of Meaning begins with evolution and progresses logically from its first page to its last. When you finish this book, you will have a much better understanding of yourself, the people in your life, historical and current events, and problems ranging from anxiety and depression to interpersonal conflict to prejudice.  

By Ernest Becker,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Birth and Death of Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Uses the disciplines of psychology, anthropology, sociology and psychiatry to explain what makes people act the way they do.


Book cover of The Myth of Sisyphus

Peter S. Fosl Author Of The Philosopher's Toolkit: A Compendium of Philosophical Concepts and Methods

From my list on starting out in philosophy.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a philosopher who’s taught mostly undergraduates for over thirty years at small liberal arts colleges in the US, and I’ve held research fellowships at the University of Edinburgh and Williams College. I’ve co-authored three “toolkit” books – The Philosopher’s Toolkit, The Ethics Toolkit, and The Critical Thinking Toolkit. My more scholarly work, however, has focused on skepticism, for example in Hume’s Scepticism. I also like to write about pop culture, especially for collections like my Big Lebowski and Philosophy. Fundamentally, though, I’m just a lover of dialectic and an explorer in the world of ideas. Nothing, for me, is more enjoyable.

Peter's book list on starting out in philosophy

Peter S. Fosl Why did Peter love this book?

This was the first book from the very first philosophy class I took in college (at Bucknell University in 1981), and it had me from its very first sentence: “There is only one truly important philosophical question, and that is suicide.” You know, the big stuff: Is life worth living? What gives it meaning? How ought we to engage the world and others, especially in the face of the apparently meaningless universe in which we’ve been thrown. Existentialist Camus served in the French resistance against the Nazis in World War II and would win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1957. In these pages, the remarkable man and the remarkable life he lived shows. 

By Albert Camus,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

NOBEL PRIZE WINNER • An internationally acclaimed author delivers one of the most influential works of the twentieth century, showing a way out of despair and reaffirming the value of existence.

Influenced by works such as Don Juan and the novels of Kafka, these essays begin with a meditation on suicide—the question of living or not living in a universe devoid of order or meaning. With lyric eloquence, Albert Camus brilliantly presents a crucial exposition of existentialist thought.


Book cover of Man’s Search for Meaning

Michael Gervais Author Of The First Rule of Mastery: Stop Worrying about What People Think of You

From my list on illuminating the path towards mastery.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a performance psychologist, I’ve spent my career supporting high-performers on their path toward mastery. I founded Finding Mastery, a high-performance psychology consulting agency. Our primary focus is helping leaders, teams, and organizations solve the most dynamic and complex human performance challenges.

Michael's book list on illuminating the path towards mastery

Michael Gervais Why did Michael love this book?

Frankl’s concept of finding meaning in suffering and the idea that our primary drive in life is not pleasure but the discovery and pursuit of what we personally find meaningful deeply resonates with me.

The book underscores the belief that even in the most difficult of circumstances, we have the freedom to choose our attitudes and responses, a concept that is central to high-performance psychology.

By Viktor Frankl,

Why should I read it?

41 authors picked Man’s Search for Meaning as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the outstanding classics to emerge from the Holocaust, Man's Search for Meaning is Viktor Frankl's story of his struggle for survival in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps. Today, this remarkable tribute to hope offers us an avenue to finding greater meaning and purpose in our own lives.


Book cover of Meditations: A New Translation

Lin Wilder Author Of Plausible Liars: A Dr. Lindsey McCall Medical Mystery

From my list on preparing for writing/walking/thinking/acting against the crowd.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a writer who just published a book I didn’t have any interest in writing. I didn’t like the subject matter, so I had no interest in doing the research to create credible characters and a cohesive plot.

Lin's book list on preparing for writing/walking/thinking/acting against the crowd

Lin Wilder Why did Lin love this book?

Back when I was an atheist undergraduate college student, this book, among others, saved my life.

I’d walked away from everything religious and hence lacked all moral grounding. Although I was ambitious, I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. Only what I didn’t want to do with my life.

My animosity against all things religious was huge, but the stoic philosophy of discipline and self-control kept me from throwing my life away.

By Marcus Aurelius (lead author), Gregory Hays (translator),

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked Meditations as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Nearly two thousand years after it was written, Meditations remains profoundly relevant for anyone seeking to lead a meaningful life.

Few ancient works have been as influential as the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, philosopher and emperor of Rome (A.D. 161–180). A series of spiritual exercises filled with wisdom, practical guidance, and profound understanding of human behavior, it remains one of the greatest works of spiritual and ethical reflection ever written. Marcus’s insights and advice—on everything from living in the world to coping with adversity and interacting with others—have made the Meditations required reading for statesmen and philosophers alike, while generations…


Book cover of Parting the Waters

Jim Carrier Author Of A Traveler’s Guide to the Civil Rights Movement

From my list on understanding the South’s Civil Rights Movement.

