An illustration of a stack of books, with the title “21 Books for a Better You”

The New Self-Help

21 Books for a Better You in the 21st Century

‘Self Improvement’ doesn’t mean what it used to

Kelli María Korducki
Published in
15 min readAug 31, 2020

“Self help” is about the “self” being “helped” — but guidance for personal growth is only useful when it works in the world we live in now. We’re most effective when we understand ourselves and the people around us.

The 21st century has been marked by crises that force us to re-learn where we fit, and how we should get where we want to be. The personal “ladder of success” feels increasingly outdated when set against a giant framework of systems and technologies, involving billions of other people. Last century, you could get away with adopting highly effective habits for winning friends and influencing people — especially if you were from Mars, not Venus. Now, you must turn to books that illuminate the world and inspire change.

Many of these 21 books aren’t found on the “self-improvement” shelf of a library. But from bell hooks to Emily Oster, Marie Kondo to Damon Young, these are thinkers who speak with lasting resonance to the conditions of their time — our time — defining new phenomena, transforming the zeitgeist, or answering a question we didn’t even know to ask.

As the editors of Forge and many of our Medium colleagues created this list, we looked for truly life-changing ideas. If you’re not ready to take the leap on a full book, we have also published excerpts from most of the books we selected, linked below.

The impact of the 21 books on this list lingers well after the final page-turn, helping us make sense of our recent past and present. They also give us the tools to forge the best path forward, for ourselves and for the world we want. They’re the new self-help.

The 21 books on this list were life-changing reads whose impact lingered well after the final page-turn.
Book jacket cover for Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic by Esther Perel

Mating in Captivity

by Esther Perel (2006)



Kelli María Korducki
Writer for

Writer, editor. This is where I post about ideas, strategies, and the joys of making an NYC-viable living as a self-employed creative.