Why am I passionate about this?

As a journalist who learned his craft on the job in the tumultuous 1960s, I happened to find myself living in states where racial history was being written. Reporting that story required me to understand why discrimination, poverty, and violence remained so deeply rooted in modern America. I wrote Ten Ways to Fight Hate, I made a movie about civil rights martyrs, and, after seeing people from around the world making a pilgrimage to the sites of the civil rights struggle, published my guidebook. Over the course of a 50-year career, I have written a million words. I am proudest of those that tried to right wrongs, and sometimes did.

Jim's book list on understanding the South’s Civil Rights Movement

Jim Carrier Why did Jim love this book?

As I drove through the South researching my guidebook to civil rights sites, my back seat was filled with books. Atop the pile was Taylor Branch’s magisterial three-volume history – America in the King Years 1954-1968: Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge.

Though encyclopedic, Branch’s story-telling is riveting—weaving together personalities, legalities, strategies, and geography in a way that made me feel as if I were there witnessing history as it was made. Taylor’s detail, reflecting a journalist’s quest for who, what, where, when, how, and why, showed me that these stories could best be told, understood, and felt where they happened.

By Taylor Branch,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Parting the Waters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Parting the Waters, the first volume of his essential America in the King Years series, Pulitzer Prize winner Taylor Branch gives a “compelling…masterfully told” (The Wall Street Journal) account of Martin Luther King’s early years and rise to greatness.

Hailed as the most masterful story ever told of the American Civil Rights Movement, Parting the Waters is destined to endure for generations.

Moving from the fiery political baptism of Martin Luther King, Jr., to the corridors of Camelot where the Kennedy brothers weighed demands for justice against the deceptions of J. Edgar Hoover, here is a vivid tapestry of…


Book cover of Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Building Resilience: Social Capital in Post-Disaster Recovery

From my list on the importance of community during disasters.

Why am I passionate about this?

We moved to New Orleans in July 2005. We had six weeks in our first home, filling it with furniture, buying a new car, and taking advantage of my first job. When Hurricane Katrina collapsed the levees holding back the nearby lakes, our home – and those of 80% of the city – filled with water. As I waited for FEMA and insurance to help us, I saw instead it was our friends, friends of friends, and faith-based organizations that helped us get back on our feet. Using our own experiences as a start, I traveled to India and Japan to study how communities around the world survived and thrived during shocks. 

Daniel's book list on the importance of community during disasters

Daniel P. Aldrich Why did Daniel love this book?

Sheryl Sandberg movingly tells the story of losing her husband suddenly and having to continue with her family on her own. Grief seems a solitary process that we have to work through by ourselves. But she describes how her process of recovery required connections with friends, with family, and with institutions in her neighborhood. All of us have to deal with personal tragedies like the deaths of loved ones, and I appreciated how this book combined her sharing her personal experience with broader expertise from psychology and social science.

By Sheryl Sandberg, Adam Grant,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From Facebook's COO and Wharton's top-rated professor, the #1 New York Times best-selling authors of Lean In and Originals: a powerful, inspiring, and practical book about building resilience and moving forward after life's inevitable setbacks.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. "I was in 'the void,'" she writes, "a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe." Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to…


Book cover of The Gay Militants

Ron Goldberg Author Of Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

From my list on to inspire the activist in you.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a nice gay Jewish former wannabe actor turned AIDS activist. I joined ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, in 1987, and for the next eight years, I chaired committees, planned protests, led teach-ins, and facilitated our weekly meetings. I visited friends in hospitals, attended far too many AIDS memorials, participated in over a hundred zaps and demonstrations, and earned the title of ACT UP’s unofficial “Chant Queen.” It was the hardest, most intense, most rewarding, most joyous, and most devastating time of my life. Aware that I had witnessed history, it became my mission to record what happened and to make sure our story was not forgotten. 

Ron's book list on to inspire the activist in you

Ron Goldberg Why did Ron love this book?

In 1989, in honor of the twentieth anniversary of Stonewall, a group of ACT UP members decided to form a study group to learn about the history of queer activism. Surprisingly, I could find almost nothing about the gay liberation movement until I stumbled upon The Gay Militants in a used bookstore. I was amazed at my good fortune. Here was a detailed, first-hand, and contemporaneous history of the first year of gay liberation after Stonewall, filled with original documents, outrageous quotes, and the campy exhilarating joy of activism. I couldn’t believe how many of our actions (and internal conflicts) echoed those of these early groups and how many of our enemies remained the same.

By Donn Teal,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Gay Militants as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Teal, Donn


Book cover of A Map of the World

Ron Goldberg Author Of Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

From my list on to inspire the activist in you.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a nice gay Jewish former wannabe actor turned AIDS activist. I joined ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, in 1987, and for the next eight years, I chaired committees, planned protests, led teach-ins, and facilitated our weekly meetings. I visited friends in hospitals, attended far too many AIDS memorials, participated in over a hundred zaps and demonstrations, and earned the title of ACT UP’s unofficial “Chant Queen.” It was the hardest, most intense, most rewarding, most joyous, and most devastating time of my life. Aware that I had witnessed history, it became my mission to record what happened and to make sure our story was not forgotten. 

Ron's book list on to inspire the activist in you

Ron Goldberg Why did Ron love this book?

Before I was an activist, my favorite audition monologue was from David Hare’s play, A Map of the World. Set at an international UNESCO conference (and, in a meta-framing, the set of a movie retelling the same story), the centerpiece is a Shavian debate between a young leftwing reporter and a celebrated rightwing author. “You will never ever understand any struggle unless you take part in it,” says the idealistic reporter in a speech that still speaks to me today, as it pits the messy, hard work and, yes, failures, of activism against the comfortable cynicism of those who criticize from the sidelines. I would later discover this same play inspired Larry Kramer to start writing The Normal Heart.

By David Hare,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Map of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Stephen Andrews, a young journalist, and Victor Mehta, a cynical Indian novelist argue about how the west deals with the problems of the Third World


Book cover of Reports from the Holocaust: The Making of an AIDS Activist

Ron Goldberg Author Of Boy with the Bullhorn: A Memoir and History of ACT UP New York

From my list on to inspire the activist in you.

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m a nice gay Jewish former wannabe actor turned AIDS activist. I joined ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, in 1987, and for the next eight years, I chaired committees, planned protests, led teach-ins, and facilitated our weekly meetings. I visited friends in hospitals, attended far too many AIDS memorials, participated in over a hundred zaps and demonstrations, and earned the title of ACT UP’s unofficial “Chant Queen.” It was the hardest, most intense, most rewarding, most joyous, and most devastating time of my life. Aware that I had witnessed history, it became my mission to record what happened and to make sure our story was not forgotten. 

Ron's book list on to inspire the activist in you

Ron Goldberg Why did Ron love this book?

In Reports from the Holocaust, Larry Kramer charts his own journey into AIDS activism, through a collection of his articles, speeches, jeremiads, and public pronouncements dating from the earliest days of the AIDS crisis. A combination gadfly, angry prophet, activist conscience, and provocateur, Larry was also a huge pain-in-the-ass and an unyielding and loving advocate for the gay community—all of which is on full display here. The book includes his incendiary “1,112 and counting,” written in 1983, which first awakened me (and the rest of the gay community) to the political dimensions of the AIDS crisis, as well as his speech four years later, that led to the formation of ACT UP. I defy you to read this book and not want to take to the streets in protest.

By Larry Kramer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Reports from the Holocaust as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Author of "Faggots" and the screenplay for "Women in Love", Kramer is also co-founder of America's first AIDS service organization, Gay Men's Health Crisis. This work is a collection of Kramer's central articles, over a period of ten years, together with a new essay on the current state of AIDS.


Book cover of Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago

Todd Swanstrom Author Of The Changing American Neighborhood: The Meaning of Place in the Twenty-First Century

From my list on why neighborhoods still matter.

Why am I passionate about this?

I grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, in a neighborhood that was stable, safe, and stimulating. After my freshman year in college, I signed up for an “urban experience” in Detroit. It turned out to be the summer of the Detroit riots. I woke up to U.S. Army vehicles rumbling into the park across from my apartment. Over the next month, I witnessed the looting and burning of whole neighborhoods. I remember thinking:  what a waste! Why are we throwing away neighborhoods like Kleenex? I have been trying to answer that question ever since.   

Todd's book list on why neighborhoods still matter

Todd Swanstrom Why did Todd love this book?

In an age of global warming, Klinenberg’s study of how Chicago did (and did not) cope with a horrible heat wave that hit the city in 1995, killing 739 residents, is more relevant than ever.

He shows how death rates varied hugely across neighborhoods, not so much based on socioeconomic status but on the cohesiveness of the community. In places where neighbors looked in on each other the death rate was lower.

Strong neighborhoods do not just enhance our lives, they can save lives.

By Eric Klinenberg,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

On Thursday, July 13, 1995, Chicagoans awoke to a blistering day on which the temperature would eventually climb to 106 degrees. It was the start of an unprecedented heat wave that would last a full week - and leave more than seven hundred people dead. Rather than view these deaths as the inevitable consequence of natural disaster, sociologist Eric Klinenberg decided to figure out why so many people - and, specifically, so many elderly, poor, and isolated people - died, and to identify the social and political failures that together made the heat wave so deadly. Published to coincide with…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in altruism, community, and disasters?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about altruism, community, and disasters.

Altruism Explore 21 books about altruism
Community Explore 16 books about community
Disasters Explore 15 books about disasters